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Watershed Window: Water Quality Extension Unveils Interactive Project

Wednesday, Jul. 03, 2013

Water Quality Extension team members
Water Quality Extension team members, from left, Dan Bone, Tiffany Kinder, leader Nancy Mesner and Brian Greene developed the East Canyon Creek Watershed interactive display for USU's Swaner EcoCenter. Not pictured is team member Eric Peterson.
the interactive display monitor
'A River Runs Through Us': Interactive display provides touchscreen access to concise information about the East Creek Canyon Watershed including real-time stream monitoring, with activities geared to all ages.

Members of Utah State University’s Water Quality Extension team are celebrating the completion of an outreach tool that places the wonders of the East Canyon Creek Watershed at the public’s fingertips.


The group delivered its creation, which features a colorful, interactive 42-inch widescreen LCD display, to USU’s Swaner EcoCenter in Park City, Utah, July 1, 2013. The display allows users to access real-time water quality monitoring data from a data collection station situated in East Canyon Creek on preserve land about a mile from the center.


“Our aim was to use technology to engage people at all knowledge and age levels,” says Nancy Mesner, program coordinator for Water Quality Extension and faculty member in USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences and Ecology Center. “With web content technology developed by USU’s Information Technology Office, this tool accomplishes that nicely.”


The project, funded with a patchwork of support from USU Extension, the Quinney College of Natural Resources, the Department of Watershed Sciences, Swaner EcoCenter, the Utah Division of Water Quality and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, features a solar-powered data logger and an array of sensors that collect and transmit water quality data to the center’s interactive display and to the Utah Water Research Laboratory at USU’s Logan campus.


“The station’s sensors collect stream flow, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance and turbidity data,” Mesner says. “Observing these data is an educational tool, but it’s also a research and management tool. The UDWQ and USU researchers will use the collected data for study and for water quality management required by the EPA.”


The system’s interactive display is based on EZPlug, a web content management system developed by USU’s Information Technology Office.


“EZPlug allows us to easily add photos, videos and other content as needed,” Mesner says. “We can currently use the display as a touchscreen display, but it can be easily modified for use as a website. It’s really exceeded our expectations.”


Brian Greene, coordinator of Water Quality Extension’s statewide Utah Water Watch, says preparing educational content for the display was an extremely valuable experience in science communication and outreach.


“The display is versatile enough to be used as a support tool to complement the center’s educational programs, but it’s also a stand-alone display that will engage visitors of diverse interests and varied ages,” Greene says. “It features a broad range of activities, including information about the watershed’s wildlife and conservation tips.”


He adds the project provides an opportunity for involvement by Utah Water Watch volunteers.


“The station collects much of the same data we collect on streams, rivers and lakes for Utah Water Watch, but at a higher frequency,” Greene says. “Every two weeks, volunteers inspect the monitoring station to make sure the sensors are properly maintained and calibrated. This ensures high quality data for Swaner and watershed scientists.”


Mesner says the Swaner display serves as a template for future projects.


“Now that we’ve gone through the process of creating one system, we’re ready to create systems specific to other sites,” she says. “USU’s Utah Botanical Center in Kaysville has expressed interest in a project. We also envision creating systems for visitor centers in natural areas throughout the state, as well as the atrium of USU’s Quinney College of Natural Resources.”


Mesner and partners in the project, including Swaner, the East Canyon Creek Watershed Committee,  UDWQ, the Quinney College of Natural Resources and USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences plan an official unveiling of the new system Wednesday, Aug. 14, at 6 p.m. at the Swaner EcoCenter.  Mesner will reprise her talk, “Changing the World One Drop at a Time,” which she presented during the USU College of Science’s spring 2013 Science Unwrapped series.


“This project is a great example of a collaborative partnership, involving expertise from across campus, from varied community partnerships and the state of Utah,” Mesner says. “It opens the door to exciting opportunities.”



Contact: Nancy Mesner, 435-797-7541, nancy.mesner@usu.edu

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

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