Experts at Penn State and Cornell advise homeowners to test the drinking water in their wells prior to gas drilling. This "baseline testing" offers a standard for comparison in case anything happens to water quality during drilling on their - and neighboring - land.
Some people, though, wonder whether - and how - such baseline testing might be applied to rivers and streams. With increased industrial activity from shale gas extraction coming to the area, they want to monitor stream health in areas threatened by drilling. As with drinking wells, they need to create a baseline for comparison.
So, for four Sunday afternoons starting August 29, a group of volunteers will meet in the Spencer (NY) library to learn about water testing techniques. Then they'll head to the local streams and begin testing the water. Dr. Steve Penningroth, of the Community Science Institute in Ithaca, has generously offered to provide the training.
Penningroth currently trains and works with volunteers monitoring the water quality in six tributary streams of
Penningroth's short list of basic chemical tests to monitor stream health include: turbidity, which indicates the amount of particulate matter in the water; pH (acidity); the conductivity, which reflects the amount of dissolved solids or chlorides in the water; dissolved oxygen, a good measure of the amount of oxygen available to aquatic life; and hardness, indicating the levels of calcium, magnesium and metals.
“We’re also hoping to do biological monitoring,” Penningroth said. “Monitoring aquatic insects will tell us a lot about the ecosystems.” Whereas a chemical test is like a snapshot – indicating water conditions at the time the sample is taken – sampling aquatic insects gives information about water quality over a period of weeks. A community of insects lives in a specific habitat and volunteers will use NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) guidance documents to aid with this aspect of the monitoring.
In the end, Penningroth hopes to develop a suite of tests that are tailored to the shale gas industry but inexpensive enough for a community to adopt.