WASHINGTON — The same technology that allows you to consult your phone to figure out when a big storm is moving in could soon help you decide the best places to fish and swim.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is using satellite technology for an app it’s developing that’s aimed at helping both water-quality managers and, eventually, the public, determine the level of toxic algae in their water sources.
They’re in the process now of beta-testing the app with staff at the EPA. The next step will be to send it to designated water-quality managers in Ohio and Florida to have them test it for any bugs, said Blake Schaeffer, an assistant lab director for the National Exposure Research Lab at the EPA.
It’s technology spawned by last summer’s issues in Lake Erie. For more than two days in August, Toledo residents were barred from drinking tap water because of a toxic algae contamination.
Schaeffer said while satellite data can help people determine the safety of their water, that information is “not accessible to people who need to make decisions like water quality managers.”
“I always kind of struggled with that,” he said. “The whole point of me working for the EPA is getting people access to more information.”
He and other EPA scientists were inspired by the weather apps that allow people to look at satellite imagery online to figure out what the weather will be. “We hope to get to that level,” he said.
With the help of the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, they began developing the app.
When it’s complete, he said, users can drop a pin into a specific location and watch the pin change colors depending on the concentration of algae bloom. Green will mean the water’s safe. Red, he said, should be avoided, and the water-quality manager should take action. Yellow might mean a water-quality manager can begin taking action to make the water safer.
Ideally, he said, they’ll also be able to track how the water is changing by looking at data week by week to make some sort of forecast as to whether an algae bloom will get better or worse.
The app is initially designed for water-quality managers but, Schaeffer said he is hopeful that in the long term, it will also be useful to the general public. Because it will track everything from water clarity to temperature, swimmers and divers might find the information on the app useful as well.
It’s only being designed for Google and Android marketplaces initially. The next phase — this summer — will be testing among those “external to the EPA” including water-quality users in Toledo and with the Ohio EPA.
They hope to have it rolled out within the calendar year.
View original article at: App will show level of algae in water