Waterblitz asks citizen scientists to analyse Dublin freshwater

Project aims to build a picture of the quality of freshwater around the capital

Met Éireann’s Evelyn Cusack, right, head of forecasting, and Seamus Walsh, head of climatology and observations, launching the project at DCU

Met Éireann’s Evelyn Cusack, right, head of forecasting, and Seamus Walsh, head of climatology and observations, launching the project at DCU


If you live near a body of fresh water in Dublin – be it a lake, river, stream, canal or pond – then Dublin City University’s Water Institute is looking for your help. They are encouraging people to take part in a “waterblitz” from September 20th to 23rd, where members of the public use specially provided kits to measure levels of nitrates and phosphates in freshwater around the city and county.

“We want people to sign up and then go out to local bodies of freshwater that weekend and take measurements on the spot using the kits and training we will provide,” explains Professor Fiona Regan, director of DCU Water Institute. “The reason we are asking them to measure nitrates and phosphates is that they are nutrients in the water, and if their levels are too high that can negatively affect plants and animals living in the water.”

Nitrates and phosphates can end up at high levels in freshwater through run-off from agricultural land, from sewage getting into the water and from other forms of organic pollution, Regan explains. Ireland currently collects official measures of these nutrients in water through agencies such as local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“These measurements are taken at particular sites and particular times of year,” she says. “What we want to do here is get as many people as we can around as many sites in Dublin as possible measuring the levels of nitrates and phosphates, so we can get a bigger snapshot of water quality.”

The initiative is part of the Earthwatch Project, which, in partnership with the Royal Bank of Canada, is co-ordinating waterblitzes across Europe in Dublin, London, Paris and Luxembourg. To take part in the Dublin event, you register and then either go to DCU to collect a kit and undergo training to use it, or have the kit posted out to you and follow an instructional video online.

Then, when you collect the water, you test it on the spot and upload the information through a smartphone app, Regan explains. “We want people to upload the data when they are at the same place that they collect the water, because the phone app will log the exact location.”

Knowing the location of the sample means if there are any outliers – samples with unusually high levels of nitrates and phosphates – the Water Institute can follow up to see if there are signs of pollution at the site.

Having the location also helps to ensure the data are more useful for building up a picture of freshwater quality in Ireland, Regan says. “The results will be accessible to all and we will send a detailed report about what we find to the people who have been involved, and a summary about Ireland to the Earthwatch Project.”

In a separate Earthwatch project, DCU Water Institute is asking people to collect water samples along the River Liffey to track quality over two years. Called Backdrop, it is recruiting paddleboarders, kayakers and walkers who frequently visit the Liffey to get involved.

Find out about the Waterblitz, and the Backdrop project.