Kori VanDerGeest

Project title: Development of a citizen-science app to collect water samples from irrigation canals

Degree: MPH | Program: Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) | Project type: Practicum
Completed in: 2019 | Faculty advisor: Catherine Karr


Issues: Smartphones and other mobile devices have become important tools for collecting wellness and personal health information. To take advantage of this potential, an environmental justice organization is developing an app to help citizen scientists collect water samples and share water quality data.
Description: In Imperial County, CA, an estimated 2,679 households rely on untreated canal water for domestic use. Existing data provide information on water quality upstream of unincorporated households, where the cumulative impacts of agricultural, industrial, and natural sources of pollution are minimal. Comité Cívico del Valley, Inc. (CCV), an environmental justice organization, is collaborating with the California State Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and the University of Washington (UW) to determine the quality of canal water used by residents. They aim to use citizen science to collect water quality data. The app designed during this practicum will provide technical guidance to citizen scientists in a format that is easy to use and understand. The app will also improve adherence to quality assurance and quality control requirements.
Lessons Learned: The app was designed with multiple learning modalities – text, videos, and images – to meet the needs of citizen scientists with diverse learning preferences. Our app may also be more understandable than typical sampling forms because it minimizes the use of technical jargon. Lastly, apps make it easy to share data quickly and add multimedia data such as photographs. Our citizen science water sampling app is limited because it is lengthy and requires additional training.
Recommendations: Next steps in app development include the creation of water sampling how-to videos, translating the app into Spanish, developing the app, and implementing the app during sample collection. Practitioners and researchers interested in citizen science should consider mobile apps as an excellent tool for supporting diverse citizen scientists.