Real-Time Water Quality Monitoring to Help Communities Better Understand Local Water Quality
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) initiated the Village Blue research project in 2017 to provide real-time water quality monitoring data to local and regional communities and increase public awareness about water quality. A new Village Blue monitoring site has been established in New Orleans, Louisiana at Pontchartrain Conservancy's New Canal Lighthouse on Lake Pontchartrain, a 630-square-mile estuary used for recreational and commercial uses such as swimming, boating, kayaking, camping and fishing.
Village Blue Lake Pontchartrain expands on a former Village Blue project in Baltimore, Maryland. Village Blue Baltimore was launched in 2017 to measure water quality in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. Village Blue also builds on EPA’s Village Green project, which provided air quality information to eight communities across the U.S.
EPA and USGS installed a new water quality sensor site near the New Canal Lighthouse on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain in early 2021. The sensors measure algae, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, specific conductance, salinity, turbidity and nitrate. These measurements are updated every hour. Water sensor data from this new site and an existing USGS site on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge are displayed in near real-time on the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS) website. Gil, the reactive fish sculpture at our New Canal Lighthouse, references this data every hour and reflects the parameters through his colors and motion.
Village Blue - Lake Pontchartrain
Station Location: New Canal Lighthouse, 8001 Lakeshore Dr, New Orleans, LA
Installation: February 2021
EPA and USGS installed water sensors next to the New Canal Lighthouse in February 2021. The sensors record measurements of select water quality parameters every hour. Measurements include dissolved oxygen (DO), pH, temperature, specific conductance/salinity, turbidity, chlorophyll a, phycocyanin and nitrate/nitrite. Learn more about some of these parameters below.
Although water sensor data from the new site are not representative of the entire lake’s water quality, data from this site and an existing USGS site on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge could be combined, allowing river and lake conditions to be evaluated under normal conditions on the river, and when river and lake waters come together during openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway. The spillway is a feature of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi River and Tributaries Project that diverts floodwaters from the Mississippi River through Lake Pontchartrain into the Gulf of Mexico.
Real-time Village Blue Lake Pontchartrain data can be viewed on USGS's National Water Information System (NWIS) website:
- Village Blue Lake Pontchartrain NWIS Data
- Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, LA NWIS Data
Data from Village Blue Lake Pontchartrain can be compared with data from the Baton Rouge monitoring site to evaluate water quality before, during and after openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway, when freshwater from the Mississippi River is diverted into the normally saline and brackish water of Lake Pontchartrain.
Visualizing the Data
In addition to displaying Village Blue water quality data in real-time online, EPA and Pontchartrain Conservancy have partnered to develop an outreach program around a “reactive sculpture” that visualizes the data in a creative, three-dimensional format that looks like a fish.
The sculpture, designed and constructed by EPA, is located at the New Canal Lighthouse and uses electronics and LED lights to move and change color, indicating changes in the water quality data. For example, the height of the sculpture changes relative to turbidity, the speed at which the tail moves reflects dissolved oxygen, the color of the fish represents salinity concentrations, and the color of the base corresponds to algae concentrations.
The Village Blue Lake Pontchartrain partners presently include EPA’s Office of Research & Development (ORD), EPA Region 6, EPA Gulf of Mexico Division, USGS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Village Blue Lake Pontchartrain was funded through EPA’s Regional Applied Research Effort (RARE) Program with additional support from EPA’s Region 4 Gulf of Mexico Division.
Find Gil, the reactive fish sculpture, at The New Canal Lighthouse!
Open 10:00am - 4:00pm, Tuesday - Saturday