Quality Control ICC, Takes the Water Test

On a recent Thursday morning I went to the canoe club to take a sample of water for the Citizen’s Water Quality Testing program of the New York City Water Trail Association. Water samples from all over New York are gathered and studied for concentrations of pathogens harmful to humans, particularly enterococcus faecalis.

The club is a wonderful, solitary place early in the morning, and it was a pleasure to gather the sample in the murky water and head down to Pier 40 to turn it in to the River Project wet lab for analysis.

The Citizen’s Water Quality Testing program, or, “CWQT,” is a sort of scientific crowd-sourcing process bringing together scores of volunteers and locations. It is co-sponsored by several partners: the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Hudson River Foundation, the LaGuardia-CUNY Environmental Science Program, Queens College, and Riverkeeper. Testing is carried out by the River Project at Pier 40. The testing program starts in the spring, and continues into early fall. The Inwood Canoe Club began its participation in 2012.

Enterococcus faecalis is found in eliminated material from humans and small animals,
including pet waste not cleaned from city streets, sidewalks, and parks. Rain washes the waste into city sewers. Even small rainstorms can cause New York’sstorm systems to release raw sewage into the waterways. In storm conditions the city’s infrastructure is designed to make sewage be diverted into discharge channels before it ever makes it to a treatment plant. There are six such discharge channels near our boathouse.

The city has developed new policies that encourage diverting water from roofs for reuse in buildings as well as using bioswales, rain gardens, and other buffers to reduce the level of storm water in the system.

One might wonder, with city agencies testing waterways, why the need for a citizen scientist program? There’s a scientific angle. The NYC Department of Health only tests waterways mid-channel, and not at nearshore locations where human-powered boats launch, children play, fishers fish, and swimmers swim. Findings prove that test results can vary significantly from these distinct locales, even though they’re taken from the same waterway at the same time.

So down through Soho I went, checking out the athletes and bikers on the West Side Highway, and winding my way through the re-purposed former shipping hub, sample cooled in ice packs in tow. I dropped off my sample, and an affable marine biologist with the River Project graciously showed me their office and the outside of the lab, with One World Trade looming over the docks. One day after the test, the results are on the web for all to see at www.nycwatertrail.org. Inwood usually does pretty well, but not this time. This data will help us New Yorkers make decisions about our existence and safety here, and in the long run should be a great source of information.