How healthy are our rivers and streams and how can we ensure their ecological and chemical status? That’s the question Member States across Europe are trying to answer as they work to comply with the EU Water Framework Directive which requires that water bodies have a good ecological status by 2015. The first step in meeting this goal is to find out the current water quality level and the impact of human influences like wastewater treatment plants or retention basins.
The standard way to measure water quality is by testing for chemical levels and looking for communities of aquatic life such as certain insect species. These tests can be quite expensive and only give a momentary snapshot of reality. River composition changes over the course of the day and a section flowing through a forest will be different to a section flowing through a sunny meadow, so these tests don’t give a full picture of river health.
As a complement to the EU Life+ project M3, which tests modelling and monitoring approaches for river basin management, MetabolicRiver will develop an alternative to standard testing, using changes in oxygen levels to determine river health. To measure river metabolism, which is the production and consumption of carbon dioxide and oxygen, probes will take measurements at two points in a river to find the pattern of oxygen levels over time.
This method gives a more accurate view of overall water quality as it takes into account natural oxygen fluctuations and can determine the impact of human activity such as wastewater treatment plants and combined sewer overflows on river health. As part of the M3 project it will be proposed to other Member States as a complement to routine sampling techniques and may have an EU-wide impact on water quality measurement.