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New water monitors mean more access for public

image of Lake Bloomington

Lake Bloomington

Illinois State University is partnering with the City of Bloomington to allow residents to instantly access the quality of water flowing into drinking reservoirs in Evergreen Lake and Lake Bloomington.

A team, led by Associate Professor of Geography-Geology Catherine O’Reilly, Associate Professor of Biology Bill Perry, and Professor of Geology Eric Peterson, will coordinate with the city’s Water Department to install two new water-monitoring stations at Six-Mile Creek and Money Creek, both tributaries that flow directly into the reservoirs. The monitors, paid for by the city, are slated to be in place later this spring.

Catherine O’Reilly head shot

Catherine O’Reilly

Unlike current monitoring systems in the area, the new stations are being designed to send results to a website. “The data we gather will be accessed by the public, so people can view the water quality any time,” said O’Reilly, who added the team hopes the new website will be up and running by spring.

The types of information on the site will include levels of sediment in the water. “Sediments and nutrients can have a profound impact on the water supply and water quality,” said City of Bloomington Water Engineer Rick Twait, who is collaborating with the Illinois State team. “The data we get will give us a better idea of the direction our water sources are heading.”

Bill Perry

Bill Perry

By taking continuous samples and offering instant feedback, the stations could be especially helpful during storms, noted O’Reilly, because the chance increases for sediments to settle in the water. “We hope the system will help us understand what really happens in storm events, and could give the city a heads-up of what to expect.”

Eric Peterson

Eric Peterson

The new systems are the latest effort in a continuing collaboration between the city and the University to improve and monitor water quality in the area. “We’re working together to understand how in agriculture-intensive areas to collaboratively change land management in a sustainable fashion,” said Perry, who has worked on projects with The Nature Conservancy toward improving water quality for 15 years, including ongoing projects at Six-Mile and Money Creek.

Other collaborative projects explore new ways to filter nutrients—such as nitrate—from the soil naturally, and mapping the reservoirs. “It’s a wonderful partnership,” said Twait. “The students get access to high-quality, professional equipment, and they gather data the city would not have an opportunity to collect.”

Also explore how the University is partnering with the city and state agencies to understand attitudes toward local water sources

Peterson will be testing a new way to filter nutrients—such as nitrate—from water draining from farmer’s fields in a near-by tributary. “Once the nutrients are in the water, it’s very difficult to get rid of them,” said Peterson. “The aim is to help farmers maintain high yields while using best practices for the quality of water.”

The ongoing work signals “a new way of doing science,” said Perry, who noted projects such as adding wetlands and planting cover crops are only possible with the active involvement of the city and farmers. “This is a collaboration of biology, geology, chemistry, land management, and local government that is making it possible to look toward the future,” he said.

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