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Environment & Science

Gap in River and Stream Monitoring Leaves Public in the Dark on Water Quality for Recreation

Chris Bolt/WAER News

  Just days after Earth Day one environmental group is raising concerns about the water quality in New York’s rivers and streams.  The problems are both the specific threats and the lack of information about them.

As spring turns into summer people will be enjoying the creeks, streams and rivers abundant around Central New York.  The Izaac Walton League isn’t saying the waters in which you might wade, fish or swim are all dangerous…but Executive Director Scott Kovarovics says we just don’t know.

“New York is an example of the yawning gap between what’s represented to the public and what we think is more accurate.  The State of New York reports that it monitors 100% of streams and rivers across the state. When we looked at it with the resources that are available today, the number of permanent monitoring stations, it’s less than 1%.” 

Part of the problem is cutbacks at agencies such as the D-E-C which has lost many of its field inspectors.  The group did a nationwide study on water monitoring and promotes people's right to know.  Major sources of pollution, such as factories and sewage treatment are highly regulated by the federal Clean Water Act and state and local regulations and permits.  Kovarovics sees another threat to these waterways.


Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
A stretch of Lansing Kill near Pixley Falls runs through ranch and farm lands.

  “The polluted runoff into streams in New York and all across the United States is the real threat to water quality.  We need to be monitoring water quality in more places, not less.  When we looked at water quality information, what we found was most information is 5-10 years old.  In an information age the public need much more timely and site-specific information.”

Upstate New York can see impacts from all the agricultural land, which can contribute to bacteria that can be harmful to fish wildlife and humans.

"It isn’t just farm fields, it’s from all of our back yards.  When folks are putting on fertilizer in the backyard and not following instructions on the bag, that can contribute to it.  Other things like pet waste that’s not cleaned up, in some places that can be a significant contributor.  And of course everything that comes off of parking lots and streets.” 

He says one solution can be citizen monitoring of streams…as long as there’s cooperation and coordination among state and local governments.  The Izaac Walton League's CNY chapter has a volunteer stream monitoring program in the area for some waterways…expanding it -  and getting information to the public – could help.