$20,000 secured for Mohawk River water study

DEC grant goes to SUNY Cobleskill
The Mohawk River in February 2016.
The Mohawk River in February 2016.

SUNY Cobleskill has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to continue a long-term water quality study of the Mohawk River. 

The school said in a news release that the study, which began in 2015, is being conducted in partnership with water-quality watchdog Riverkeeper to examine water samples from dozens of sites along the 120-mile river. The data are used to determine whether water in the river is at safe enough levels for recreational use and identify areas of the river that have higher levels of pollution.

“This work exemplifies SUNY Cobleskill’s commitment to hands-on, real-life learning,” said Neil Law, an assistant professor of natural sciences and mathematics. “Our students gain experience collecting and processing samples, then reading and interpreting the data. The data then becomes a tool that empowers the public and municipalities to make better decisions regarding [the] use and the health of the river.”

Law was not available for comment beyond what was stated in the news release. 

Cobleskill students — together with Law and biology and chemistry professor Barbara Brabetz — with help from Riverkeeper staff take water samples that are tested for enterococci, a standard bacteria found in fecal matter that can indicate the presence of more dangerous bacteria like E. coli and cryptosporidium.  

Data gathered in the last two years were recently compiled into a report and presented by Brabetz at the annual Mohawk Watershed Symposium. The data and the report are available publicly, and the information is being encouraged for use by municipalities in infrastructure planning. Samples taken around the city of Amsterdam, for instance, measured the impact of several large sewage spills due to the city’s aged sewer system. 

The samples are taken at 43 sites along the river — which is the biggest tributary of the Hudson River — during the recreational season from May to October. The $20,000 DEC grant covers one full-time Cobleskill student to work throughout the summer, as well as two or three part-time students to assist with sampling and laboratory analysis. The grant is administered through the DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program. 

Students from Middleburgh High School and the Madison-Oneida BOCES New Visions program in Utica also assist in taking samples. 

This year, SUNY Cobleskill and Riverkeeper are looking for volunteers in the Rome and Utica areas to help collect samples. Anyone who is interested should contact Riverkeeper Water Quality Program Manager Dan Shapley at [email protected].

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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