River Watch to begin sampling six local rivers for water quality

MIDDLEBURY — This time last year Vermont was still deep in snow. But this year it seems abundantly clear: Spring is on its way and the streams are flowing clear of ice.
“I’ve already seen people fishing on lower Otter Creek, and they were competing with a newly arrived bald eagle,” said Addison County River Watch Collaborative Managing Director Matt Witten. “Those are sure signs it is time to resume monitoring the health of our rivers.”
After a penny-pinching 2015, Addison County River Watch Collaborative (ACRWC) is well positioned for the coming season, Witten said, because the water quality monitoring group has recently won several grants and also received boosts to its bottom line from area towns. In addition to the six towns that already supported River Watch sampling, this Town Meeting Day saw Ripton, Cornwall and Weybridge voters approve $400 or more for the cause of clean water.
River Watch’s training for volunteers wanting to help sample area streams this spring and summer takes place Saturday, March 19, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Addison County Regional Planning Commission in Middlebury. Witten said that experienced as well as new volunteers are encouraged to attend so that people are reminded of the precise instructions necessary to carry out quality-assured sampling methods. “We pride ourselves on producing top-notch data about water quality on our six rivers in the county,” said Witten, adding, “The annual training helps ensure samplers use uniform and accepted practices when they are out on the rivers in their teams.”
Last year, Witten reported, Addison County River Watch Collaborative had over a 98 percent completion rate, meaning that a very high percentage of their planned water samples were carried out successfully. “This shows a lot of volunteer dedication and attention to detail,” said Witten.
River Watch monitors the waters of Otter Creek, the Middlebury River, Lewis Creek, the New Haven River, Little Otter Creek and the Lemon Fair. About two-dozen volunteers do the once-per-month sampling of about 30 sites from April to September. These volunteers come from many towns in the county including Salisbury, Bridport, Starksboro, Ripton, Bristol, Weybridge, Cornwall, Middlebury, Vergennes, Ferrisburgh and New Haven.
In 2015, water quality results from ACRWC sampling were consistent with historic results and trends. E. coli counts in each river exceeded the Vermont Water Quality Standard at one or more stations during one or more summer sampling dates. Generally, elevated E. coli detections were associated with developed land uses including nearby agriculture and livestock with direct access to the river. Some of the region’s popular swimming sites had one or more detections of E. coli above the standard this past summer, including Nash Bridge on the New Haven River, Blake Roy Road Bridge on the Middlebury River, and Tyler Bridge Road on Lewis Creek.
Last summer, ACRWC began posting monthly provisional E. coli results at popular recreation sites on the New Haven River, using funding from a Middlebury Maple Run grant and volunteer services. These physical postings at existing kiosks in four Bristol town parks (Eagle Park, Bartlett Falls, Saunders River Access and Sycamore Park) were supplementary to notices posted electronically on Front Porch Forum. In 2016, posting will be expanded to several additional recreation sites on the Middlebury River, Lewis Creek and Otter Creek.
Phosphorus concentrations at the 2015 season’s low-flow date (Sept. 2) exceeded the water quality standard at the following stations: both “sentinel” (long-term, continuously monitored) stations of Lemon Fair and Little Otter Creek; a sentinel station of Otter Creek; and a new “rotational” (short-term) sampling station on Halnon Brook, a tributary to Middlebury River.
Phosphorus is monitored in the Addison County watersheds for two main reasons, said Witten. First, total phosphorus concentrations are compared to newly adopted in-stream nutrient standards to identify potential impacts to Aquatic Life Support and Aesthetics uses of these waters. A second reason to monitor for phosphorus at the subwatershed level in Addison County watersheds is to evaluate relative contributions of phosphorus to Lake Champlain. Each of the watersheds monitored by the Collaborative contributes significant phosphorus to the lake, either directly (Lewis Creek, Little Otter Creek) or via Otter Creek (Middlebury River, New Haven River, Lemon Fair).
“We have gotten tremendous local as well as regional support for our work this year,” said Witten. Among the grants River Watch has recently received are two grants from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and one from the Department of Environmental Conservation.
River Watch is encouraging all those interested in water quality to attend the training on Saturday. Bristol Bakery bagels, strong cups of coffee and fresh fruit will be served starting at 8:30 a.m. For information, contact Matthew Witten, ACRWC Coordinator at 434-3236 or [email protected]. River Watch’s webpage is http://acrpc.org/acrwc.

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