Study documents county water resources

Contributed  Becky Sims, the director of outreach for the Community Science Institute collects a water sample.

A more complete inventory of Otsego County’s water resources is now available, thanks to a privately funded study. However, residents are now being encouraged to conduct additional tests on their own.

Organized by the Otsego County Conservation Association, the “What’s In Our Water?” Campaign saw the testing of 84 different wells in Otsego County. Funding for the study, which totaled to more than $80,000, came entirely from private donors.

“They (the donors) wanted to know what our ground water quality was like,” said Darla Youngs, executive director of OCCA.

She also noted that the campaign gave many participants an opportunity to have their water tested that they would not have had access to normally.

“A lot of the people whose wells were tested through this program could not have afforded to have their wells tested independently,” said Youngs.

Samplings were taken during the summer and fall of 2013, but the analysis took another year.

Youngs said that the test parameters used in the study were based off parameters suggested by the Otsego County Soil & Water Conservation District and that these parameters were then refined with input from the Catskill Headwaters Research Institute, Win McIntyre and others. The tests were conducted by the Community Science Institute.

According to a report on the campaign’s findings, released by the Catskill Headwaters Research Institute on July 8, much of the motivation for the study came from the possibility that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas might come to Otsego County, and a desire to document the area’s water quality and composition before any such activity takes place in order to provide a baseline to which any changes to the water quality could be compared. The tests documented bulk chemical factors; such as pH, alkalinity, and acidity, as well as the presence of inorganic elements, such as arsenic, manganese, iron and strontium.

“Overall, groundwater across the county is relatively fresh (dilute) with low concentrations of dissolved inorganic elements and organic compounds. The absence of chemical compounds often used in hydraulic fracturing provides a strong comparative baseline if such activities do take place in the future in Otsego County,” read part of the report.

Indeed, of the samples taken, “None of the samples exceed maximum allowable concentrations for primary elements of concern as established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for public drinking water supplies except turbidity (see below), though several elements and chemical compounds of concern were detected.”

Of the wells tested, 14 percent had values of turbidity that exceeded the limit established by the USEPA. Turbidity is determined by how much the material suspended in water obstructs the passage of light through that water. According to the report, the main concern associated with turbidity is that higher turbidity is often associated with higher levels of viruses, parasites and bacteria. The report also says that it is a good idea to filter water from private wells.

One of the things the study did not test for is coliform bacteria.

According to information provided by CSI, the organization that conducted the tests for the “What’s In Your Water” Campaign, coliform bacteria is a broad class of bacteria, most of whose members are not disease causing. However, some strains of E. Coli can cause serious health problems. The test for total coliform bacteria is also an indicator test, meaning that it can indicate that other pathogenic bacteria may be present.

The New York State Department of Health recommends the testing of private water wells for coliform bacteria once a year. Municipal water supplies are regularly tested for coliform bacteria.

OCCA is also encouraging residents with private water wells to get their water tested for coliform bacteria. These tests are relatively inexpensive, costing $30, according to OCCA.

The report is available at http://occainfo.org/documents/FINALReportonWIOWCampaign2014.pdf.

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