A citizen science initiative for intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams

Do you know of a river or stream that sometimes stops flowing?  Have you ever wondered when, where and why it stops, or what the damage might be?  Scientists and environmental regulators are looking for answers to the same questions, but there is a problem.  Lack of data.

The lack of data is a problem for scientists – including hydrologists and ecologists – wanting to understand how rivers like these respond to natural pressures like drought and flooding, and to human pressures like climate change and abstraction.  It’s also a challenge for environmental regulators, responsible for protecting our rivers and managing the impact of human activities.

The NRFA holds daily flow data for over 1500 gauging stations, and around 1 in 10 of these have recorded at least one interruption to flow since they were installed.  But many rivers stop flowing in places where there is no gauging station, say at the top, or in the middle, and those reaches may stop flowing at different times, perhaps only in the autumn, and for months or even years at a time.  Furthermore, when flow stops, we might see dry river bed, or perhaps a transition involving wet bed, ponding, trickling water or standing water.  Each of these states has the potential to be an important habitat, but on most rivers, we don’t know if, when or where they occur.

This summer, a coordinated citizen science initiative is being launched in the UK and across Europe, to record observations of flow state on intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams.  A mobile phone app for this purpose, CrowdWater, developed by SPOTTERON for the University of Zurich, is freely available for download on both iOS and Android and quick and easy to use.  Both ad hoc and more regular observations are welcome, and details of how to get started are in the below guidance document.  For more information on how to use the CrowdWater app, visit the website.

BE SAFE. Citizen science monitoring activities will be at your own risk, so please take care around traffic and livestock, wear suitable clothing and footwear for the weather and terrain, and do not be tempted into the water or onto private property.