Team:Cornell/project/hprac/cayuga watershed


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Application: Cayuga Watershed

We also focused on potential applications of our device in local areas. While upstate New York is not affected by oil sands toxicity, local groups are highly concerned with the possible implementation of hydrofracking in New York state, and any subsequent adverse effects.

In order to get a sense for the water monitoring needs in Ithaca, we spoke to a representative of the Community Science Institute, a volunteer-driven organization seeking to establish baselines for water quality in the Cayuga watershed. They are limited by the training necessary to operate laboratory equipment for chemical detection methods, manpower, viable sampling locations, and sampling frequency. They are also seriously limited by cost; it can cost $20 to detect one toxin in one discrete sample. A system such as ours, that only needs servicing twice a year, doesn’t require any special training for deployment of data collection, and is fairly cheap to implement, would be ideal for resource-limited situations where water quality databases are few and far between.

In addition, we spoke to Bill Foster, a limnologist who conducts independent sampling of Cayuga Lake, about our device. He emphasized the importance of continuous sampling, because his own discrete sampling efforts were significantly affected by temporal fluctuations that made it hard to tease out long-term trends. He described the lake as a “bathtub,” in which fluctuations in water levels can affect contaminant levels at different depths. Our system addresses this with continuous monitoring, which can be used to distinguish daily and seasonal fluctuations from long-term trends.

In the coming weeks, we will be meeting with representatives of the Coalition to Protect New York to get a better sense for the monitoring needs associated with hydrofracking, as well as concerns regarding the use of genetically modified strains in environmental applications. We have also submitted an abstract to the New York Water Environment Association’s Annual Conference, and hope to send a representative to this meeting to get feedback from a wide variety of water quality experts.

Our project was designed to be modular; it is easily adaptable to sensing a wide variety of toxins and is housed in a rugged physical device that could be made to function in different environments and areas of the world. We believe that our project, while immediately applicable to areas affected by oil and gas extraction, is moreover a powerful platform for continuous water monitoring in a number of other situations, which we hope to explore in the future.