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#StormSnakes for Stormwater Run-off

Leslie Birch

Greetings, I’m Leslie Birch and I’m an anomaly — a tech artist with a strong interest in water and other environmental causes. Currently I’m at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education as a LandLab artist, tasked with creating an artistic intervention for stormwater run-off at their site.

The tech side of me wanted to do something with monitoring, while the artist side of me wanted to create natural barriers for the water; the result was #StormSnakes. A water monitoring device will record changing stream levels, while burlap bags will be stitched together and filled with rocks, wood chips and other natural materials to slow down the run-off. Both the monitor and burlap bags will be decorated to resemble snakes, adding a whimsical and camouflaged appearance to the project.

Although my past tech work has involved Arduinos and Raspberry Pi, I was going to need additional help in order to create a water monitoring system that could withstand outdoor conditions. I knew Stroud Water Research Center was going to be the answer, as I had been lurking on their site following the progress of Shannon Hick’s work.

As you may have noticed by the posts on this site, Shannon is very humble about her vast knowledge of microcontrollers, sensors, and waterways. Make no mistake, she is a rare combination of technologist and scientist. Needless to say, the Schuylkill Center encouraged me in this potential collaboration, and when Shannon Hicks agreed, I was ecstatic.

Shannon’s office

I recently spent a day exploring Stroud, from examples of testing equipment on their property, to Shannon’s space. The property has nets for insects, buckets for leaves and other organic matter, and monitors for the stream — it’s a Disney World for scientists.

The tech space is full of controllers, sensors, cables, cases, batteries and cannisters of water. It was encouraging that I was able to identify some of the parts in the bins, and Shannon and I probably could have spent even more hours than we did just talking shop.

Now it’s time to get down to business. Shannon is testing potential sensors, and I’m doing more investigation about the run-off, as well as researching possible locations for the monitoring system. It’s fascinating stuff, and I will be creating a tutorial of the big build.

Shannon’s supplies

This is my first step into becoming a Citizen Scientist, and I’m very excited to share Stroud’s work in this area to help others in stream monitoring. If you want a sneak peek, you can visit me at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education on September 27th for their Process and Progress Gallery Show, marking the midway point of the LandLab projects. I’ll have one of Shannon’s monitors on hand, as well as a mini version of a burlap snake. Secret password  — #StormSnakes.

Leslie Birch is a LandLab resident artist at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

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