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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.

Volunteers Wanted

Let us know if you’re interested in joining. Please contact us at nywatersentinels at gmail.com.