Many hands make light the load. This sentiment has inspired hundreds of volunteers to participate in the twice-annual “Wabash Sampling Blitz,” which collects water samples from 206 sites across the Wabash River Watershed.

Under the oversight of the Wabash River Enhancement Corp (WREC) and Purdue University researchers, these so-called “citizen scientists” have been doing the blitz since 2009, collecting samples to measure water temperature, PH, cloudiness, nutrient runoff and pathogen concentrations.

Skeptical they’re not professionals? Purdue researchers determined the volunteers have consistently estimated nitrogen concentrations with “moderate to substantial agreement to lab values,” according to Indrajeet Chaubey, Purdue professor of ecoydrology, the principal author of the study.

"Volunteers' analysis of nitrogen levels were directionally correct," he says. "When you hone in on exact numbers, the accuracy gets cloudier, but the values are generally true. This suggests that citizen scientists can provide meaningful and highly valuable data for watershed groups."

Row-crop farmland is the primary land that drains into the Wabash River. The WREC is a nonprofit water-quality agency, and the citizen scientists help gather data quickly with field test strips that measure nutrient and contaminant concentrations. Researchers use the blitz to screen the watershed for areas that require additional attention and effort.

“We’d never seen the entire watershed in a six-hour period,” according to Ron Turco, Purdue professor of soil microbiology, who co-authored the study. “The blitz accomplishes that goal completely.”

Chaubey says the blitz is not just a data-collection effort – it is an educational opportunity as well.

“[We see] increased awareness of water quality issues and the opportunity to bring science to citizens and educate them on what they can do to protect water quality,” he says.

The Wabash River Watershed study was published in the first edition of the journal Citizen Science in May – visit http://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.1 for more information.