You be the Scientist! "CrowdHydrology" at Five Rivers Center


The next time you take a walk down on the Vlomankill trail, look for the newly installed stream gauge and the sign explaining what it’s doing there. A stream gauge is just a large ruler installed in the stream to allow scientists to check the water level. You’ll find it attached to the side of the bridge. The exciting thing about this stream gauge is that you get to be the scientist. This gauge is part of the “CrowdHydrology” project, a nationwide project based in New York, and is the result of a collaboration between the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, scientists at The College of Saint Rose and The University at Buffalo, and the US Geological Survey. The project uses a technique called “crowd sourcing”, and we need your participation to make it work.

Once you’ve located the gauge, read the water level and text the gauge number and the water level to the phone number indicated on the sign (example: NY1010 0.40). That’s it! There is a sign near the gauge that explains what to do. When you get home, check the website to see your data point added to the “hydrograph”.

There is also a guage in the Normanskill Creek at Normansville Farm, by the hikers' parking lot; its guage number NY1011.

A hydrograph is simply a graph recording how stream depth changes over time, and can be useful to assess stream function. For example, streams with lots of development in their watershed often show a more rapid response to a rain storm, and peak at a higher level than do streams with less development. This is because roofs, parking lots, roads, and other features of development shed water rapidly during a storm, while forests with well developed soils and lots of leaf litter on the forest floor absorb significant amounts of water. They also slow down the flow of the water that they don’t absorb, so it reaches the stream more slowly and spread out over a longer period.

What if something changes upstream in the Vlomankill? If we can build a record of how the stream functions normally, changes in the hydrograph may alert us to the type and severity of impact that those changes are having on our favorite stream. The more data, the better we can understand how the stream functions.

So next time you pass the gauge, text us the water level!

Why use “crowd sourcing” to do this research?

Crowd sourcing is proving more and more useful as the US Geological Service cuts back on the number of water monitoring stations across the country. The data you help collect is made available for anyone to use, from universities to elementary schools. The methodology behind “CrowdHydrology” is based on the assessment that one person or one agency can’t afford to monitor every stream but if we work together we can start to fill in the information gaps. There are about 10 measurement sites scattered around in upstate New York. There are also sites in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

Crowdhydrology is a supplement to the water measurements the USGS already gathers, and the program has become even more useful given recent cutbacks on the number of water monitoring stations nationwide.

For information on the project:

North Country Public Radio story on the project.

Information on CrowdHydrology in general from the University at Buffalo.

Information to the specific data collection site on the Vlomankill (Five Rivers is NY1010).