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Snapshot of Water Quality in the Mohawk River

Riverkeeper on patrol in the Mohawk River in July 2015.

Riverkeeper on patrol in the Mohawk River in July 2015. (Photo by Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)
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Riverkeeper on patrol in the Mohawk River in July 2015. (Photo by Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)

Riverkeeper on patrol in the Mohawk River in July 2015. (Photo by Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)

Riverkeeper and SUNY Cobleskill completed a first-of-its-kind snapshot of water quality in the Mohawk River, sampling 26 locations along 120 miles, from Delta Lake to the Mohawk’s mouth at the Hudson River in Waterford.

The sampling was one facet of Riverkeeper’s patrol in the Mohawk, which also included two outings with students and teachers organized by John McKeeby of the Schoharie River Center. “One way to help the Mohawk is to give the river a voice in the school system,” Capt. John Lipscomb said.

Teachers from local school districts were among those aboard Wednesday. (Photo by Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)

Teachers from local school districts were among those aboard Wednesday. (Photo by Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)

The patrol builds on work in recent years by Capt. John to engage with the community of scientists, advocates, educators and communities interested in giving the Mohawk a stronger voice. The 2015 Mohawk River Symposium provided a huge boost to the partnership.

The water quality sampling effort was meant both to provide a snapshot of water quality, and demonstrate that community sampling is possible on a major New York waterway, and the Hudson River’s largest tributary. SUNY Cobleskill professors Barbara Brabetz and Neil Law, and their student Jason Ratchford, were tremendous partners, retrieving 18 of the samples at locks, boat ramps, kayak launches and other points between Amsterdam and Delta Lake.

“I’m very enthusiastic about this,” said Brabetz, who has 20 years of experience in water quality sampling on Schoharie Creek, and is expanding her SUNY Cobleskill lab with equipment to test for Enterococcus. “This is my backyard.”

Barbara Brabetz and Neil Law of SUNY Cobleskill, aboard the Riverkeeper patrol boat. (Photo by Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)

Barbara Brabetz and Neil Law of SUNY Cobleskill, aboard the Riverkeeper patrol boat. (Photo by Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)

Overall, we and our partners took 26 samples on the Mohawk River and Erie Canal (the two waterways run together through much of this stretch, but run in separate channels in places), plus samples in three major tributaries, the East and West Canada Creek and the Schoharie Creek.

The water quality results were promising. After dry weather, water quality was safe for swimming in the vast majority of samples taken in the Mohawk and Erie Canal. Only two samples on the main stem of the Mohawk failed, at either end — one near Rome and one at Waterford, where we have a longer data set showing a history of poor water quality. Another sample in the canal failed, as did one in the East Canada Creek (though the creek sample didn’t fail by much, and it was taken right after a thunderstorm passed through).

That’s good news for the Mohawk. Much more sampling will be needed to see how typical — or atypical — these results are. But as tributaries of the Hudson go, it’s notable to find so many samples free of contamination on a single day of sampling.

Here’s a look at the results:

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