Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Water Quality Sampling Season Begins

The Water Quality Sampling Season for 2011 has officially begun and with it life gets even busier!

Today we sent out our first monthly Water Quality Report of the year - for our May patrol - and a flurry of emails from throughout the Hudson Valley quickly filled our inboxes. We hear from all types of folks when these reports go out - some with questions, some sharing observations and others providing encouragement. It takes us a week or more to sort through them and reply but it's worth the effort. The public is our partner on this project - we cannot improve water quality in the Hudson without an engaged public. With the public we most certainly can, one community and waterfront at a time.

Carol Knudson (Columbia U) and John approaching mouth of Furnace Brook on east side of Haverstraw Bay to collect a sample

If you don't already receive our monthly water quality reports you should sign up, it's a good tale from the river painstakingly written by John and combined with data and artwork by yours truly. To sign up send an email to and ask to be put on the Water Quality list. Or sign up for all Riverkeeper emails

Here is the narrative from May, click the link below to see the full report with data. If you find it interesting share it with friends and neighbors.

First sampling patrol of 2011 - May 16 through May 19

Our May patrol was rainy, wet and nasty. It rained between 1.2 and 2.5 inches during and before our patrol (with local heavy rain every day as we worked north) and, as a result, we found more unacceptable water quality than ever before. Not one sample site north of Poughkeepsie was “acceptable.” This is stunning. I've never been on a patrol like this one. Read on to see how the Hudson River can be regularly and dramatically compromised by sewage releases triggered by something as simple as a few inches of rain.

Of 74 sampling locations:
59 (80%) were “unacceptable”
7 (9%) were “possible risk”
8 (11%) were “acceptable”

Rain events often lead to sewage overflows and more untreated sewage in the Hudson (which we detect as higher Entero counts). While we find unacceptable levels of sewage indicators at some locations and times even in dry weather, the water quality at most of our sampling locations degrades during and after rain. Sometimes the entire river is affected. Why? Because rainfall causes many sewer systems to overload and discharge raw sewage into the Hudson and its tributaries. The solution? We know it and, in some places, are already doing it: we need to build new sewage treatment infrastructure and repair/upgrade existing plants and systems. First, we have to reduce and then fully treat our wastewater.

Take your time looking at the data figure below; we won’t see too many patrols like this one… I hope.

Some Observations

NY Harbor (day 1): All sites were either “unacceptable” or “possible risk”. Note that one of the lowest cell counts we found was right in the upwelling effluent at the massive North River sewer plant near 125th street. Take away: once the sewage reaches the plant it is pretty effectively treated. In NYC the problem isn’t with the plants; it’s with all the pipes delivering the combined sewage and rain TO the 14 NYC sewer plants. The plumbing can’t handle the flow so the city has built (and NYS permits) about 480 Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) to release the overburden of sewage and rain during wet weather events into the River and Harbor – around 30 billion gallons a year. Yes, billion, no typo.

Yonkers to Peekskill (day 2): The Westchester sewer plant at Yonkers tested “acceptable,” another example of a plant doing its job pretty well. Money invested in wastewater treatment makes water quality better, it’s simple. However, all the other near shore sites in this section of river were “unacceptable.” Several of our sampling sites recorded their highest Entero counts so far since 2006 when we started measuring Entero in this section of the River.

But look at the data and you’ll see that all our “mid-River” sample sites in this area had much lower Entero counts compared to the near shore sites. The data clearly shows that the contamination originates at the shore, where humans are, and the middle of the deep water river is buffered by the massive volume of water in the Hudson. Still, it’s impressive to note that even the middle of the River (where it’s two to three miles wide) was impacted to some degree by sewage contamination when we sampled on May 17th. It takes a whole lot of poop to do that.

Bear Mountain to Port Ewen (day 3): Bravo to Cold Spring and Little Stony Point, both sample sites were “acceptable”. That’s no small feat for this month’s survey! Note also that Poughkeepsie ramp and the deep-water site at the Poughkeepsie drinking water intake had low counts compared to our samples for the rest of the estuary this month. So nice going Poughkeepsie as well.

The drinking water intake at Port Ewen, a couple miles south of Rondout Creek, didn’t fare so well. The Entero count was 199. The highest we’ve measured there was 1733 in July 2009 (a really rainy summer). So the drinking water intake is withdrawing water that the EPA says you shouldn’t swim in. Let’s hope the disinfection systems are up to the job.

Rondout Creek/Kingston to Waterford (day 4): My guess is that the sewage contamination arriving at Port Ewen is from the Rondout. The tide was ebbing when we sampled this time. Look at the data for the Rondout sites below (Eddyville, Kingston public dock, Kingston sewage treatment plant outfall). But please don’t rush to put all the blame on Kingston. Note that the Entero count at Eddyville (upstream from Kingston) was higher than our system can measure in fresh water, >2420 cells/100ml. That’s higher (we just don’t know how much) than the sample I took right next to one of the Kingston Combined Sewer Overflows at the Kingston Public Dock. So, that day, the water entering the tidal portion of the Rondout from the upper Rondout watershed had more Entero. Kingston is clearly not the only problem affecting water quality on the tidal portion of Rondout Creek.

You may notice that at the very northern end of the survey area Entero counts started to come down. That’s because the last heavy rain in that area took place the night before. So the “relatively” less contaminated water coming in from the Upper Hudson and the Mohawk was pushing the plug of contamination (released earlier by the CSOs and sewer plants in the Capitol District) south. Check the cell counts for Bethlehem, Castleton, Coeymans and Coxsackie. My bet is that some, maybe most, of the Entero we measured at those communities on 5/19 came down from the Capitol District. We’ve seen this pattern before when we sample within 48 hours after a heavy rain event in the Albany area.

Until next month,
John Lipscomb
Riverkeeper patrol boat "R. Ian Fletcher"

View full report with data.

This month our sampling patrol was carried out aboard “Launch 5”
while our boat was in final stages of a major rebuild.
Many thanks to Greg Porteus, owner of “Launch 5”

Heavy rain in May resulted in this massive flow of water over the dam at Troy from the upper Hudson

No comments: