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New Mohawk River report points to need for infrastructure investments

Riverkeeper on patrol in the Mohawk River in May 2016. (Photo: John Garver)
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Public invited to learn more, join community science monitoring project April 10 in Utica

Riverkeeper on patrol in the Mohawk River in May 2016. (Photo: John Garver)

Utica, N.Y. – A new Riverkeeper report details the results of a water quality monitoring project with SUNY Cobleskill that samples 43 locations monthly in 120 miles of the Mohawk River, the Hudson River’s largest tributary.

The report highlights the need to invest in water infrastructure to stop sewage overflows and leaks – such as those likely to result from rain today. Annual investments of at least $800 million statewide are needed for water infrastructure, and Riverkeeper has been advocating for inclusion of new water infrastructure investments in the state budget. This priority is also backed by a broad coalition of groups representing environmental, utility, business, municipal, engineering, planning, recreational and other interests. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and both the Assembly and Senate have proposed $2 billion or more over five years (approximately $400 million annually) in new clean water investments, including infrastructure funding.

Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program Director, said: “Our water quality results from the Mohawk River should help guide people in making choices about safe recreation there, and rally us to the cause of cleaning up the river. They also reinforce the urgent need for state leaders to include robust new funding for water infrastructure in the budget, so that we can see improvements in water quality, not only in the Mohawk River, but statewide.”

Rain is associated with a pronounced worsening of water quality in the Mohawk River, as it is in many places Riverkeeper samples in the Hudson River Watershed. The influence of rain dwarfs the impact of even the well-publicized ongoing sewage leak in the City of Amsterdam, affecting the North Chuctanunda Creek.

The results show that, overall, nearly two-thirds (63%) of samples taken in 2015 and 2016 from the Mohawk River passed federal safe-swimming guidelines – an indication that the Mohawk River is resilient, and fit for recreation at many times and in many places. After rain, however, nearly half (48%) of the samples failed. Water quality was significantly worse in specific areas such as the upper reaches of the river between Rome and Frankfurt, including Utica, and in the Capital District, near the river’s confluence with the Hudson River. The Mohawk is the largest tributary of the Hudson.

Similar patterns are evident in a longer-term data set for the Hudson River Estuary, where Riverkeeper has been sampling for nine years with CUNY Queens College and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Overall, nearly four-fifths (79%) of samples taken passed federal safe-swimming guidelines. After rain, one-third (33%) failed. Where combined sewage infrastructure is most need of upgrades, like the Capital District, water quality after rain is the worst, with nearly two-thirds (65%) of samples failing safe-swimming guidelines after rain.

Sampling on the Mohawk River is funded in part by the Environmental Protection Fund, via grants to SUNY Cobleskill from the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Mohawk Basin Program in 2016 and the Water Resources Institute at Cornell University in 2017.

Major infrastructure investments of more than $175 million to improve water quality in the Mohawk River were announced in 2016, including reducing combined sewer overflows in and around the City of Utica; increasing sewage treatment to include modern disinfection at the City of Rome; and other sewer projects in City of Schenectady, the Villages of Ilion and Mohawk, and elsewhere. These projects are made possible through a combination of state grants and low- or no-cost loans underwritten by the state and federal governments.

Riverkeeper and SUNY Cobleskill will present findings at an event April 10 in Utica, “How’s the Water in the Mohawk River?” The public is invited to attend to learn more about the results, and to learn about opportunities to join the community science project that will resume gathering samples monthly from the Mohawk River in May.

About the “How’s the Water in the Mohawk River?” event:

When: Monday, April 10, 10 a.m.

Where: Student Center Theater, SUNY Poly, 100 Seymour Road Utica, NY

More details: Click here


About Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program

Riverkeeper partners with more than 40 institutions and over 160 individuals to sample more than 400 locations throughout the Hudson River Watershed monthly from May through October. Data is available at Riverkeeper measures concentration of the fecal indicator bacteria Enterococcus (Entero) using EPA-approved methods. Results are reported in Entero count per 100 mL of water. Entero is present in the guts of warm-blooded animals, and while it is used to detect the likely presence of untreated human sewage, in some cases it may also indicate the presence of fecal contamination from geese, cattle or other animals. Riverkeeper measures results of water samples based on the EPA’s Recreational Water Quality Criteria, which New York State is currently using to update state Water Quality Standards.

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