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Monitoring ecological change with smart phones and social media

May 09, 2018 04:18PM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

Salt Lake County Watershed Planning & Restoration is using crowdsourced photos to monitor change at our stream restoration projects along the Jordan River.

By: Salt Lake County’s Watershed Planning & Restoration Program

As you explore the trails along the Jordan River this spring, keep an eye out for new signs at stream restoration projects completed by Salt Lake County’s Watershed Planning & Restoration Program. You’ll see informational signs about the projects, and signs that encourage people to take and share photos of the restoration areas. Both sign types were included to create awareness of stream restoration techniques used by the Watershed Program, why restoration was needed, and how it can improve the river ecosystem. For both wildlife and humans! 

When left to its own devices, a river is a dynamic thing. Banks move as erosive forces shape and reshape the channel and floodplain. But when development puts stress on natural stream systems, erosion can accelerate beyond the norm. Much of the Jordan River’s historic floodplain has been impacted in one way or another, and the Watershed Program is using natural channel design to repair damaged streambanks, restore natural function to the river, and improve habitat for wildlife.  

Post-project monitoring is an important part of any restoration project. With the photo monitoring stations, we’re inviting Jordan River Trail users to become part of the monitoring process!  It’s simple: Put up a sign asking people to set their phone or camera in an angle bracket, take a photo, and post it to Twitter with a site-specific hashtag. Then we use the photos to create slideshows that show change over time.

This is truly a crowdsourcing effort. We don’t own the photos. Instead, Salt Lake County developed an online tool to harvest the hashtags and view the photos in a slideshow format that simulates timelapse photography. We’re relying on a network of citizen-monitors to provide the data that creates a permanent photographic record. Photos taken during the growing season will record how plants on the reconstructed streambanks are filling in. During high water we’ll see how the floodplains are handling high river flows. During winter, when foliage is off and water levels are typically lower, we’ll have a clearer view of how the reconstructed streambanks are holding up. 

Spring is a great time to head out as plants in the restoration areas are starting to leaf out. Currently, there are seven photo monitoring stations (and eight project info signs) at several Watershed Program restoration projects on the Jordan River. Five photo stations along the stretch of river from Arrowhead Park at 4800 South to approximately 5100 South in Murray, are documenting ongoing restoration work begun in 2015. We have one photo station at Winchester Park at 6500 South in Murray for the channel repair and revegetated streambanks that we completed in 2015. In Draper, we have one station at the river realignment project at 12600 South, just down the trail from the Jordan River Rotary Park. To see the slideshows created from the crowdsourced photos, visit our Monitor Change page at http://slco.org/watershed/restoration/monitor-change/.

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