New App Lets You Help Gather Smith River Algae Data

Mar 5, 2018

Algae growth is increasing on Montana’s famed Smith River and scientists don’t know why. So, they’re turning to the public for help.

Excessive algae can deplete oxygen and alter water pH levels, harming fish and other aquatic life in the process. Algae blooms are also a nuisance to humans who encounter them on rivers and lakes.

Since 2015 it’s been a growing problem on central Montana’s treasured Smith River and scientists want to know why. But, because the Smith is so remote and requires a float permit, it’s tough to collect data there. A new crowdsourcing mobile app is now available to help scientists get a better handle on the size and scope of the problem.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Jeni Garcin explains:

Screen capture of the Smith River Algae App in the Google Play Store, March 5, 2018.

"It basically takes advantage of citizen science. People can go in, and using the application, take photos of what they see on the river; where the algae is -- where the algae isn’t is just as important to know. They submit it directly to DEQ. It comes straight to us and we can use it to map as we start to investigate on what the potential causes might be."

The data will eventually be compiled into a map that displays those algae patterns. Garcin says that map should be available by year’s end or early 2019.

The "Montana Smith River Algae App" is a free download from either Google Play or Apple’s App Store.

The project was funded with a $50,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.