Monticello HS students create devices to test Rivanna River quality

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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Monticello High School students strapped on life vests and loaded into kayaks Thursday, but this field trip was more than just a fun day floating down the Rivanna River.

Environmental Science Teacher Chris Stanek created a plan to measure water quality in Albemarle County last year.

"We started working on a device last summer, collaborating with Virginia Tech and the Rivanna Conservation Alliance," he said. "We wanted to build a device where we could remotely check data."

This year, Stanek had his AP Environmental Science students help make the plan a reality, creating a device that measures water temperature, air temperature and pH every five seconds.

"For weeks, we've been building it in the classroom," said MHS senior Kayla Burton.

The device records the measurements on a memory card that can upload that data to a computer.

"It's a beautiful day. I'm excited to see how it works," Burton said.

The students set up the devices along the Rivanna River before taking a kayak trip to allow time for the data to be recorded.

"It's cool to be outside and be applying this stuff to the environment," said senior Cara Delaney.

Even though the devices only measured a few factors, Stanek and his students have a bigger plan.

"Part of the problem right now is that we don't have enough funding for the elements we want to include," Delaney said.

In the coming years, Stanek hopes to gain enough funding to have his students create permanent devices that measure more factors, like dissolved oxygen and conductivity.

"We knew it wouldn't be accomplished in a year, but we really want to continue to add different things that we're measuring," said Stanek.

He hopes that when this happens, the devices can help the community.

"A few years ago in Lake Monticello, there was a sewage leak and it took months before they discovered it because they only check the water manually twice a year," Stanek said.

He hopes more funding will help install solar-powered devices throughout bodies of water in Albemarle County.

"We could collect data on a regular basis and local residents could view the data and see if something was off, and hopefully someone could catch it within the day or even hour," he said.

Stanek hopes this plan could even expand beyond the county.

"The idea is if we can do it here and make it easy for our students, then we can share it with other schools," said Stanek.

"We're in environmental science, so it's cool that we're actually doing this outside in the real world," said Delaney.

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