H2NOW was recently launched by the Chicago nonprofit Current to provide real-time readings on water quality along the north, south, and main branches of the Chicago River. Historically, water monitoring required sending samples to a lab and waiting at least a day for results. River water quality can vary widely, as factors such as heavy rain – for example – can carry fecal matter into the river or overwhelm local sewage systems, causing harmful overflows. With H2NOW, the river’s water quality can be tracked every 15 minutes. It’s believed to be the first project in the country to measure contamination in an urban waterway in real time and is expected to encourage safe, river-based activities for residents and visitors.
Three probes are used that include optical sensors that collect data on the levels of microbial pollutants in the river. The data is then uploaded to H2NOW’s website, which then reports if parts of the river are at good, low or high caution for contaminants.
“H2NOW reports on the river like a meteorologist reports on the weather, giving you information to help determine when the river is safe to use, and when you should stay away,” Alaina Harkness, executive director of Current, said.
The project is led by Current and supported by 20 city partners, including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the Chicago Department of Water Management, Friends of the Chicago River, World Business Chicago, Urban Rivers, and technical providers such as Comcast. Current’s mission is to grow and strengthen an inclusive blue economy, accelerate innovation in water technology, and solve pressing water challenges in the region and in the world. Current will soon launch a new education program called Blue EDU. This will be a virtual field trip down the Chicago River, where high school students in Chicago will have the opportunity to learn about environmental stewardship, water careers, and H2NOW water quality data.