Second Year of Mohawk River Sampling Returns Promising Results

Results are in from the first sampling run this year to test the Mohawk River for enterococcus contamination. Of 44 locations tested, only three sites turned up samples that exceeded safe swimming levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is the second year that SUNY Cobleskill faculty and students have teamed up with Riverkeeper to test the water quality of the Mohawk River watershed. Joined this year by Madison-Oneida BOCES, SUNY Polytechnic, and Middleburgh High School, the group sampled the entire watershed, from Waterford to Rome, in about 12 hours.

While the main branch of the Mohawk was clean, three tributary testing sites exceeded the EPA’s Beach Advisory Value of 60 mpn (most probable number) per 100 milliliter sample, meaning they are not safe for swimming. Those sites were Schoharie Crossing in Fort Hunter, Moyer Creek in Frankfurt, and Reall Creek in Utica, with the highest levels, 238, at Schoharie Crossing. Other tributaries — Oriskany Creek, West Canada Creek and East Canada Creek — were not of concern.


Water sample from the Rondout Creek at High Falls. (Photo: Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)

Enterococcus is a harmful bacteria that commonly enters waterways from sewage overflows and agricultural activity. Since last year, SUNY Cobleskill students have been helping collect and analyze water samples as a service learning project.

Funding for this year’s sampling came from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund via the Mohawk Basin Program, and data from the study will be shared with that group. 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.

The next full-watershed sampling run is scheduled for June 20, pending weather and boat schedules.


Middleburgh High School students, and their teacher Mollie Burgett, observe a sample in progress on the Schoharie Creek. (Photo: Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)


Capt. John Lipscomb meets with students from Middleburgh High School, who sampled the Schoharie Creek in May 2016. (Photo: Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)


Jason Ratchford, a SUNY Cobleskill student, assisted Capt. John Lipscomb with taking and processing water samples on the Mohawk River. (Photo: John Garver)