A recent report showed that, of the thousands of Connecticut streams and rivers that meander through woody and urban landscapes into the Long Island Sound, less than 10 percent are actually monitored for pollution.
The six month investigation by The Izaak Walton League of America looked at water quality monitoring in every state in the country, giving each a grade. While many states received an overall F or D, Connecticut received a C+. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said the investigation graded harshly.
“In any given year, we’re looking at 50 to 150 stream sites,” said Chris Bellucci, an environmental analyst for DEEP. “We monitor under the guidelines of the clean water act. All states have to monitor and assess their waters.”
The IWLA report graded on the following categories: transparency (C), site-specific information (D), age of data (B), frequency of sampling (C+), water quality standards (C) and volunteer engagement (C+). They reported that the most common pollutants in the state are bacteria, PCBs, nutrients and toxic metals.
“Polluting runoff is a problem,” said Scott Kovarovisc, IWLA executive director. “That’s why you need to monitor in more locations.”
According to the report, there are 30 permanent water-quality monitoring stations in the state, but an estimated 387 are needed to adequately monitor all streams and rivers. While the report says 64 percent of streams are clean in the state, Bellucci said the number is as high as 74 percent. The remaining streams, he added, do not meet the water quality standards set by the state and “need some work.”
“You can just imagine on a rainy day, the water is washing off pollutants that are discharged into the streams,” Dennis Schain, a DEEP spokesman, said. “They play havoc with aquatic life, which changes the chemical makeup of the water.”
DEEP tests water quality at randomly selected sites based on statistics used to assess water across the state without actually testing every stream or river. Over a five-year period, Bellucci said DEEP tests over 100 sites.
“That’s a pretty good number for statistical analysis,” he said.
Testing includes taking samples of water to determine water acidity, conductivity and presence of metal. An important testing method, Schain said, is measuring the amount of certain animals and plants in streams and rivers because they are good indicators of whether the water is safe for human use.
IWLA gave the state a D in site-specific information because there aren’t enough water-quality monitoring stations, but they also gave the state a B on the age of the data collected. DEEP publishes a report every two years on water quality across the state, whereas other states publish data every five to 10 years, Kovarovisc said, adding that the country is in an “informational vacuum.”
“They will put a station at the mouth of a river like the Willimantic,” Kovarovisc said. “Let’s say the Fenton river flows into the Willimantic. They would say they monitored the Fenton River too, even though the Fenton is way farther away from the station than the 25 mile guideline set forth by the EPA.”
As for volunteer help, Bellucci said the state trains 300 to 400 people to test water quality in streams and rivers. The IWLA report gave Connecticut a C+ for volunteer engagement.
“The problem is we don’t have enough information locally,” Kovarovisc said. “It has to be available for the public so that people can make decisions on whether to use the water.”
He equated water quality monitoring to air quality monitoring. If the air is particularly bad, he said, people could decide not to jog that day. While daily water quality information isn’t feasible, he added, more timely data and a greater number of testing sites are needed to keep people safe.
Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.