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Prototypic automated continuous recreational water quality monitoring of nine Chicago beaches

October 28, 2015

Predictive empirical modeling is used in many locations worldwide as a rapid, alternative recreational water quality management tool to eliminate delayed notifications associated with traditional fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) culturing (referred to as the persistence model, PM) and to prevent errors in releasing swimming advisories. The goal of this study was to develop a fully automated water quality management system for multiple beaches using predictive empirical models (EM) and state-of-the-art technology. Many recent EMs rely on samples or data collected manually, which adds to analysis time and increases the burden to the beach manager. In this study, data from water quality buoys and weather stations were transmitted through cellular telemetry to a web hosting service. An executable program simultaneously retrieved and aggregated data for regression equations and calculated EM results each morning at 9:30 AM; results were transferred through RSS feed to a website, mapped to each beach, and received by the lifeguards to be posted at the beach. Models were initially developed for five beaches, but by the third year, 21 beaches were managed using refined and validated modeling systems. The adjusted R2 of the regressions relating Escherichia coli to hydrometeorological variables for the EMs were greater than those for the PMs, and ranged from 0.220 to 0.390 (2011) and 0.103 to 0.381 (2012). Validation results in 2013 revealed reduced predictive capabilities; however, three of the originally modeled beaches showed improvement in 2013 compared to 2012. The EMs generally showed higher accuracy and specificity than those of the PMs, and sensitivity was low for both approaches. In 2012 EM accuracy was 70–97%; specificity, 71–100%; and sensitivity, 0–64% and in 2013 accuracy was 68–97%; specificity, 73–100%; and sensitivity 0–36%. Factors that may have affected model capabilities include instrument malfunction, non-point source inputs, and sparse calibration data. The modeling system developed is the most extensive, fully-automated system for recreational water quality developed to date. Key insights for refining and improving large-scale empirical models for beach management have been developed through this multi-year effort.

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