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Pelham stream gage invites visitors to become ‘citizen scientists’

Dena Hoffman stands by the Beaver Brook stream gage.
Deena Hoffman
Dena Hoffman takes measurements at the Beaver Brook stream gage each week.

On Wednesday mornings, Dena Hoffman puts on long black fishing boots and wades into the murky waters of Beaver Brook in Pelham. Hoffman is an environmental specialist with the town and works to monitor stormwater and water quality in natural water bodies.

After waiting for the water to settle, she studies a wooden post by the shoreline to determine the brook’s water levels. The post, which resembles a large ruler, is called a stream gage. After Hoffman takes a reading, she will text it to a phone number posted on a nearby sign. That phone number connects her data to a nationwide project called Crowd Hydrology.

Brian Hauschild, a geoscientist with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said the project makes information about lakes, streams and rivers more accessible.

“All the data that goes into these stream gauges is hosted on their website, and it's publicly accessible to anyone,” Hauschild said.

Beaver Brook marks the second Crowd Hydrology gage location in New Hampshire. The first installation took place on Keene Creek, in Keene. Both were installed as part of a project by the New Hampshire Silver Jackets, an interagency organization that focuses on flood mitigation, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

“The eventual goal once more data is collected is to use that data in combination with other hydrologic data to identify trends in stream levels during various weather conditions,” Hauschild said. “Then the hope would be to have that data inform decisions that would enhance public safety during flooding events.”

Another goal of the project is to engage the public in hands-on earth science. Anyone visiting Beaver Brook can send in their own measurement. Hoffman says Pelham residents have already contributed a few readings, and she hopes more will continue this summer.

Corrected: June 20, 2024 at 4:35 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled Dena Hoffman's name. We apologize for the error.
Amanda Pirani joins us from the University of Michigan, where she is assistant news editor and podcast producer for the campus newspaper. Amanda was previously news editor of The New Hampshire, the campus paper at the University of New Hampshire, where she began her college studies. She has also interned with the New Hampshire Bulletin and freelanced for the New York Times out of New Hampshire.
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