New Riverkeeper report on Wallkill water quality highlights need to clean up river - BlueStone Press
October 24, 2017

New Riverkeeper report on Wallkill water quality highlights need to clean up river

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Riverkeeper released a new report detailing the results of five years of water quality monitoring by community scientists in the Wallkill River, showing that 87 percent of samples have failed to meet federal guidelines for safe swimming. The report’s finding was presented as part of the Wallkill River Summit held March 28 at SUNY New Paltz Student Union Building. The public was encouraged to attend. The release of the report coincides with the sending of a letter requesting state funding for a critical Wallkill River water quality study that will help to provide a roadmap for most efficiently reducing pollution. Riverkeeper and the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance sent the letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the leaders of the New York State Assembly and Senate, Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Majority Leader John J. Flanagan. Several municipalities and elected leaders at all levels in the region have expressed support for the study.

Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper’s water quality program director, said, “The data gathered by community scientists, and the harmful algal bloom that affected 30 miles of the river for 60 days last summer, show that the Wallkill needs help. The DEC study needs funding so we can begin to prioritize ways to reduce pollution and restore the river to health. There’s something for everyone to do to help.”

Key findings of Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Report

Community scientists sample 24 sites on 83 miles of the Wallkill River, from its source at Lake Mohawk in Sussex County, N.J., to its confluence with the Rondout Creek in Ulster County. Riverkeeper measures concentration of the fecal indicator bacteria Enterococcus (Entero) using EPA-approved methods. Results are reported in Entero count per 100 mL of water. Entero is present in the guts of warm-blooded animals, and while it is used to detect the likely presence of untreated human sewage, in some cases it may also indicate the presence of fecal contamination from geese, cattle or other animals. Riverkeeper measures results of water samples based on the EPA’s Recreational Water Quality Criteria, which New York state is currently using to update state water quality standards.

  • Of 685 samples taken from the Wallkill watershed, 87 percent fail to meet Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for safe swimming or other recreational activities where ingestion of water or full body contact is likely.

  • Average levels of contamination (as measured by the geometric mean, a type of average) are more than 10 times the EPA safe swimming criterion (Wallkill Entero count of 380.7 vs. EPA criterion of 30).

  • Contamination levels vary from place to place, but are elevated throughout the river’s course, indicating the need for action to reduce contamination from multiple sources in multiple communities.

  • The Wallkill is particularly affected by rain, demonstrating the most profound worsening of water quality from rain-related contamination of any tributary studied by Riverkeeper to date. This points to the need to reduce stormwater runoff in cities and villages, and on farms.

The Wallkill River Summit brought together scientists, agencies, elected officials and the public to learn about the Wallkill River and what we can do to contribute to its restoration. The summit covered topics including flooding, fishing, and the proposed Pilgrim oil pipelines with a focus on water quality.

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