Innovative river testing technology used to inspire community action over water quality

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Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT), South Devon citizen science groups and Brixham-based company Molendotech are trialling a new technology to quickly test for microbiological contamination in rivers.

With more people accessing their rivers for recreation and wellbeing, the interest in river health, and its impact on those entering the water, has grown, yet there are few rapid methods (results available in under one hour) able to assess the risks of unseen bacteria in freshwater.

Zoë Connelly, Junior Evidence & Engagement Officer at WRT, said: “Our project, funded by The Naturesave Trust, is testing the new Bacterisk rapid testing technology from Molendotech as an addition to our current monitoring kit used by our Westcountry CSI citizen scientists.

“Our citizen science scheme addresses shortfalls in Government-funded monitoring by empowering communities to collect data such as phosphate levels, track pollution and take action over poor water quality, and this is an exciting step for people to find out the microbiological state of their rivers in real-time.”

Current methods require the growth of bacteria, providing an answer 24 – 36 hours later, which is too slow as the community may have used the water and been exposed to potential health risks.

The culture methods are also time consuming, expensive for laboratory analysis, and pose a potential health and safety risk when the cultures are grown at home by citizen scientists.

The Bacterisk testing method requires the tester to take a sample of water which is transferred into a small test tube with necessary reagents.

The tube is inserted into an incubator that heats the sample to an appropriate temperature and uses colour change to provide a correlation to bacterial level, with the process taking approximately 30 minutes.

This project will compare the rapid and simple Bacterisk alongside these traditional methods for assessing the risks of microbiological water pollution to people and the river habitat.

The team from Molendotech provided equipment training to Zoë, Monitoring and Engagement Officer Ada Myers at WRT and Westcountry CSI citizen scientist, Diane Castle.

Simon Jackson Founder and CSO from Molendotech said: “Our rapid screening assay Bacterisk can detect bacterial contamination in less than 30 minutes and dramatically improve microbiological risk management.

“The method is designed to be suitable for the widest range of users but has not been tested by volunteer citizen scientists.

“Taking part in this project to empower individuals and citizen science groups to monitor their waterways will add value to the data we need to keep rivers and people healthy.”

Regular sampling in the South Devon area will be evaluated with wider partners including the Environment Agency, and the findings will also feed into the Catchment Systems Thinking Cooperative (CaSTCo) project, which is developing national standards for citizen science.

If successful, the methodology can be rolled out to other UK Rivers Trusts.

West Country Rivers Trust is an environmental charity that works to restore and protect the freshwater environments of the Westcountry for the benefit of people, wildlife and local economies. You can learn more about their work here.