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Sci Total Environ. 2017 Aug 15;592:738-744. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.01.201. Epub 2017 Mar 17.

Monitoring water quality in Toronto's urban stormwater ponds: Assessing participation rates and data quality of water sampling by citizen scientists in the FreshWater Watch.

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Department of Biology, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario K9J 7B8, Canada.
Department of Biology, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario K9J 7B8, Canada. Electronic address:


From 2013 to 2015, citizen scientist volunteers in Toronto, Canada were trained to collect and analyze water quality in urban stormwater ponds. This volunteer sampling was part of the research program, FreshWater Watch (FWW), which aimed to standardize urban water sampling efforts from around the globe. We held training sessions for new volunteers twice yearly and trained a total of 111 volunteers. Over the course of project, ~30% of volunteers participated by collecting water quality data after the training session with 124 individual sampling events at 29 unique locations in Toronto, Canada. A few highly engaged volunteers were most active, with 50% of the samples collected by 5% of trainees. Stormwater ponds generally have poor water quality demonstrated by elevated phosphate concentrations (~30μg/L), nitrate (~427μg/L), and turbidity relative to Canadian water quality standards. Compared to other urban waterbodies in the global program, nutrient concentrations in Toronto's urban stormwater ponds were lower, while turbidity was not markedly different. Toronto FWW (FWW-TO) data was comparable to that measured by standard lab analyses and matched results from previous studies of stormwater ponds in Toronto. Combining observational and chemical data acquired by citizen scientists, macrophyte dominated ponds had lower phosphate concentrations while phytoplankton dominated ponds had lower nitrate concentrations, which indicates a potentially important and unstudied role of internal biogeochemical processes on pond nutrient dynamics. This experience in the FWW demonstrates the capabilities and constraints of citizen science when applied to water quality sampling. While analytical limits on in-field analyses produce higher uncertainty in water quality measurements of individual sites, rapid data collection is possible but depends on the motivation and engagement of the group of volunteers. Ongoing efforts in citizen science will thus need to address sampling effort and analytical limits to fully realize the potential value of engaging citizen scientists in water quality sampling.


Citizen science; Nitrate; Phosphate; Toronto; Urban stormwater ponds; Water quality

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