June 26, 2007
In June, the White River Partnership (WRP) launched its seventh season of monitoring the water quality of streams and rivers throughout the White River watershed in central Vermont. Twenty-two dedicated volunteers are keeping tabs on 26 sites throughout the watershed, measuring water temperature, clarity, and electrical conductivity (a measure of dissolved salts), and also collecting water samples that are tested for E. coli at the WRP’s Rochester office.
E. coli is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of all warm-blooded animals. It is best used as an indicator of water pollution from human or animal waste—its presence reveals that fecal material from a variety of sources (leaking septic systems, waterfowl, livestock, wild animals, and pets) is entering the water and that there is a potential for the water to contain pathogens that could make people sick. Because the White River watershed is a popular destination for swimming, paddling, fishing, and tubing, the WRP has been keeping a close eye on E. coli levels in an effort to understand and combat potential sources of pathogens.
Since 2001, almost half of the sites monitored by the WRP have revealed high E. coli counts according to the State’s accepted safe swimming standard of 77 organisms per 100ml of water. 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. Only one monitoring site on the Middle Branch regularly exceeded this federal standard in 2006.
The larger tributaries to the White River, including Ayer’s Brook, the Third, Middle, and First Branches, routinely experience high E. coli levels after rain storms. A heavy rain can cause E. coli levels to jump. In areas where the only source of E. coli is that which occurs naturally, heavy rain does not have much of an effect on E. coli levels. However in areas where there are additional sources of E. coli, such as leaking septic systems, waterfowl, livestock, and pets, heavy rain storms can cause E. coli levels to increase dramatically.
Because of its close relationship to public health, we make the E. coli results available to the public each Thursday, via email, mail and our website. If you would like to receive the weekly E. coli results directly, please call (802) 767-4600.