Community Monitoring of Water Ecosystems: We lived days of learning and water quality certification.

What parameters indicate water quality? What data are relevant to understand the health of lakes, rivers, and estuaries? These were some of the perspectives addressed in the course "Certification of participatory community monitoring of water quality and ecosystem health of wetlands" taught by the Manzana Verde Foundation in Bosque Pehuén.

During February, we were part of a training on water quality monitoring, aiming to understand theoretical and practical perspectives to analyze the health of water ecosystems. The course was conducted by the Manzana Verde Foundation (FMV), winners in two consecutive versions of our FMA fund, who are part of the international network Global Water Watch (GWW), an initiative that promotes methodologies for gathering reliable information for action and education regarding co-participatory care of watersheds. 

Among the waters of the estuaries originating in Bosque Pehuén, we learned – alongside professionals from the Cosmos and Kreen foundations; the Extension Directorate and the Citizen Science Laboratory of the University of La Frontera (UFRO); the El Cañi Nature Sanctuary and the NGO Bestias del Sur Salvaje – about the conservation status of various bodies of water and also how to generate quality data through monitoring using a portable sampling kit.

“Our purpose in inviting various local actors to this certification – many of them working in the Toltén River basin – was to enhance the amplification of this participatory monitoring network in various ecosystems of the country, as we believe that monitoring is a relevant way to stimulate data sovereignty and, at the same time, constitutes a tool for people to know the quality of the water in the rivers and lakes they interact with daily,” stated our conservation director, Amerindia Jaramillo, who highlighted the projection of this joint work for the realization of upcoming monitoring campaigns in Andean and lacustrine watersheds.

The course included three types of monitoring: physical-chemical, which addresses parameters such as levels of dissolved oxygen, total hardness, and temperature; biological, which evaluates the presence or absence of bottom organisms in a body of water (benthic macroinvertebrates) to establish the level of system disturbance; and bacteriological, which detects bacterial pathogens.

One of the relevant findings in Bosque Pehuén was the presence and abundance of macroinvertebrates of the orders Plecoptera, Ephemeroptera, and Trichoptera, indicators of good water quality, a result that showed, in a preliminary manner, how the protection of the headwaters of the Palguín River, and the conservation of soils and native forests, allow ensuring the health of fluvial ecosystems from the origin of this watershed in the Andes mountain range.

Regarding this, Esteban Flores, coordinator of the National Network of Participatory Community Monitoring of Global Water Watch and part of the Manzana Verde Foundation, stated that “macroinvertebrates are delicate organisms, very sensitive and live in healthy waters. In the case of Bosque Pehuén, we found indicators in the water such as dissolved oxygen of 9.5 mg/L, exceptional water quality, and a neutral pH, which allows life to develop properly in this estuary.”

Participatory monitoring that expands its boundaries

Between the years 2022 and 2023, the Manzana Verde Foundation has certified more than 40 monitors in various regions of the country, a task that began in the Biobío Region. Among those who have joined this community monitoring initiative are teachers, youth, scientists, retirees, guardians, and high school students.

This time, the invitation – jointly made by the Manzana Verde Foundation, Global Water Watch, and our foundation – for various territorial organizations to be certified in this methodology sought to make “each person become a monitor capable of collecting quality water information, sharing their knowledge and data with others, thus contributing to increasing samplings in the territory and strengthening the local capacity to understand and manage water resources,” explained Amerindia. Likewise, our conservation director emphasized that this action aims to contribute to complementing the established water quality monitoring networks by the State, especially in territories with low representation of such stations, and to contribute from a local scale to the plan for the decontamination of the Villarrica Lake basin, currently under development.

Sources:

  1. Global Water Watch is an international program with over 30 years of monitoring freshwater and saltwater bodies in America and Africa.
  2. The techniques used for data collection are endorsed by the Data Quality Assurance Plan validated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and have been developed in collaboration with the University of Alabama with high scientific standards.
  3. The participatory community water monitoring system provides access to any member of the community and allows for up to 60 monitoring events per year. Through this methodology, communities can generate their own data, promoting autonomy and the capacity to create new knowledge about local water bodies. This approach also empowers individuals to become sources of information and guidance for their community.