Citizen science flow-an assessment of simple streamflow measurement methods

Jeffrey C. Davids*, Martine M. Rutten, Anusha Pandey, Nischal Devkota, Wessel David Van Oyen, Rajaram Prajapati, Nick Van De Giesen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
174 Downloads (Pure)


Wise management of water resources requires data. Nevertheless, the amount of streamflow data being collected globally continues to decline. Generating hydrologic data together with citizen scientists can help fill this growing hydrological data gap. Our aim herein was to (1) perform an initial evaluation of three simple streamflow measurement methods (i.e., float, salt dilution, and Bernoulli run-up), (2) evaluate the same three methods with citizen scientists, and (3) apply the preferred method at more sites with more people. For computing errors, we used midsection measurements from an acoustic Doppler velocimeter as reference flows. First, we (authors) performed 20 evaluation measurements in headwater catchments of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Reference flows ranged from 6.4 to 240 L s−1. Absolute errors averaged 23 %, 15 %, and 37 % with average biases of 8 %, 6 %, and 26 % for float, salt dilution, and Bernoulli methods, respectively. Second, we evaluated the same three methods at 15 sites in two watersheds within the Kathmandu Valley with 10 groups of citizen scientists (three to four members each) and one “expert” group (authors). At each site, each group performed three simple methods; experts also performed SonTek FlowTracker midsection reference measurements (ranging from 4.2 to 896 L s−1). For float, salt dilution, and Bernoulli methods, absolute errors averaged 41 %, 21 %, and 43 % for experts and 63 %, 28 %, and 131 % for citizen scientists, while biases averaged 41 %, 19 %, and 40 % for experts and 52 %, 7 %, and 127 % for citizen scientists, respectively. Based on these results, we selected salt dilution as the preferred method. Finally, we performed larger-scale pilot testing in week-long pre- and post-monsoon Citizen Science Flow campaigns involving 25 and 37 citizen scientists, respectively. Observed flows (n=131 pre-monsoon; n=133 post-monsoon) were distributed among the 10 headwater catchments of the Kathmandu Valley and ranged from 0.4 to 425 L s−1 and from 1.1 to 1804 L s−1 in pre- and post-monsoon, respectively. Future work should further evaluate uncertainties of citizen science salt dilution measurements, the feasibility of their application to larger regions, and the information content of additional streamflow data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1045-1065
Number of pages21
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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