White River Junction, VT:

Since 2014, the Black River Action Team has conducted weekly sampling at several area swimming holes all summer long. BRAT volunteers are trained to collect their samples carefully, following protocols set forth by the State of Vermont and Endyne Labs (a nationally-accredited facility in Lebanon NH).

Endyne tests the samples for fecal coliform, which are present in the gut of all warm-blooded animals, including birds as well as humans. These bacteria are naturally present in our rivers and other waterbodies, and the EPA has set a limit of 235 colony-forming units (or cfu) per 100 mL of water for safe recreational contact such as swimming. The most common, Escherichia coli (or E.coli), is not a direct threat; rather, it is an “indicator” bacteria — its presence in high numbers tells us that other pathogens commonly found in fecal matter may have entered the waterway at the same time as the E.coli bacteria.

We’ve seen some higher-than-usual numbers in the past two weeks, and a couple are quite high. While there is no need to panic, people should be aware of this information before they jump in their favorite swimming hole (and folks can check this site for updated information: http://connecticutriver.us/site/content/sites-list).

The important thing to look at are trends over time; a “bottle grab” sample is literally a snap-shot of a body of water at that exact moment in time within the water column. What we hope to see is a long-term trend of healthy, low levels of E.coli in all our swimming holes, from summer to summer.

BRAT is in the process of raising funds to cover the cost of testing additional sites above the swimming holes with high counts, so we can attempt to narrow down the location of whatever the source might be — could be high numbers of warm-blooded animals using the river more because of heat and low water levels, could be failing septic systems, could be a number of things. We won’t know till we do more work.

 As director of the BRAT, I feel a little like Chief Brody in “Jaws”!  I hate “closing the beaches,” but I would hate even more to have anyone fall ill and claim that we did nothing about it. Check the website for weekly updates, stay out of the water for 24 hours after a heavy rain and anytime it appears cloudy. Please consider donating $25 or more to help us reach our goal of $5,000 to cover additional testing this summer as well as adding new sites next summer to attempt to locate potential sources of E.coli at our beautiful swimming holes.

Learn more about the Black River Action Team and consider volunteering as a River Dipper: www.BlackRiverActionTeam.org