October 31, 2006
The sixth season of our Water Quality Monitoring program is officially complete. Launched in 2001, the program goal is to better understand potential threats to water quality and public health by keeping tabs at over 20 sites throughout the watershed, including popular swimming holes and locations that have the potential to become contaminated. Every Wednesday morning during the summer, a team of volunteers measure water temperature, water clarity, and electrical conductivity, and collect water samples that are tested for E.coli, nitrogen and phosphorus. We share the results of our weekly E.coli testing with the public by posting them on our website, emailing them to interested people, and publishing a yearly E.coli Results Summary.
Now that the 2006 season is complete, we can compare this year’s data to previous years’ data. While overall water quality in the White River watershed is relatively good, problems do exist. Sedimentation and erosion continue to be the most prominent water quality concerns, followed by elevated water temperatures, nutrients, and pathogens – all of which contribute to reduced habitat for fish and other aquatic life. The presence of pathogens and other chemicals can pose serious threats to human health as well.
During the last five years, almost half of the 24 sites we monitored have revealed high E.coli counts according to the State’s accepted safe swimming standard of 77 organisms per 100ml sample. Because Vermont’s standard is the strictest in the nation, the WRP also uses the Environmental Protection Agency’s national standard of 235 organisms per 100ml sample. Five sites regularly exceeded this federal standard in 2006, which was on par with the 2005 data.
The WRP uses the results of the monitoring program to prioritize restoration projects. For example, the monitoring program results consistently show that the White River’s larger tributaries, including the First, Middle and Third Branches and Ayer’s Brook, have chronically high E.coli counts, with the majority of sites exceeding both standards for safe recreational contact. To address these threats, our Trees for Streams program focused on the First and Middle Branches in 2005 and 2006, and will focus on the Third Branch in 2007. And this fall, the WRP has initiated a corridor planning project on Ayers Brook.
Each year the WRP hires an intern to coordinate the monitoring program. This year, UVM graduate Luke Krisch did a terrific job training the volunteers, testing the water samples for E.coli bacteria, entering the data into our database, and sharing the results with the public. In addition, Luke surveyed 10 of our 15 permanent cross-sections, which were established to gather baseline data about the watershed. Thank you, Luke!
Our volunteer-driven water quality monitoring program is a prime example of how the WRP strives to engage community members to promote the long-term health of our watershed. By making people aware of potential threats to water quality and human health, we can work together to address them.