Wednesday, July 30, 2008

GIS and water quality

I attended a week long GIS workshop at the University of Toledo a couple of weeks ago. The emphasis was on water quality. We used various kits to take measurements of pH, turbidity, phosphates, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Since I'm not a science teacher I learned more than most who had done this type of thing before. We also uploaded our data to the Globe project website, and some groups downloaded data from Globe for our culminating research project.

I thought a lot about how we could do something on a larger scale throughout Monroe County with students at area schools. You know the drill... involve the students in a "real" scientific experiment, record and share "real" data with the rest of the world... to make it more motivating for students than just reading about water quality in a textbook.

I hit on the idea of monitoring the water quality of the River Raisin which meanders through a large part of Monroe County, eventually ending up in Lake Erie. In addition to the various creeks and tributaries, there are miles of man-made ditches that handle run-off from the many farms in southeast Michigan.

The real motivation for me is to see if our water quality has been adversely affected by the CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) or "megafarms" that have been popping up over the past several years. I managed to find a Google map that had already pinpointed the location of these operations. I superimposed a map of the River Raisin watershed and was amazed to see how close many of these megafarms are to the tributaries that lead through Monroe County and ultimately Lake Erie. (See the map below)

I also found a citizen watchdog website, the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan that has accumulated a lot of evidence of illegal discharges, including photos and data. This group has not taken any data readings for quite awhile, probably due to a lack of funding or manpower.

I hope I am able to convince some dedicated teachers to take up this cause and to involve their students in what I hope is a worthwhile project.

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