News > News > Water Quality > New Community Water Quality Monitoring Effort Begins in the Saw Mill River

New Community Water Quality Monitoring Effort Begins in the Saw Mill River

For Immediate Release

July 27, 2015
Contact: Cliff Weathers, Communications Director
[email protected], 914-478-4501, ext. 239
Ryan Palmer, SLC CURB Director
[email protected], 914-377-1900, ext. 15

Riverkeeper, Sarah Lawrence College and Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club lead effort with broad support
Note to Media: Photographic and video opportunities are available at various sampling locations. Call in advance to make arrangements.

YONKERS — Community scientists in Westchester County have launched a new effort to understand contamination in the Saw Mill River, and to renew attention to the beleaguered waterway. Riverkeeper, the Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB), part of Sarah Lawrence College, and the Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club are leading the effort, with the support of many other organizations and individuals, including Groundwork Hudson Valley, which conducted water quality monitoring studies from 2008-2012.

Using Environmental Protection Agency-approved methods designed to assess water for safe swimming, community scientists are sampling for Enterococci, bacteria that indicate the presence of fecal contamination, such as untreated sewage. The EPA guidelines are meant to protect people who may ingest water not only while swimming, but also during a variety of recreational activities, including the splashing of children playing at the water’s edge.

“Water quality in the Hudson has improved dramatically over the years, but our water quality monitoring projects have documented concerning levels of contamination in many of the rivers and creeks that feed it. The first step in cleaning up our water is understanding where it needs to be cleaned up. This project will help accomplish that on one of the lower Hudson’s most important tributaries,” said Riverkeeper Water Quality Associate Jen Epstein.

The Saw Mill River sampling effort builds on a Riverkeeper project launched in 2008 to monitor water quality in the Hudson River Estuary, in partnership with CUNY Queens College and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The Saw Mill River is the eighth tributary of the Hudson River to be routinely monitored by Riverkeeper and a growing number of partners. Other tributaries being monitored include the Pocantico and Wallkill rivers; and the Sparkill, Quassaick, Rondout, Esopus and Catskill creeks.

“When we launched CURB two years ago our vision was to create a hub for research, education, and community engagement focused on urban watershed issues that would advance regional efforts and spark new collaborative partnerships,” said Ryan Palmer, Director of CURB. “We are excited about the potential of this project and deeply committed to providing long-term leadership in the study and restoration of the Saw Mill and Hudson rivers,” he said.

The New York City Water Trail Association and The River Project also partner with Riverkeeper and dozens of other partners to sample waterfront locations in and around New York City. The Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club has been part of this effort, sampling at the Yonkers waterfront since 2011, and the daylighted section of the Saw Mill River since 2013. The Saw Mill River had the dubious distinction of winning the Association’s “Golden Toilet” award in 2014, because it failed to meet safe-swimming standards more frequently than any other location sampled as part of the New York City-area sampling effort.

“YPRC members are first and foremost paddling enthusiasts who love the Hudson River. Our initial interest came from simply wanting to understand the condition of the river we spend so much time in,” explained long-time YPRC member Gerald Blackstone, “We’re thrilled that our initial efforts have garnered so much interest from the public and the support of Riverkeeper and Sarah Lawrence College. We’re hopeful this effort will lead to healthier and safer Saw Mill and Hudson rivers for all to enjoy.”

Water samples will be gathered on the Saw Mill River by community scientists every other week, at 18 locations in Chappaqua, Pleasantville, Hawthorne, Elmsford, Ardsley, Hastings and Yonkers. Organizations involved in sampling include CURB, Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, Saunders Trades and Technical School, Village of Pleasantville Conservation Advisory Council and the Saw Mill River Coalition. The concentration of Enterococci in water samples will be measured using an IDEXX Enterolert lab at CURB, where students and community members will be a part of the process.

The monitoring program will be supplemented with research by Sarah Lawrence College faculty and students. For example, under the guidance of College faculty member Dr. Michelle Hersh, additional water samples will be collected this summer and fall from the recently daylighted portion of the Saw Mill River, which was previously paved over. Since it is known that exposure to sunlight can kill certain types of bacteria, the researchers are examining whether levels of contamination are reduced as the Saw Mill flows through the exposed section.

All data gathered as part of these monitoring studies are publicly available at

Launched June 2013, the Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB) is an alliance of Sarah Lawrence College and the Hudson River Valley Environmental Education Institute. The mission of CURB is to advance environmental knowledge and stewardship by providing high quality K-12 environmental education for the local community, establishing a regional hub for research and monitoring focused on Hudson River estuary and urban watershed issues, and serving as a welcoming open community space for a variety of civic and cultural activities. The Center occupies the former Beczak Environmental Education Center, a well-loved river exploration and interpretative center that has been offering programs for adults and children for over twenty years. Its name honors Joe Beczak, one of the Hudson River enthusiasts who taught children about the Hudson in the 1970s.

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