Friday, May 23, 2014

Is the Black River Safe?

"Is the river safe?" is a question many people consider as summer approaches: paddling, swimming, fishing, and tubing are all common occurrences in the Black River when the temperature rises.

Volunteers of the non-profit grassroots group Black River Action Team (BRAT) met on Friday, May 23rd to finalize plans for the third season of monthly water quality monitoring -- coincidentally, the same date set as Water Quality Day by the Green Mountain Water Environment Association. Water Quality Day is intended to focus public attention on the work done at wastewater treatment facilities around the state, encouraging communities to learn more about what happens after water they see every day swirls down a drain -- out of sight, out of mind. Rivers and other surface waters are potentially impacted by discharge from treatment facilities, as well as by storm water flushing down street drains -- separated from town sewer pipes and emptying right into rivers and streams around the state.

BRAT volunteers will once again venture forth on the last Wednesday of each month from May through September, carefully collecting samples of water from the 11 sites along the Black River and two smaller tributary streams. Samples will be analyzed at Endyne Labs in Lebanon NH for bacteria levels, and at the State's water quality lab in Burlington for other parameters such as turbidity, total Nitrogen, and total Phosphorus. Other measurements recorded will include temperature and pH; the samples are gathered and the data collected and collated in an effort to assemble baseline data on the river. "The more information we can gather over a number of consecutive years, the better we'll be able to recognize trends in water quality," said BRAT Director Kelly Stettner.

The data is shared with the State of Vermont, to better help guide further inspection and detection of possible sources of contamination, as well as to assist in planning projects to mitigate the problem, if possible.

The work of collecting samples is not difficult, but care and precision in handling the various tubes and bottles are vital to obtaining accurate numbers at the labs. Proper data entry when filling out the paperwork that accompanies each vial is also essential; volunteers must demonstrate attention to detail in all aspects of this program.

Stettner is especially grateful to the water quality monitoring program "guru," Springfield resident Bill Manner. Manner's background with the State of Pennsylvania's water quality monitoring department has made him an invaluable member of the BRAT team. "Everyone who participates is hugely important," acknowledges Stettner, who is pleased to welcome new members as well as "veterans" of the program.

For more information on this and other projects on the Black River, contact BRAT Director Kelly Stettner To help support the volunteer efforts of the BRAT, donations may be made directly to the BRAT at 101 Perley Gordon Rd, Springfield VT 05156. Tax deductible donations may be made out to the ONRCD and mailed to the BRAT's fiscal agent, Ottauquechee Natural Resources Conservation District (note "BRAT" in the memo), 28 Farmvu Dr, WRJ VT 05001.

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