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December 02, 2016
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Watching water quality; multiple efforts underway

Jessica Newbern and NPS natural resource specialist Don Hamilton process samples in one of the laboratories at the National Park Service’s Milanville location utilizing a membrane filtration method of running bacteria samples.

As for the cause of the bacterial rise, Hamilton said it’s not easy to identify, as there are often multiple sources. “We haven’t done a lot of source tracking,” said Hamilton. “You have a watershed with a large land base and you get runoff all throughout it. In the past, we’ve identified problems with sewage treatment plants. Currently, I don’t think we have a problem with any one-point-source discharge. It’s just land use in general.”

Hamilton added that source tracking could be on the horizon, and would require additional funding. “For the most part, the river is pretty clean and good for recreation,” said Hamilton.
The long-term effort is funded by the DRBC, which developed the original protocol for the program. NPS units in the UDSRR and the DWGNRA are both participating.

“This program is an anti-degradation program meant to keep tabs on the watershed and the tributaries,” said Myers. “We’re looking for potential changes in water quality by doing the sampling on such a continuous basis. Because the water quality here is so exceptional, this program was designed to make sure it stays that way.”

As for the value of this 20-year data, which is being stored in an EPA database, Hamilton said, “Because of the data that was collected and the existing water quality that was defined for the Delaware River, the DRBC was able to implement special protection waters regulations and they defined an existing water quality that they want to have maintained here. Because we have SPW regulations for the non-tidal Delaware for the entire length of 197 miles, from Hancock to Trenton, the DRBC can step up and exert some authority over natural gas development, water use and disposal to protect water into the future.”

A concurrent NPS/United States Geological Survey Upper Delaware study is gathering complementary information to that of the SRMP. Learn more in this ongoing series.