“How will we measure the creek’s flow rate?” one of Patagonia’s Citizen Scientists asked Meghan Smart. “Well, you will have to get into the creek of course,” Smart replied. “You will measure the width and depth of the creek, and then calculate velocity by timing a bottle float downstream.” The response did not seem to intimidate the adventurous volunteer scientist, who starting mid-February, will be part of a team working with Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to collect water quality and flow data within the Sonoita Creek Watershed.

Patagonia is set to become Arizona’s fourth community to take the growth of its water database into its own hands. On January 22, 2018, a group of Patagonians gathered in the Old School with two Citizen Science trainers to pick water monitoring sites, discuss reporting protocol, and familiarize themselves with equipment. ADEQ’s recently formed
Citizen Science Water Monitoring Program, headed by Meghan Smart, trains citizens on how to gather, record, and report on water quality and flow. The program has empowered citizens who are concerned with water quality and flow to become Citizen Scientists. Communities can organize a volunteer group that is not afraid of getting their feet wet and diving into the endless task of water quality data collection. The Citizen Science program is a collaborative effort between motivated citizens and ADEQ that augments existing efforts to compile water quality and flow data. The volunteers will be able to collect data weekly which will create a more accurate and complete database. The data gathered by the volunteers will be vetted vigorously by ADEQ staff and auditing programs before being uploaded to ADEQ’s water database for quality assurance.

Water quality in the Sonoita Creek Watershed has a history wed to geology and mining activity, a relationship that appears to be continuing into the foreseeable future. There is no pre-mine baseline of water quality in the basin, and three of Sonoita Creek’s tributaries: Harshaw Creek, 3R Canyon, and Alum Gulch are classified as “impaired” by ADEQ due to heavy metal contamination and acidity.

Since the topic of mining so often sparks heated debate and people taking sides, the current group of volunteer scientists stressed the impartiality of their efforts. Data is objective and speaks to the health of a watershed. It is not a pro-mine or anti-mine group. The Citizen Scientist group is pro-data and is interested in collaborating with all other stakeholders and citizens within the watershed that share an interest in water quality and flow data. The volunteers look to data as an unbiased way to gain insight on the evolution of the watershed’s quality and quantity and assure responsible activity within the watershed.

The town of Patagonia’s Flood and Flow Committee’s recent publication of the Sonoita Creek Watershed Management Plan lays out next steps to sustainably manage and conserve quality and quantity of water in the basin. The compilation of baseline
water quality and flow data is one of the foremost recommendations, and helps advance six of the seven goals developed by the stakeholders of the Sonoita Creek Watershed: sustainable local water supply, clean water, integrated flood management, healthy ecosystem, responsible land and resource management and coordinated watershed planning. Water is blind to property boundaries and the efforts of the Citizen Scientists to monitor “the vital signs” of water will be of value for all of the stakeholders and inhabitants within the watershed.

For more information, or if you have interest in collaborating with Patagonia’s Citizen Scientists, contact Patagonia’s Flood and Flow Committee, which meets every second Thursday of the month at 10:00 AM at the Town Hall. In addition, a PDF of the above mentioned document, The Sonoita Creek Watershed Management Plan can be found on the Town of Patagonia’s website, under the Flood and Flow Committee tab.