160 volunteer Water Sentinels protecting our water
by Jessica Helm, Arthur Kuypers and Bill Mattingly
If horizontal high-volume hydrofracking were allowed in New York, the pollution threat to our surface waters would be immense, and our waters are already impacted by ongoing activity.
Today, Pennsylvania exports drill cuttings, drilling mud waste, and flowback fluids to our state landfills, risking the release of toxic and radioactive elements into our rivers. Meanwhile, conventional extraction and lower volume fracking for oil and gas are ongoing in New York, with inevitable impacts. The buildout of pipeline infrastructure also puts local waterways at risk.
One of the best ways to defend our waterways is to empower local activists with accurate water quality information and train them in stream water quality monitoring techniques and grassroots advocacy. The New York Water Sentinels program recruits, trains and supports activists in monitoring local rivers and streams, with a strong focus on addressing contamination from hydrofracking.
Since launching in December of 2011, the Water Sentinels have organized six trainings and created six regional groups. The training of volunteers is conducted by ALARM, (Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring), an environmental organization based out of Dickinson College, which has trained water quality monitors for 25 years.
To date, 160 volunteers have made more than 1,500 visits to document conditions at 125 stream sites. Stream monitoring spans 12 counties and six major watersheds.
Sentinels sample around probable sources of pollution, such as landfills or waste water treatment plants. Other streams are being monitored to establish baseline water quality values. Samples are submitted twice a year to a certified analytical laboratory for measurement of strontium and barium, indicators of shale water.
Quality assurance and quality control checks are performed in cooperation with several university labs and a dedicated group of volunteers.
The New York Water Sentinels is affiliated with and supported by the Sierra Club, the Atlantic Chapter, and local groups (especially the Finger Lakes and Susquehanna Groups). Each workshop was organized in partnership with multiple local and regional environmental groups.
Although the Water Sentinels operate without paid staff, the group incurs major ongoing and new annual expenses. More than 150 stream sites will likely be tested in 2014. The Sentinels program plans to offer two new trainings next year, with 15 teams added at each training. Let us know if you’re interested in joining. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each new team is loaned a kit costing approximately $120, and each stream costs $40 in state-certified lab tests annually. All this and associated expenses result in a total 2014 budget of $18,000.
What You Can Do
We need your help to continue the important work of the New York Water Sentinels. Please contribute to its dedicated (tax-deductible) account at nywatersentinels.org or by clicking here. Or make your check payable to The Sierra Club Foundation and mark on the memo line that the gift is for “Atlantic Chapter Water Sentinels.” Please send your check to: Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, PO Box 38225, Albany, NY 12203.