Evaluating Youth-Led Citizen Science for Improved Monitoring of Domestic Well Water Quality in Nebraska

Chrisopher A. Olson, Arindam Malakar, Matteo D’Alessio, Nicole Schumacher, Chittaranjan Ray, Daniel D. Snow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Domestic well water quality is unregulated, infrequently monitored, and increasingly impacted by contamination, which seriously affects safe use for drinking, especially in intensively agricultural states such as Nebraska. In this study, rural Nebraska high school students and teachers who participated in a youth-led educational citizen science project received hands-on training in domestic well water construction, sampling, and vulnerability as well as basic knowledge about groundwater flow and availability. Students independently collected groundwater samples and measured atrazine, nitrate, chloride, calcium hardness, pH, and electrical conductivity using commercial test kits and a multiparameter probe. To evaluate the comparability of student test measurements, replicate samples were collected and tested for the same parameters in a university laboratory. Similarities and differences between student tests and laboratory measurements were expressed in terms of the coefficient of determination (R2) and the absolute difference in averages (|Δave|). A comparison of the results between the youth citizen scientists and laboratory results proved good comparability for many tests while revealing the need for improvement in instruction, calibration, and use of the test probe and kits. Additional parameters measured in the split samples underscore the value of using citizen science sampling for evaluating the vulnerability of domestic well water quality to contamination. In the first three years of student sampling, laboratory results show that nitrate concentrations in over one-quarter of Nebraska domestic wells sampled more than safe levels for drinking water, and many wells sampled have concentrations of geogenic arsenic, manganese, and uranium above drinking water standards. This study shows how youth-led citizen science can improve monitoring coverage, provide data, and integrate local communities to better evaluate and respond to growing concerns over domestic well water quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-609
Number of pages9
JournalACS ES and T Water
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 9 2024


  • citizen science
  • domestic wells
  • education
  • water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


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