On September 12, 2018, the Pocantico River Watershed Alliance (PRWA) held its community meeting at Pace University’s Pleasantville campus, where Jen Epstein (pictured above), water quality scientist for Riverkeeper, presented results of a study monitoring for indicators of sewage contamination and micropollutants in the Hudson River Estuary and the Pocantico River.
The monitoring shows that tributaries in the Lower Hudson Valley have levels of Enterococcus (fecal-indicator bacteria) that are among the highest of those tributaries that are monitored by community scientists. It also shows that within the Hudson River, bacteria levels are higher near the Pocantico River than in the mid-channel of the Hudson nearby.
Water samples have been collected since 2010 by volunteer scientists in collaboration with Riverkeeper and Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak. Enterococcus sources may include sewage or septic systems, pet waste, or other sources associated with stormwater runoff from the urbanized areas. However, the Pocantico River Watershed also includes large portions of green spaces, agricultural, and park lands, which may have contributed to the fecal bacteria through manure used as fertilizer or wildlife waste.
Separate studies also analyzed data in the Hudson at the mouth of the Pocantico. Samples collected as part of Riverkeeper’s long term water quality monitoring stations were analyzed by researchers at Cornell University and the US Environmental Protection Agency to measure a wide range of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and industrial compounds. The findings showed that many compounds were detected. The particular mix of micropollutants in any sample can suggest the sources of pollution affecting a particular location, with some types of chemicals related to the location of wastewater treatment plants, and others associated with agriculture or other sources. While Orangetown and Yonkers’ wastewater treatment plant outfalls included many compounds at high concentrations, the Pocantico River mouth was not a site with particularly high micropollutant levels. Wastewater from most of the Pocantico watershed goes to the Yonkers plant, which is the largest contributor of effluent to the Lower Hudson and is a combined sewer system.
Untreated or partially treated wastewater that is discharged during an overflow can cause the water nearby to be unsafe for swimming. It is recommended for those who wish to swim, especially children, consult water quality data to make informed choices about where and when to swim.
With recent breakthroughs in understanding the impact of humans on the environment, this study brings local evidence that a wide range of contaminants can be found. Some, like fecal indicator bacteria, have been shown to be associated with risk of illness from contact with the water. Others, like pharmaceuticals, may have impacts on wildlife. New York State recently passed the Drug Take Back Act, which will provide a way for people to safely dispose of unused medication.
At the PRWA meeting, Chana Friedenberg, a graduate student at Pace University, discussed the Pocantico Project, research funded by the Water Resources Institute with the goal of building capacity for the Pocantico River Watershed Alliance. Its three main objectives are (1) organizing community meetings (such as the one mentioned above), (2) creating a website to house data and general information on watershed issues, and (3) designing and implementing a survey to examine stakeholder perceptions on watershed issues.
This survey is available online. Please participate in the survey here.
Contributors to this post include Chana Friedenberg ‘19, MS in Environmental Science student at Pace University; Loraine Guevarez ‘19, BS in Environmental Science student at Pace University; Jen Epstein, Water Quality Program Scientist at Riverkeeper; Samantha Miller, Program Manager at the Dyson College Institute for Sustainability and the Environment; and Michael Finewood, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Science at Pace University.