BRATTLEBORO -- Tests conducted last week by the Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance indicated there are 15 local bodies of water unfit for swimming due to their Escherichia coli (E. coli) levels, though this could be attributed to heavy rainfall.

The newest biweekly E. coli level report produced by SeVWA states the bodies of water, used as swimming holes or recreational spots, contained more than 235 E. coli organisms per 100 milliliters of water sample, which is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state's standard for water suitable for swimming. High E. coli levels increase the likelihood of sickness. The bodies of water tested were connected to the West, Rock, Williams, Middle Branch Williams and Saxtons rivers and the North Branch and Whetstone brooks.

The local areas tested were swimming holes near the Dummerston covered bridge, the Brattleboro Professional Center, the vicinity of Indian Love Call, the Bartonsville Bridge in Rockingham, Golden Hill Road in Rockingham, Stickney's hay field in Saxtons River, the "sandy beach" above the Route 5 bridge in Westminster and Ellen Ware Road in Brookline. Also included were waters in Brattleboro near the Milk House Meadows, above the farmers' market off Glenn Street, near the farmers' market, just below the crossing at Crosby Street, behind the former location of the Brattleboro Food Co-op, and the spots above and below the wastewater treatment facility in Saxtons River.

The report states people must swim at their own discretion in these areas.


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The E. coli levels in the Brattleboro spots near Glenn Street, Crosby Street, the farmers' market, and the former location of the food co-op exceeded the upper limit of the test method used.

SeVWA -- a 501(c)(3) organization -- collected 26 samples, including some in Chester, Londonderry, South Londonderry and Jamaica.

According to SeVWA, E. coli is a species of fecal coliform bacteria found in fecal matter from humans and other warm-blooded creatures. The EPA recommends E. coli as an indicator of health risks that could occur due to contact with recreational waters. The levels were also high when recorded on June 18, but decreased considerably within two weeks.

The SeVWA report states elevated E. coli levels are often the result of heavy rainfall prior to test samples being taken. Heavy rain poured down in the 24 to 48 hours prior to river samplings taken on July 16 and June 18, when results also indicated high E. coli levels. It is also recommended to wait the same amount of time after rainfall before swimming in lakes or streams.

Changes in conditions affecting rivers can also alter bacterial levels over time.

SeVWA President Gloria Cristelli told the Reformer what shocked her the most was the E. coli level in the vicinity of Indian Love Call went from 18 organisms per 100 milliliters of water sample on July 2 -- when all collected E. coli samplings were closer to normal levels -- to 1,987 organisms per 100 milliliters of water on July 16.

She stressed that the E. coli level reports are meant to serve as a precaution to any "river recreators" and make people aware of what the naked eye is unable to see. Cristelli said E. coli are typically elevated after a rainstorm because animal waste is washed off the sides of a river and into the water.

According to commentary filed by SeVWA member and former Water Quality Monitoring Program Coordinator Laurie Callahan, some SeVWA volunteers plan to participate in the upcoming "Samplepalooza 2014" on July 30. The Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) is partnering with the N.H. Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VTDEC), Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Yale University to coordinate a large-scale, one-day water testing event in the Connecticut River watershed. These agencies -- as well as volunteer groups and individuals -- will collect water samples at 55 sites in the Connecticut River watershed, including many of the major tributaries. SeVWA reportedly is scheduled to collect at two to four Samplepalooza sites and will assist with sample transport.

SeVWA, according to the submitted commentary, has also brought bacteria sample to CRWC's lab in Greenfield, Mass. the past several years, enabling a credit for CRWC at the LaRosa Laboratory in Burlington that will pay for all the nutrient analysis for this project.

Samplepalooza is scheduled for July 30, but July 31, Aug. 6 and Aug. 7 have been selected as alternative dates if the weather does not cooperate.

For more information, contact CRWC's Andrea Donlon at adonlon@ctriver.org or 413-772-2020, ext. 205.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.