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Monitoring ecological change

Monitoring ecological change with smart phones and social media

by Watershed Planning & Restoration | The Watershed Watch

Salt Lake County Watershed Planning & Restoration is using crowdsourced photos to help with the ongoing monitoring of our stream restoration projects on the Jordan River! “How?” you may ask. It’s simple: Put up a sign inviting 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 harvest the photos to create slideshows that show change over time.

Jordan River Trail users may have already noticed a number of these “self-serve” photo monitoring stations, which were installed last fall. What’s new are the crowdsourced slideshows, now available on our website at http://slco. org/watershed/restoration/monitor-change.

Post-project monitoring is an important part of any restoration project. With the new photo stations, we’re inviting citizens to become part of the monitoring process. This is truly a crowdsourcing effort. Salt Lake County doesn’t own these photos. We won’t download and save the photos. Instead, we developed an online tool that harvests the Twitter hashtags and allows us to view the photos in a slideshow format. Image consistency is important for photo monitoring to be effective. The bracket on top of each photo station helps to ensure a consistent height, angle, and direction for each photo. It’s not perfect. Some photos have been taken vertically, when ideally we prefer them horizontal to capture as much of the restored streambanks as possible. But that little glitch aside, we’re getting loads of great photos! The end result: slideshows that simulate timelapse photography.

Much of the Jordan River’s banks and historic floodplain have been negatively impacted in one way or another due to development and stream alterations. These types of stresses can cause bank erosion to accelerate beyond the norm. The stream restoration projects designed by the Watershed Program use natural channel design to repair damaged streambanks, restore natural function to the river, and improve habitat for wildlife above and below the water.

The reconstructed floodplains and banks at all of our restoration projects are revegetated with native riparian plants, and photo monitoring is a great way to track the growth and success (or failure) of the plants. Also, photos taken during high water will show how the floodplains are handling the flows. During winter, when foliage is off and water levels are typically lower, we’ll get a clearer view of how the reconstructed streambanks are holding up. We’re relying on our new network of citizen monitors to create a year- round photographic record.

Next time you’re on the Jordan River Trail, keep an eye out for the photo monitoring stations. And snap a few pictures! Five photo stations along the stretch of river from Arrowhead Park at 4800 South to approximately 5100 South in Murray, are documenting the Watershed Program’s restoration work begun in 2015. One at Winchester Park (6500 South in Murray) is documenting the channel repair and revegetated streambanks completed in 2015. In Draper, one photo station was installed at our river realignment project at 12600 South (near Jordan River Rotary Park), which was completed in 2010.

In addition to the photo monitoring stations, we also installed a series of informational signs that discuss the goals of our stream restoration projects. Both types of signs were included to create awareness of stream restoration techniques used by the Watershed Program, explain why the work was needed, and how it can improve the river ecosystem.