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Mad River Watch finds low E. Coli levels throughout the watershed

07/03/2008

Water samples taken by Friends of the Mad River (FMR) volunteers on Monday morning, June 30, show favorable swimming conditions with only 1 of 37 sites tested in violation of Vermont's water quality standards. Site 31, located at Lover's Lane Bridge, was in violation of the Vermont standard (no more than 77 colonies of E. coli per 100 mL water). Site 31 is the most downstream sampling site in the program; generally the more downstream sites in the watershed show higher levels of E.coli as they represent the accumulation of pollution throughout the watershed.

The state water quality standard for recreational waters measures E. coli bacteria, an indicator of pollution from human or animal waste. High E. coli levels can pose a danger to swimmers since the presence of fecal borne pathogens is likely. At the time of sampling there were favorable swimming conditions shown throughout the watershed, exhibited by relatively low E. coli levels. E. coli levels tend to rise when rain washes pollutants into the river.

"The volume of water flowing in the Mad River was high and declining at the time of sampling. After several brief passing disturbances and lingering storm systems moved through the area late last week and on Sunday, drier weather late Sunday and into Monday allowed water levels to begin to decline. At the time of sampling on June 30, the water level at the U.S. Geologic Survey station in Moretown was at approximately 175 cubic feet per second, which is well above the median value for this date (87 cubic feet per second)," explained Friends of the Mad River watershed coordinator Caitrin Noel.

Cyndee Button is the lab coordinator for Friends of the Mad River, and has processed hundreds of E.coli samples throughout her time with the group.  

"Cyndee and I were a bit surprised by the results this week. The water levels were high throughout the watershed, which usually results in higher E. coli levels, especially at certain sites.  However, E. coli levels were generally very low," explained Noel.    

She adds, "While it is difficult to say definitively why this happened, I think Cyndee has a strong theory -- that the low numbers seen throughout the watershed could be a result of the continued "flushing" we have seen over the past week. The frequent small rain storms have already washed many of the accumulated pollutants into the river to be carried away, and the additional rainfall has not added as much E. coli as it normally would. Declining water levels also mean lower E. coli  levels."

For more information about E. coli and the Mad River Watch program or to report a river-related illness call 496-9127. This week's Mad River Watch volunteers included samplers Michael Ware, Elizabeth Walker, Monserrat Carbonell, Mary Gow, Cathy and Barry Glick, and Fran and Gary Plewak. Kinny Perot posted the results at various sites and Cyndee Button did the lab work.

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