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First ‘Samplepalooza’ to test Connecticut River health stem to stern

GREENFIELD — Just how pollutant-free is the Connecticut River, from the top of Vermont to the Long Island Sound?

A group of agencies will be pooling their efforts today to collect data on nitrogen and phosphorous content, along with other algae-growing nutrients, during a one-day water-testing event they’re calling “Samplepalooza 2014.”

Today, teams of volunteers and professionals will visit at least 50 locations on the Connecticut River and its tributaries, covering more than 1,000 river-miles, in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. They will be taking water samples and testing for phosphorous, chloride, pollutants and nutrients, which can cause algae blooms that choke oxygen from the water.

Nitrogen from the Connecticut River and other rivers entering the Long Island Sound has been determined to be the cause of a “dead zone” documented by researchers, according to the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

Local samples will be taken near Route 10 in Northfield, in the Millers River, near the Erving/Wendell line, in the Deerfield River in Deerfield and along Fort River in Hadley, said CRWC River Steward Andrea Donlon.

“What we’re trying to get is a sense of — on the same day, with no rain — how these places compare with one another in terms of nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients,” Donlon explained. This strategy allows for more accurate comparisons to be made between samples while minimizing differences in weather and river flow.

Donlon said Connecticut has already done a lot of work trying to reduce nutrients that lead to oxygen depletion in Long Island Sound, but that the upper states along the 410-mile river haven’t done as much research.

She said the findings from this sampling might help the upper states decide “how to get the most bang for their buck,” by targeting cleanup efforts on locations that are most in need of improvement.

“This effort is a one-day-only snapshot of the nutrient levels,” said Donlon.

Emily Bird, an environmental analyst for the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission in Lowell, said that portions of Long Island Sound bottom waters become hypoxic during summer months. Hypoxic means the water lacks adequate oxygen for aquatic life. She said excess discharges of nutrients like nitrogen cause excess algae growth; when the algae dies, it sinks to the bottom and decomposes. The decomposition process uses up oxygen in the water.

Between 1987 and 2000, the size of Long Island Sound’s hypoxic area averaged 208 square miles. From 2000 to 2013, after a plan was adopted to reduce nitrogen loading to the Sound, the area of hypoxia was reduced to an average of 176 square miles. From 1987 until 2013, the average duration of the hypoxia has been about 58 days.

Groups participating in this effort include the Connecticut River Watershed Council, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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