Winter 2013 Issue of the Finger Lakes Sierran
Protecting Our Water
The New York Water Sentinels
by Bill Mattingly
Member, Finger Lakes Group Executive Committee
Members of the Sierra Club Finger Lakes Group embraced the National Water Sentinels water
testing program, organizing its first local workshop in June of 2012. The goal of the newly
formed NY Water Senti-nels program is to protect the quality of our southern tier rivers
and streams, with a specific focus on the potential impacts of hydrofracking.
If hydrofracking were allowed in New York, the pollution threat to our sur-face waters would
be immense. The counties of the southern tier could face several thousand permit applications
every year for the foreseeable future. For optimum extraction, gas companies divide the landscape
into densely packed arrays of well fields. A well field is rectangle of land, ½ mile
by 2 miles in size. Every well field has one well pad which typically contains 6-8 wells.
For every well, about 5 million gallons of water are needed for hy-drofracking. A significant
fraction of the 5 million gallons comes back up the well as “flow back”, tainted
with hundreds of hazardous chemicals. Even if hydrofracking were not allowed in New York
State, our water could be impacted. Water systems like the Genesee and Tioga rivers flow
into New York from Pennsylvania.
The Finger Lakes Group was first approached by Atlantic Chapter volun-teers Arthur Kuijpers,
Jessica Helm, and Geri Aird. These three volunteers were instrumental in starting the NY
Water Sentinels program and continue to serve the program in leadership roles.
The NY Water Sentinels program recruits and trains activists to take regular water samples
from local rivers and streams. The best way to defend our waterways from misuse and pollution
is to empower committed local activ-ists with accurate water quality information and train
them in stream water quality monitoring techniques and grassroots advocacy. Exceptionally
vul-nerable streams are now being monitored, including those near landfills which take flow
back or drill cuttings from Pennsylvania wells. Some local NY water treatment plants process
waste water from Pennsylvania hydro-fracking operations. Streams receiving water treatment
plant effluent are also monitored. It is probably less well known that some local NY landfills
and water treatment plants have been taking hydrofracking waste from Pennsylvania wells for
years. Streams with little to no current impact from hydrofracking are also monitored to
establish baseline water quality values.
The training of NY Water Sentinels volunteers is conducted by ALLARM, (Alliance for Aquatic
Resource Monitoring), an environmental organization based out of Dickinson College, which
has trained community members to monitor water quality for 25 years.
The NY Water Sentinels includes volunteers from a wide variety of local environmental groups
such as the Coalition to Protect NY, the Keuka Lake Watershed Action Committee, the Federation
of Fly Fishers, Concerned Citizens of Allegany County, the Green Party, and Citizens for
Protection of Health and Environment.
There are five teams within the NY Water Sentinels. These teams cover the southern tier from
Cattaraugus to Broome County. Currently there are over 100 volunteer stream monitors. The
database now holds records from several hundred stream visits.
Let us know if you’re interested in joining. Please contact us at nywatersentinels