Water quality being monitored at Salt Springs

Dr. Thomas Barnard holds the water monitor that is submerged in Silver Creek. It transmits data from the stream via a solar-powered cell phone, to Wilkes University computers. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEBRA ADLEMAN

BY STACI WILSON

The quality of the Silver Creek watershed is being tested.

In January, researchers from the Wilkes University Institute for Energy and Environmental Research forNortheast Pennsylvaniabegan continuously monitoring Silver Creek, just below its confluence with Fall Brook inSaltSpringsState Park, Franklin Twp.

Senior Scientist and Project Manager of IEER, Dr. Thomas Barnard said, “We are looking for evidence of pollution in streams and lakes within targeted areas of northeastern PA that may result from gas development activities.”

Barnard said, “Those pollutants can be in the form of materials like eroded soil that cause a cloudiness or turbidity of the water.  Or they might be dissolved materials like salts, metals, nitrates, or phosphates that you can’t see, but nonetheless degrade the water.”

“Changes in surface water chemistry may also affect the presence/absence and the diversity of aquatic life, and degrade drinking water supplies for people who live downstream,” he added.

Debra Adleman, of the Friends of Salt Springs, said the inclusion of macroinvertebrates in the study made the biggest impression on her.

“(Other water study groups) are collecting information on various chemicals and other characteristics, like total dissolved solids, but this group is studying the quality of life of the bugs that live in the water. To me, this is some proof I can relate to that our streams at Salt Springs are healthy,” Adleman said.

Barnard said, “Some stream-dwelling organisms like mayflies and caddisflies can only survive high quality water while others like bloodworms thrive in polluted water.  Our monitoring of aquatic life is focusing on macroinvertebrates, which are mostly juvenile insects. We are collecting, counting and classifying these organisms following well-established protocols.”

Adleman found is reassuring that to see wiggling flies and worms in the sieves and learn from the students that they found the species they expected and in the numbers they expected.

“That’s some pretty immediate, visual confirmation that the streams at Salt Springs are healthy,” Adleman said.

Study results will be compared with those obtained by DEP, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and similar sites collected prior to any Marcellus Shale development activities.

“Our efforts to collect and analyze samples are linked to the public education part of our DOE contract.  We will make our results available to the public in an easily understandable form,” Barnard said.

IEER activities are funded by a contract with the National Environmental Technology Laboratory of the US Department of Energy, Barnard said.

Barnard said, “At Silver Creek we are working with the PA Department of Environmental Protection and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, as well as volunteers from the E L Rose Conservancy and the Friends of Salt Springs State Park.  We are monitoring Silver Creek, Fall Brook and Laurel Lake Creek.”

The current plan is to monitor the water at Salt Springs through mid to late summer but the group is seeking funding to continue the program for another year.

The Friends of Salt Springs are doing what they can to support the study project, including assisting with the maintenance of the water monitor in place at the park.

Adleman said the water monitor, commonly referred to as the “sonde,” takes readings every five minutes on specific conductance, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, chlorophyll, and blue-green algae and sends the collected data via solar-powered cell phone to Wilkes University every two hours.

She said the Friends assist in the effort by keeping a charged battery on hand and exchange it for the spent battery when the computer indicates it needs changing; saving the group time and gallons of gasoline that would be spent to change the battery.

“We aren’t in the position to conduct the scientific studies that they are. We are grateful that other entities are doing them, and we embrace every opportunity we can to support such efforts,” Adleman said.

For more information about the water monitoring at Salt Springs, visit the project website at Energy.wilkes.edu.