Citizen scientists help collect water quality data along Pearl River

Published: May. 6, 2021 at 11:09 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The temperatures are heating up and more people are looking for outdoor activities as summer approaches. But a local group is working to make sure the Pearl River is safe for those adventures.

The Pearl Riverkeeper volunteers work to give a clearer picture of what’s in the water. They’re all trained in the EPA-certified protocols developed by the Mississippi State Extension Service Water Stewards program.

This year there will 20 different sites scattered along the Pearl River, its tributaries and the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

Maureen McGuire and Claire Graves are two of the 45 citizen-scientists who will be doing bacteria testing with Pearl Riverkeeper each week this summer. The process is pretty simple... a few drops of water into the chemicals, then put into petri dishes and incubated.

The goal is to see if it meets water quality standards for E.coli.

“It has been safe for swimming a fair amount of the time,” explained Maureen McGuire. “Not every week but a lot of weeks it is safe enough to swim and that is surprising to a lot of people because there’s a conception that the water is very dirty and should be avoided at all cost and to stay away from it. But we find that that’s not true.”

The weekly results are posted for folks to see and use to make informed decisions about water adventures. But Graves warns that just one week of a failed test isn’t reason to steer clear all summer.

“There are lots of factors that affect the quality of our water and so I would encourage people to look over time,” noted Claire Graves. “But if you’re thinking about going out that weekend, you can go check and see what it’s like then. But then check next week. There’s a lot of different things… Rain or other events, sewage leaks or things like that that can affect the Pearl.”

Capital City Kayaks owner and operator Christopher Lockhart frequently gets the water quality question.

“It comes up all the time,” he said. Lockhart relies on the Pearl Riverkeepers’ data, especially since he’s often leading folks through oxbows like Crystal Lake.

“There are parts of the year I can’t put it on in the main river due to no contact advisories put in place by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality,” noted Lockhart. “Me having that peace of mind knowing that I can safely put people in, knowing that I can safely jump in and out, knowing that I won’t put myself in harms way... is very reassuring.”

The water quality results are posted at or you can text PRKSWIMGUIDE to 84483.

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