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Rondout Summit highlights work to study and improve watershed


WAVE sampling in the Rondout Creek, 2015. Ben Ganon is at center. (Photo courtesy Laura Heady/Town of Rosendale CCE)
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Dozens of people attended the second annual Rondout Creek Watershed Summit March 29, organized by Riverkeeper and the environmental commissions of the towns of Rochester and Marbletown.

Riverkeeper presented some of our latest analyzes of water quality data gathered by community scientists in the watershed. Since 2012, we have partnered with individuals and the environmental commissions in Wawarsing, Rochester and Rosendale to gather data on fecal contamination in the Rondout Creek, which is used to assess the creek’s fitness for swimming, wading, child water play and other “primary contact” recreation. The samples have been processed aboard our Rivekreeper patrol boat, and starting in May of 2016 we will begin processing samples at a new lab space at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston.

Water sampling on the Rondout Creek

We’ve observed higher average levels of contamination in the Rondout than the Catskill or Esopus Creeks, but less than in the Wallkill River, Sparkill Creek and other more urbanized tributaries of the Hudson River (as indicated by the geometric mean of all samples taken). The Rondout shows higher average levels of contamination after rain, which is a common pattern throughout the Hudson River Watershed. It also shows higher average levels of contamination at sites sampled through parts of Wawarsing and Rosendale in the absence of rain. Communities there have identified and in several cases won funding for or completed projects to improve sewage infrastructure. Ellenville recently completed a sewer plant upgrade, and both Ellenville and Napanoch won recently announced federal grants administered by the state to do work on the collection systems of pipes that deliver sewage to their plants. Rosendale has identified both sewage treatment plant and collection system, but has not yet won state or federal grants it needs to support its projects. (See: Funding Opportunities Fact Sheet.) Other source of fecal contamination may include failing septics, urban streetwater, runoff from farms that have livestock or where manure is spread as fertilizer, private sewage treatment plants that lack disinfection, and wildlife.

Riverkeeper is working with a grant from the Hudson River Estuary Program to update watershed management plans for the Wallkill River and Rondout Creek, which together form the largest tributary to the tidal Hudson River. The management plan updates will provide information about fecal contamination that was lacking when those plans were written, and to the extent possible, prioritize projects that will improve water quality. Riverkeeper has also submitted data from the Rondout Creek and other Hudson River tributaries to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), to update waterbody assessments on the Priority Waterbodies List, which the state uses to prioritize funding decisions for wastewater infrastructure projects. We also urged volunteers for environmental commissions to focus on projects related to reducing the impacts of stormwater pollution, and increasing the numbers of trees planted on streambanks.

Also focused on water quality, a presentation by Ben Ganon covered recent macroinvertebrate sampling results for the Rondout Creek. The sampling project grew out of the first Rondout Creek Watershed Summit in 2015, and was conducted during Ulster County Creek Week in 2015. Fecal indicator bacteria and macroinvertebrates are both indicators of water quality, but they measure different things associated with fundamental goals of the Clean Water Act. Fecal indicator bacteria are used to assess water quality relative to protecting human health during recreation in and on the water, whereas macroinvertebrates are used to assess water quality relative to the health of the ecosystem. Where certain bugs and worms are present, it can be assumed that water quality sufficient to support healthy aquatic life is present. The recent results from WAVE (Water Assessment by Volunteer Evaluators, a DEC citizen science program) for the Rondout Creek showed no severe water quality problems. Ben Ganon, who has helped to coordinate the sampling, said that the goal is longterm monitoring at more locations, so more data over time will help provide a clearer picture of the health of the Rondout.

WAVE sampling in the Rondout Creek, 2015. Ben Ganon is at center. (Photo courtesy Laura Heady/Town of Rosendale CCE)

WAVE sampling in the Rondout Creek, 2015. Ben Ganon is at center. (Photo courtesy Laura Heady/Town of Rosendale CCE)

Recent GIS-mapping project by the Town of Rochester, funded by the Estuary Program and presented by Angela Dorris, an Environmental Conservation Commission member, may also improve understanding of factors affecting water quality, and prioritize projects, such as stream-buffer tree plantings through the DEC Trees for Tribs program. A Stream Health/Stream Vulnerability index, for instance, based on land cover, soil types and other map layers can be used as a screening tool to predict areas that would benefit from projects to reduce erosion and improve vegetated buffers that shade the stream and help reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff. The maps will also inform a joint open space planning project with Wawarsing.

Andrew Meyer, of the DEC Hudson River Estuary Program, presented results and context for a culvert and dam assessment on the Rochester Creek. Culverts under roads often allow water to pass, but block fish and other aquatic life from passing, alter dynamics of sedimentation and erosion to the detriment of water quality, and/or contribute to flooding because they aren’t properly sized or designed. A regionwide assessment of culverts and dams that have the highest priority for removal or redesign is underway, and the towns with land in the Rochester Creek watershed (part of the Rondout Creek watershed) can use the assessment to prioritize highway projects that can improve the health of watershed ecosystem and water quality.

Iris Mary Bloom, of the Marbletown Environmental Commission, Rosendale Supervisor Jeanne Walsh, and others also spoke about efforts to stop the Pilgrim Pipelines, which are proposed to carry crude oil and other petroleum products along and adjacent to the Thruway corridor. The pipelines would cross more than 200 streams, including the Rondout Creek and Wallkill River, and construction impacts would damage watershed forests. Every town represented at the summit has passed a resolution opposing the pipeline. Those towns that have completed natural resource inventories, an essential function of environmental commissions, can use the data to inform understanding of the impacts of the pipeline, particularly if and when the scoping process for the pipeline’s environmental review begins. More information and actions individuals and communities can take are available at

The towns agreed to collaborate on another joint Ulster County Creek Week event in September, focused again on WAVE sampling, and are looking for other ways to share information across town lines to benefit the watershed.

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