“In reality, this turns all the people in the basin into citizen scientists,” said Oscar Flite, the academy’s vice president for research.
The EcoNet program, accessible through the academy’s Web site, allows visitors to observe water quality data – including temperature, salinity, pH levels and dissolved oxygen – from seven miles below Thurmond Dam to Interstate 95.
The academy’s previous monitoring efforts, which began in 2006, relied on battery-powered equipment that required site visits to download data.
A capital campaign enabled the organization to invest in eight new monitors that use solar-powered cellular modems to transmit data sets every 15 minutes.
“It’s basically a free, Web-enabled opportunity,” Flite said. The information is useful for industries, scientists, triathletes, students and anglers who want to keep track of water temperatures that affect fish movement, he said.
Beneficiaries of the project include the Augusta Utilities Department, which spends millions of dollars each year treating wastewater that is returned to the river under permits administered by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division.
Accurate data from the river will make compliance and permitting easier, said Allen Saxon, the department’s assistant director for facility operations.
“Much of the regulatory work is based on models and assumptions,” he said. “This helps correct some of the problems in those models and makes water quality decisions easier.”
Jason Moak, the academy’s senior research scientist, said four of the new monitors are in place and the remaining units are awaiting final approval because they will be installed on Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia Department of Transportation navigation structures.
The academy, created 15 years ago, is a water research center with objectives that include outreach and education. It operates Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, which provides tours and programs to the public.