Water quality and citizen social science in Buenos Aires
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Water quality and citizen social science in Buenos Aires

¿Qué pasa, Riachuelo? is a citizen social science digital platform co-designed by different people and organisations interested in Environmental Justice in the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin in Argentina. It is part of CoAct’s Citizen Social Science R&I actions in Environmental Justice in Buenos Aires, whose main goal is to promote CSS tools to advance transformative actions towards environmental justice.

The Matanza-Riachuelo basin is a heavily contaminated 64 km long river where around 6 million people live (15% of Argentinean population) There are several contamination sources such as industrial waste; sewage effluents (since 50% of population in the basin is not connected to sewage system) and open garbage dumps. In addition, housing infrastructure is very deficient and 21 % of the basin population lacks access to safe water.

Through collaborative mapping the platforma ¿Qué pasa, Riachuelo? organises, systematises and shares the visions and knowledge accumulated over the years by social organisations, scientists and social actors on three different socio-environmental problems: water quality, conservation of natural areas, and the resettlement of families previously located in the basin towline path

What is Social Citizen Science?

It is a Participatory Research co-designed by a group of citizens who share a social concern to propose scientifically based measures to promote social change.

Anyone experienced and knowledgeable on a subject can actively participate in any research project at different stages, from design to interpretation of results.

In ¿Qué pasa, Riachuelo? we seek to inform, learn and reflect on the quality of water in the Matanza-Riachuelo basin.

What do we mean by water quality?

Water quality is a concept that refers to the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of water. The water quality depends on the use planned for it: we can, for example, say that it is of sufficient quality for some activities but that quality is not adequate to be consumed by people. The platform ¿Qué pasa, Riachuelo? makes it possible to record what is observed on the surface or near the bodies of water in the Matanza-Riachuelo basin and thus it can contribute to producing knowledge about these common aspects of quality for all possible uses.

In the Matanza-Riachuelo basin, several bodies of water are included or next to natural areas that are used by inhabitants for recreation, social encounter or connection with nature. They also value the local biodiversity and the cultural heritage that these areas embody. Some of them have legal protection from the State but others don’t, and they face threats such as the advance of urbanziation, open pit dumps, fires, and moreover. Water quality is affected by and affects these uses of the natural areas that surround the bodies of water.

How can we participate in water quality research?

We can learn some aspects of the water quality in the place where we live or transit through remote observations of bodies of water, such as rivers, canals and streams, and visible parts of the drainage system.

In experiences shared on the website, you can find information to identify situations related to water quality. Also, if you register on the platform, you can upload photos, documents and links.

What is the use for the information generated by everyone?

· By getting involved in monitoring activities, the communities will better understand the dynamics of the basin and will be able to identify anomalous situations

· For the authorities, the data could help evaluate the effectiveness of the management programs. In addition, monitoring variables associated with water quality allows the characterisation of contaminant contributions from specific or unknown sources, which can support decision-making.

· For scientific research, the data generated by citizens allow broadening the analysis of the temporal and spatial evolution of water quality parameters, especially when complemented with data from other sources. And the intertemporal and georeferenced data collectively generated in the platform are an input to analyse the effect of different variables on the threat and protection situation of the areas.

· The use of the platform can contribute to recognising the value of natural areas and identifying factors that threaten them. The shared data allows knowing these areas’ natural and cultural heritage, motivating the youngest to visit these spaces, appreciate their value, use them sustainably and defend them. It also promotes collective action by interconnecting users interested in their protection.

· There is a deficit of green spaces in the basin. However, the areas contribute positively to the sanitation of the bay. Georeferenced data on the state of the natural and cultural heritage of the different basin areas are an essential input for planning and implementing a biocultural corridor consistent with the judicial mandate for the sanitation of the basin.

· Identifying and geolocating some threats can help diagnose and improve monitoring, mitigation and risk management policies.

· Information on how the natural area is used, on disputed spaces and uses, and proximity to sources of contamination and other threats, can help better understand risks. It could also help identify the most common impacts in these areas and mitigation measures.

· At the same time, recognising which areas, according to the communities, should have some protection can guide scientific investigations of environmental impact assessment that favour protection processes.

· Spatial analysis of the area can help study its environmental importance on a larger scale that encompasses the entire basin as a system.

Check the platform to learn more about Citizen Social Science and Environmental Justice in Buenos Aires! Https://mapaqpr.farn.org.ar