SUNY Cobleskill and Riverkeeper Team Up Again to Monitor Mohawk River Water Quality

SUNY Cobleskill is entering the second year of its long-term study of the Mohawk River basin this spring with the help of a $50,000 grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Professors Barbara Brabetz and Neil Law, along with SUNY Cobleskill students, will again be partnering with environmental watchdog Riverkeeper to perform a series of water-sampling “blitzes” from May through October to test for contamination. The high-profile launch of the initiative last year challenged negative perceptions of the Mohawk River by showing that most areas were safe for swimming and recreation.

Traveling 120 miles in the Riverkeeper boat from Amsterdam to Delta Lake last July, sampling the water at places like locks, boat ramps, and kayak launches, the team found only four samples out of 26 that showed an “elevated risk” to swimmers. The samples were tested for the presence of harmful enterococci bacteria, which commonly enters the water from sewage overflows and agricultural activity, using a reagent powder and black light. The DEC funding will allow the team to continue the program this year, with testing runs scheduled for May through October to help identify trends of chronic or unexpected contamination.

The initiative falls under SUNY Cobleskill’s Water Quality Program, which has been monitoring and studying local water for more than 20 years. Last year, as Brabetz and Law hit the water with Riverkeeper, they announced that the College would start its own year-round sampling program for the Mohawk River. With the help of students, they began building a version of Riverkeeper’s onboard testing equipment at the SUNY Cobleskill water quality lab.

SUNY Cobleskill students help collect and analyze water samples for the program as a service learning project. Keeping true to the College’s applied learning philosophy, the work has real consequences in the world outside the campus while students gain the knowledge and experience they need to succeed in school and beyond.

The DEC grant will also fund programs at Middleburgh High School and Madison Oneida BOCES New Visions Program in Utica to train students to use standard testing and analysis procedures. The students will also serve as community liaisons to educate the public about the water quality initiative.

The grant was awarded as part of DEC’s Mohawk River Basin Action Agenda, which seeks to improve water quality, promote resiliency and create recreational opportunities in communities along the Mohawk River and its tributaries. Along with SUNY Cobleskill, three other projects received a total of $155,000 in funding this Spring.

Read more about last year’s water sampling initiative here.