Mara Knüsel, who is working on the project for her PhD thesis, explains the project’s approach: “Although groundwater is present everywhere beneath our feet, it’s very hard for us to get at. The best way to access it is via Switzerland’s countless spring boxes.” However, these spring boxes are not accessible to the general public and are maintained by the water supply companies. The researchers are therefore working with the water industry (water supply managers, water control officers, private spring operators, etc.) to collect as many samples as possible from different locations as part of a citizen science project. Of the 700 water utilities approached, almost half have already agreed to take part. “They’re very keen and happy to be involved, and they’re also interested in the results,” explains Knüsel. “We’re really lucky to be able to sample the spring boxes in this way.”
In the project video (see below), we see a water supply manager fitting a filter net directly to an inlet point. The net collects a number of organisms – above all amphipods – over the course of a week, which are then preserved in ethanol in a sample tube and sent to Eawag. Genetic analysis allows the collected amphipods to be assigned to a known – or new – species, and Knüsel then notifies the water utilities of the organisms that were found in the net.