Community Lab at ZERO Guildford!

It was a full house at ZERO Guildford for the Water Rangers Community Water Lab launch this past Saturday 27 April! Everyone was there to learn how we can, as a community, test for E. coli regularly.

Answering people’s questions

The lab was designed to respond to community questions. When Water Rangers, River Wey Trust, and ZERO started monitoring water chemistry in the Wey Catchment two years ago, many people told us they wanted to get involved because they were wild swimmers or boaters. Until now, we had no way to provide information to people on whether water quality exceeded the recommended levels for human recreation. Our new lab helps us lower barriers to testing for E. coli, allowing our community the agency and capability to get those answers.

We continue to monitor for ecosystem health through water chemistry, looking for hotspots for wildlife, but now we can also give information on monitoring for swimming. We’re working with the catchment partnership, Wey Landscape Partnership, and all stakeholders.

Results of our first tests!

In the UK, results for E. coli over 1,000 CFU/100mL are considered inadvisable for swimming and boating. Our first results showed high levels, with St. Catherine’s swimming spot reading 1,553 CFU/100mL but below limits at the rowing club, reading 687 CFU/100mL. We need to test regularly to know what’s normal for these spots. Things like the fact that people are walking into the water might be a factor of stirring up the sediment, releasing additional things into the water.

We also conducted our first test upstream and downstream from a point of interest! Special thanks to Terry from Planet Ocean for bringing his Fluidon sampler for us to test out at these locations. Further study to determine what’s normal will help us make some more conclusions.

You can view all results and the presentation here.

How the lab works

We’re run by volunteers, and we’re building the program to grow! This model means that we’ll be able to support more of the local community, seeking sponsors to help us monitor regularly, but also allow members of the public to access resources to collect samples for £15/sample.  If you’re interested in sponsoring a swimming/boating spot, here’s some more information on sponsoring.

For its launch, the lab will accept samples each Friday morning, with results published on Saturday morning. We need volunteers to help us collect samples Friday morning, process samples right after, and read results Saturday morning. We’ll also be arranging weekly work sessions Tuesday morning and monthly water testing enthusiasts gatherings once monthly on the last Saturday of each month. If you’d like to take a sample or get involved, please visit our Community Lab page, contact ZERO Guildford to become a volunteer, or email [email protected].

A successful event

As part of the launch, we had special guests Alex Adam from the Rivers Trust to give us a national perspective, Lewis Campbell from the South East Rivers Trust to give us the local context, and Stella Christou, a PhD student from Dr. Bing Guo’s lab at the University of Surrey to give us some analysis of our information and introduce us to research on anti-microbial resistance. Thank you to all our speakers, volunteer water quality trainers and enthusiastic attendees.

An extra shout out to ZERO Guildford for being our partner and home on this project (especially Ben, Steph and Mark, who have gone above and beyond to make this happen!). Plus, thanks to Godalming Town Council, which has given us a grant to run some preliminary tests!

This innovative lab concept is part of the prototyping efforts of the national CaSTCo project, a collaborative of over 80 partners that aims to “Close the gap between people, data, and decisions that affect rivers.” Currently, Water Rangers is working on comparing bacterial methods with members of organizations in the Severn River catchment.