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Sarah Lawrence Students Test Water Quality Of Saw Mill River

Sarah Lawrence students will be testing the water of Saw Mill River to see if daylighting has had any effect on the levels of fecal contamination in the water.
Sarah Lawrence students will be testing the water of Saw Mill River to see if daylighting has had any effect on the levels of fecal contamination in the water. Photo Credit: Contributed

YONKERS, N.Y. -- Inspired by regional non-profit partner Riverkeeper's work, students at Sarah Lawrence College have started a Summer Science project at the Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB) to examine whether the daylighting of the Saw Mill River has had any effect on the levels of fecal contamination found in the river water.

Over the past 50 years, Riverkeeper, an organization dedicated to promoting clean water, has advocated for regulations along the Hudson River and its tributaries. The Hudson harbors the bacterium enterococcus, which is a known indicator of fecal contamination. Riverkeeper deploys citizen scientists across the Hudson River watershed, actively measuring fluctuations in the levels of this bacterium in the Hudson and its many tributaries.

By examining levels of fecal contamination, Riverkeeper and its partners have been able to highlight key issues facing water quality in Hudson River tributaries, and make suggestions for improvement. Since it is known that exposure to sunlight can kill certain types of bacteria, exposing underground sections of the Saw Mill to daylight may decrease levels of contamination in the water.

During the summer and upcoming school year, under the guidance of Sarah Lawrence faculty member Michelle Hersh, water samples will be collected from the recently daylighted portion of the Saw Mill River, as well as upstream river access points to assess the current state of fecal contamination.

As with the spirit of Riverkeeper, all data will be accessible for public use, and findings disseminated into the wider community. The project expands upon water testing work initiated in 2014 at CURB, an alliance of Sarah Lawrence College and the Hudson River Valley Environmental Education Institute, and spearheaded by CURB friend and neighbor, the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club (YPRC), more than three years ago.

Over the summer months CURB, Riverkeeper, and YPRC will be collecting samples from up to 20 sites up the Saw Mill, from Yonkers to the headwaters in Chappaqua, to track pollution sources and better understand the overall health of the watershed. Images and updates on this project will be available at the school's social media sites.

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