Announcements / Science

Water Quality Sampling in the Lower Otter Creek Basin

Water quality sampling by Addison County River Watch Collaborative, ACRWC, volunteers in watersheds of the Lower Otter Creek is about halfway through the 2016 season. This year 31 sites are being sampled monthly for E. Coli bacteria, total and dissolved phosphorus, nitrogen, turbidity and total suspended solids for a total of over 130 individual samples each month.

Volunteers sample sites monthly, collecting over 130 individual samples each month.

Volunteers sample sites monthly, collecting over 130 individual samples each month.

This year the volunteer efforts of the ACRWC are enhanced by a collaboration through the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Watershed Management Division. The recently passed Vermont Clean Water Act provides for increased outreach to communities and the public on the value of clean water and on new regulations designed to meet water quality goals. The DEC contracted with the State’s Regional Planning Commissions for consistent and coordinated outreach to communities statewide. Since Addison County Regional Planning has long collaborated with Addison County River Watch Collaborative, the ACRWC was funded to provide outreach to municipalities on water sampling results and to coordinate future sample site selection with the State’s Otter Creek Basin Plan objectives.

What Does River Watch Do?

The Addison County River Watch Collaborative (ACRWC) is a not-for-profit organization that was formed in 1997 to unite ongoing stream-monitoring efforts by citizens in the Addison County region. Water quality sampling for E. coli began in the Otter Creek and Lewis Creek in 1992. In 1993 sampling initiated in the Middlebury River and New Haven River and expanded to include total phosphorus. Since that time, the partner groups that comprise the ACRWC actively collect water samples at about 30 stations around the county during spring and summer months. Our water quality measurements include bacteria, phosphorus, nitrogen and turbidity. We collect samples from: Middlebury River, Otter Creek, New Haven River, Little Otter Creek, Lemon Fair, and Lewis Creek.

The goals of the Addison County River Watch Collaborative are:

  1. To monitor and assess the condition and uses of our local rivers, creeks, and streams over the long term;
  2. To raise public awareness of and commitment to the ecological, economic, and social values and functions of our local rivers;
  3. To support landowner actions that improve the health and quality of our local rivers, creeks, and streams.

Scientific Rigor
With the help of professional scientists, the Addison County River Watch Collaborative has honed its methods over the years. We send our samples within a specific time frame to the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s laboratory. We maintain a Quality Assurance Project Plan for our procedures every year and results are reviewed by our staff scientists as well as by the State.  Results are posted by the State and at ACRWC’s website hosted by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission. Each year we produce a summary report available to landowners, state and local agencies, planners, and interested citizens. We also post E. coli bacteria results on Front Porch Forum as soon as they are available and have recently begun posting results on kiosks or signs at popular swimming holes with funding from the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Sampling Plan
With the help of the Department of Environmental Conservation, we have devised a sampling plan that maximizes financial and human resources, and is also scientifically sound. For data on long-term trends, we maintain a core group of “sentinel” sampling sites on all six of our target rivers. We also do rotational sampling: every two years, two of our streams become focus watersheds for two years of more focused, intensive monitoring.

A map of the different water quality monitoring sites, by watershed, in the Lower Otter Creek basin.

A map of the different water quality monitoring sites, by watershed, in the Lower Otter Creek basin.

Education and quality control is maintained with a required training workshop in March of each year before sample collection begins. In each of the last 2 years over 40 volunteers have attended each year. Logistical concerns are addressed such as sampling rationale, bottle types, sampling technique, sample recording and delivery.

Volunteers attend a required training workshop before sample collection begins.

Volunteers attend a required training workshop before sample collection begins.

Funding
Each sample station costs about $250/year for us to collect and process samples, interpret results, inform the public about trends, and work with partners to enable water quality improvements. A combination of town allocations, grants, and individual donations fund the activities of ACRWC, which is minimally staffed by one part-time Managing Director and assisted by a part-time QA/QC scientist. The following six Addison County municipalities financially support ACRWC: Bristol, Ferrisburgh, Lincoln, New Haven, Salisbury, and Vergennes. In addition, during 2016 Town Meeting the voters of Weybridge, Cornwall and Ripton also approved allocations for Addison County River Watch Collaborative.

Relationship with Towns, Regional Planning and ANR’s Otter Creek Basin Plan
We are currently engaging with towns to keep them better informed and to encourage residents’ active participation in maintaining water quality. We post results using Front Porch Forum and also at selected swimming holes. Working with Regional Planning we have encouraged towns to include sample results in their town pl ans with supporting clean water policies. The Regional Plan contains a section on the efforts of the ACRWC to document and improve water quality. We also encourage local groups and businesses to consider investing their time and money in the worthy goal of safeguarding our precious public waters. Please let us know if you would like to volunteer!

Contact: Matthew Witten, ACRWC Managing Director: 434-3236; mwitten@gmavt.net