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Pilot Water Quality Telemetry Project on Fourmile and Tenmile Creeks

NOTICE: The electrical storm of Thursday, December 22, affected some of the electronic components of our system.

1) Some of the circuitry of the 10mile Creek water quality probe was destroyed and is being repaired by the manufacturer in Texas. It will be reinstalled during the first week of January.

2) The small computer which collects the data from both probes is needed repairs, and will soon be online again.


The purpose of this project is to:

  • collect water quality data in 4mile and 10mile Creeks;
  • develop an efficient method of collecting water quality data on a real-time, continuous basis; and,
  • determine how to place this information on the Internet so people can learn about their creeks.

This water quality information is important because these creeks were recently maintained by the landowners, and this monitoring will document positive effects of the plantings along the creeks and the other measures.

The following characteristics of the water in the two creeks are being measured once an hour:

  • temperature
  • dissolved oxygen
  • pH
  • conductance
  • turbidity
  • water level

Funders and partners
This project is sponsored by the Whatcom County Stormwater Division in the Whatcom County Public Works Department. It is scheduled to last until April of 2006.

Two entities of Washington State University are working on the project: WSU Whatcom Extension in Bellingham, and the WSU Center for Precision Agriculture in Prosser.

John and Dorie Belisle of Bellewood Acres orchards have donated space on their property so that this project could proceed. In addition, other landowners have allowed us to put equipment on their land. We thank them very much.

How the project works:
A probe in each of the two streams collects data about the water characteristics listed above. The two probes send this data by radio to an antenna at a barn at Bellewood Acres where a router sends the raw data via the Internet to the WSU Center for Precision Agriculture in Prosser. Eventually, that data will be processed for easier reading and then placed on a web page located on the WSU Whatcom Extension website.

We are still working on that technology (as of mid-December 2005) and so we currently have manually posted data until the real-time website is finalized.

More about the water characteristics being measured:
The probes have been placed in the main part of the two streams where most of the water flows; this area is called the "thalweg". They are protected from impact of floating debris and are anchored into the stream bank so they do not become detached during high water flows.

The following characteristics of the water are being measured: temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductance, turbidity, and water level.

Temperature: Just like us, the aquatic life which live in streams do not like temperatures outside their accustomed range – whether too hot or too cold. Temperature also has indirect effects, such as when insects fail to reproduce if the water becomes too warm.

Oxygen: The oxygen levels in the water are measured in two ways:

  1. by measuring the absolute concentration (the usual measures are in parts of oxygen per million parts of water million (abbreviated as “ppm”) or as milligrams per liter. Conveniently, these two measures are equal and the same numbers would apply to both.
  2. The other measure of oxygen in water is “percent saturation”, which tells you how much oxygen is actually in the water versus how much oxygen could potentially be in that water at that temperature.

Turbidity: This measures how cloudy the water is from small solid particles, such as sediment.

Conductivity: Conductivity can tell us where the water in a stream came from. It is a measure of the electrically-charged particles in water. For example, there is greater conductivity in water which has traveled underground for a distance than in water that has just fallen as rain. There is no standard or expectation for conductivity levels.

pH: The pH of water is a measure of how acidic or alkaline the sample of water is. The range of pH is 1 to 14, and neutral is 7. Water is typically a little greater than 7, except when a pollution event has occurred and if that happens, the water can get either more acid or alkaline.

Water level: This tells us how deep the water is. A pressure sensor inside the probe measures the depth of the probe, and we can calculate the total depth of the stream at that point because we know how far above the sensor is above the streambed.

We can also calculate total discharge (how much water is passing by that point in a second) because if we can flow measurements in the stream at various water depths, we can develop a graph and know how much water is flowing at different depths.

Questions? Please contact Ken Carrasco at WSU Whatcom County Extension, (360) 676-6736.


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Project Information: 


Graphs: beginning November 17, 2005



WSU Cooperative Extension Whatcom County
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