Wanaka Sun       

ORC funds water quality research

Posted at 8:02pm Saturday 27 Oct, 2018 | By Allison McLean journalist@thewanakasun.co.nz

New funding will help locals understand more about what is happening in Lake Wanaka. Otago Regional Council (ORC) has invested $10,000 to advance lake community group Touchstone's citizen science project that will examine and share patterns of lake snow around Ruby Island, a popular swimming route, in order to create solutions to water contamination.

The six-month project also sets out to include this work in a wider description of the recreational and ecological state of the lake around Ruby Island. Project mentor Chris Arbuckle said the work is focused on empowering the community through local knowledge, activity and action to allow better understanding on how residents can monitor their environment.  

Eddie Spearing of The Ruby swim event said this is the second citizen science project Touchstone has gained funding for this summer.

"Both projects are aimed at complementing our understanding of stuff directly affecting the values we hold for Lake Wanaka. Swimmers end up covered in lake snow sometimes, and it's gross. After long swims we even see skin irritations, so this is all about figuring if we can change stuff we do to keep our swim experience fun."

Touchstone will work alongside Wanaka Lake Swimmers (WLS) group to advance last year's work of trialing community sampling methods.

Arbuckle said he has worked closely with University of Otago to test different tools that citizen science has used on other lakes.

“We even tied lead core line to swimmers to mimic lake snot tows that University of Otago does, but they were not effective. So, I turned to simple methods, like baby wipes just to examine the pattern of snow contamination. We also used traditional lake sampling water quality techniques and measurements of clarity.

This year we are trying to get a handle on the amount of contamination a swimmer endures, so we can gather information and inform other groups.”

Arbuckle said there is opportunity in the power of the citizen science that will be captured within this project.

“Citizen science is real science but held within the community, not just one researcher. For example, local Anna Simmonds has her own powerful microscope at her house, so we are working a plan for her to count lake snow cells, using the same methods researchers use to assess the amount of lake snow in the water. So, by doing citizen science we also train and build skills that can help support a wider community of experts in our local community.”

In his 30 years of work in freshwater, Arbuckle said he has witnessed more done at a community level than thousands of science papers written about issues that affect our waterways.

The ORC funding will be used for water quality sampling, ecological surveys and an information site, and will also include baby wipes that the WLS will use to swab their faces after a two-and-a-half kilometre swim around Ruby Island to sample lake snow.

The project will focus on four sites around Ruby Island to track issues and find patterns with lake snow as well as describe the creatures in the water around the island. It will also look at water colour, clarity and other measures, like the amount of algae present.

It is set to kick off when swimming starts around the island.

This project will liaise with other science work on lake snow being carried out by the University of Otago and Landcare Research.

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