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Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance

posted May 27, 2015, 4:19 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Sep 15, 2015, 10:48 AM ]

Major rivers in the SeVWA region, all tributaries of the Connecticut
The Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance (SeVWA) has its roots in the West River Watershed Alliance Stream Action Committee, first established in 2002. Soon the group also took on the watersheds of the Williams and Saxtons Rivers (which together with the West constitute the state’s Basin 11 for planning purposes) and later included Whetstone Brook (part of Vermont’s Basin 13). All of these rivers flow into the Connecticut at the state’s far southeastern corner.

Unlike many of the groups profiled earlier which undertake a diversity of activities, SeVWA focuses primarily on water quality monitoring. Over the years, over 50 volunteers have collected samples or served as alternates. These efforts do open a door to deeper community understanding of and involvement with their rivers, as noted in SeVWA’s 2010-14 report: “Through its river monitoring effort, SeVWA seeks to develop a general public understanding of river ecology and foster a broader sense of stewardship in the region’s citizenry.” 

Water monitoring sites in 2014

SevWA’s water quality program has operated from 2003 to the present day, with a brief hiatus in 2009 due to the potential lack of state funding for the LaRosa lab. SeVWA’s board continued to meet, and as soon as funding was again available, continued its water quality monitoring. A volunteer coordinator as well as the teams of samplers devoted many hours to this effort. Sampling at 20-24 sites each year tests E. coli levels at popular swimming holes, and performs chemical analysis for sites where data were lacking or where a problem is suspected. For a few years, the group also sampled benthic macro-invertebrates. Test results are available through a website established by the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) and partners to promote public recreation on the river, and reports are also available on SeVWA’s own website. E. coli results for swimming holes are also released to print media and posted on kiosks to ensure public access to this information.

Indian Love Call swimming hole on the Rock River

For SeVWA and many other watershed groups, public interest in water sampling peaks during swimming hole season. The sample chart below, from a SeVWA summary report, shows E.coli test results for the lower West River in 2014.*

                                                    E. coli results for lower West River in 2014

For five (5) years, SeVWA benefited from the expertise of Laurie Callahan, a private contractor who oversaw the monitoring program and compiled results. A series of interns (often shared with the Ottauquechee River Group to the north and Vermont Agency of Natural Resources) assisted with collecting and transporting water samples. Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s LaRosa lab analyzes most water chemistry samples, while E.coli samples for the last few years have gone to the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s Greenfield, MA lab under an arrangement with Vermont DEC. Interns often benefit from learning the lab procedures and working with experts at the CRWC lab.

Stickney Brook. By permission of the artist, Georgie Runkle, Marlboro

In addition to its core water sampling focus, SeVWA also helps educate the public by participating in regional events such as the Strolling of the Heifers, Herrick Cove’s Wildlife Festival, and the Wildlife Festival at Hogback Mountain.

Since 2012, SeVWA participated in CRWC’s September Source to Sea river cleanup by tackling three sites, again facilitated by Laurie Callahan.

The organization is also interested in preventing the spread of Japanese knotweed by educating people about preventing its spread and treating existing infestations.

Gloria Cristelli, SeVWA President
Gloria Cristelli, current Board President, first volunteered to sample water for SevWA in 2008. She had just returned to Vermont from Taiwan, where she helped create an interdisciplinary unit on watersheds for the Taipei American School. Along with the science teacher on the team, she discovered a river source which the students visited as part of their field trips for science, art, and poetry writing. As an English-as-a-second-language teacher, Gloria created parallel humanities lessons for her students. Gloria was born in Morrisville, Vermont and was a river recreator as a youth, walking over four miles round trip (the last two uphill!) to swim in the closest swimming hole.

With only four members, SeVWA’s current Board demonstrates the importance of quality over quantity. Jeremy Shrauf coordinates volunteer efforts, including stream monitoring, Cris White is Secretary and also a stream team leader, and Erik Skarsten heads up educational activities.

Vermont DEC’s E. coli standard for Class B waters has since been revised – maximum value for the geometric mean is now 126 organisms per 100 ml, with no more than 10% of a season’s samples above the EPA’s swimmable threshold.