Sunday, April 8, 2012

Volunteers Monitor Watershed Before Drilling Begins

Measuring temperature of Catatonk Creek
For the past year or so, volunteers have braved icy waters and slippery rocks to collect samples of the streams in the Cayuta-Catatonk watershed. Their purpose: to develop a baseline study of water quality for local streams before large scale unconventional drilling moves into the Southern Tier of NY.

No one can say with certainty how hydraulic – or any other kind of fracturing – might impact local waters. But everyone, from industry to cooperative extension, recommends obtaining a baseline study.

Measuring pH and jotting notes on data sheet
So every month, members of the Cayuta-Catatonk Water Watch calibrate their instruments, don rubber boots, and head out to their testing sites. The teams note physical characteristics of the streams: water level, flow rate, temperature and other observations. They also measure pH (acidity), conductivity, hardness and dissolved oxygen. These serve as the best “red flag” indicators of potential problems resulting from drilling accidents.

In addition to the physical and chemical tests, some volunteers are keeping tabs on the Benthic Macroinvertebrates (BMI) – the caddis flies, stoneflies, beetles and other small organisms that live at the bottom of streams.

Some insects, such as stoneflies, are more sensitive to pollutants. So their presence or absence is a useful indicator of stream health. As with the chemical testing, BMI sampling doesn’t take long and is something that people of all ages can do. After recording the physical characteristics of the stream and measuring flow rate (easy to do with a length of rope, an orange and a stopwatch) they “kick and pick”. One person kicks at the stones and gravel, stirring up the river bottom while his partner stands just downstream with a large net to collects benthic insects, snails, pebbles and debris. That’s the “kicking” part. The “picking” comes when they empty the contents into a bin and pick small insects off the net to make sure they get included in the sample.
BMI monitors check the net at Cayuta Creek

Recruiting Volunteers
Over the next couple months the Community Science Institute (the lab overseeing volunteers) is recruiting volunteers in Broome, Tioga, Chemung, Steuben and Schuyler Counties. Cornell Cooperative Extension is collaborating on a series of introductory meetings. One is happening this Tuesday, April 10 in Owego at 6pm in the Tioga County Office Building Hubbard Auditorium, 56 Main Street, Owego.

There are more scheduled over the coming weeks. If you would like to get involved please contact Becky Bowen at or call 607-257-6606.


  1. thanks, to dedicated, caring citizens. May your water stay clean despite human recklessness.

    1. We are so lucky to have the Community Science Institute promoting the program and training volunteers. The testing itself is easy enough for students to do (with some guidance) - but it does take some cash to buy the test kits. Wouldn't it be neat if high school students everywhere did this kind of thing?

  2. This is of vital importance to anyone with a water well or stream or pond in the border counties. If you don't get an evidence quality water test done before they start fracking your town, good fracking luck in court when your water goes bad.

  3. Have to have a court- quality water test done now or when your water goes bad, you have no case against the frackers in court.

    1. For home water supplies, you do need those kind of tests. But the watershed monitoring is to help establish a baseline so that when there are changes in the streams, environmental regulators might know where to look for problems.