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Volunteers sought to monitor Connecticut River water quality

Two local organizations want to make sure that people know where it is safe to use the Connecticut River for recreation when summer’s heat beckons people to the water. For the sixth year, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the Connecticut River Watershed Council are partnering with local volunteers to collect samples to monitor the water quality at different sites along the river. The program will run from the last week in May to the first week in October.

“The Connecticut River is very heavily used for all types of recreation almost all year round, and especially in the summer,” said Andrea Donlon of the Watershed Council. “We used to get a lot of calls about whether or not it was clean enough to swim at particular sites, and we couldn’t give them an answer.”

While there have been significant improvements in recent decades, a century’s worth of industrial pollution continues to affect the river’s water quality, especially in places like the Holyoke Dam. Contamination from sewer overflows has been cut in half over the last 15 years, but storms can cause some areas to become unsafe for swimming and boating.

About six volunteers are still needed for Pioneer Valley Planning Commission sampling sites in South Hadley, Longmeadow, Agawam, Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee and a few back-up volunteers are needed for council sites in Northampton, Easthampton, Sunderland and Gill. Volunteers collect a water sample at one site each Thursday mornings between 8 and 9 a.m., fill out a field data sheet about environmental observations, and deliver the materials to either the planning commission office in Springfield, the council office in Greenfield, or a drop-off location in Northampton. Required volunteer trainings will be held during the first full week of May.

“These are everyday people becoming engaged and observing their environment,” said Anne Capra of the planning commission. “They are river enthusiasts, they want to see river condition improved.”

The collected samples are tested for E. coli bacteria, and the findings are posted shortly after sampling to the two organizations’ joint website, www.connecticutriver.us. The website explains the bacteria findings, and which sites are safe for swimming and boating, only boating, or if the levels are too high for any recreation.

To volunteer for sampling, contact Anne Capra at 413-781-6045 or acapra@pvpc.org, or Andrea Donlon at 413-772-2020, ext. 205 or adonlon@ctriver.org.

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