Community Volunteers Monitor Watershed for E. coli Bacteria using AWW Technique

    Citizen groups in communities across Alabama are getting actively involved in local watershed management issues. With technical assistance from the Alabama Water Watch (AWW) Program, individuals are being trained to test the water quality of their local streams, rivers and lakes.
    AWW is a citizen volunteer, water quality monitoring program that is coordinated from the Auburn University Fisheries Department, with support from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), U.S. EPA (Region 4) and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The mission of AWW is to improve both water quality and policy through citizen monitoring and action. The AWW vision is to have a citizen monitor on every stream, lake, and bay in Alabama. Since the Program began in 1992, 250 citizen groups have participated, cumulatively sampling more than 1,900 sites on about 750 waterbodies and submitting more than 53,000 water quality data records to the AWW statewide database. Several groups have submitted water data for more than 10 years. For many waterbodies in Alabama, citizen data are the primary or only source of water quality information.
    Two citizen monitoring groups in the Auburn area, Save Our Saugahatchee (SOS) and Friends of Chewacla Creek and the Uphapee Watershed (CHEWUP) have organized a seasonal bacteria ‘blitz’ to monitor the Saugahatchee and Chewacla watersheds encompassing the Auburn area. Earlier in 2006, interest in bacteria monitoring greatly increased after a pair of trained monitors reported high E. coli levels in a couple of streams in the watershed.� Several additional citizen monitors got trained and certified by AWW in bacteria monitoring using the Coliscan Easygel� technique. The two citizen groups then teamed up to monitor 25-30 sites in the Chewacla and Saugahatchee watersheds in the Auburn area.
    The groups have conducted watershed ‘blitz’ sampling four times since early 2007 (see a summary of results at http://saveoursaugahatchee.googlepages.com/activities%3A) and identified five stream sites with high levels of E. coli contamination (greater than 600 E. coli per 100 milliliters of water, which is considered unsafe for human contact by U.S. EPA). Data are provided to local municipal officials, who work with SOS and CHEWUP in tracking and resolving contamination sources. Some sources have been tracked down and resolved, such as the sewage leaking into the small stream flowing by Hickory Dickory Park, thanks to the efforts of Clara Clothiaux (see article in the September 2007 issue of Water Resources Impact magazine at https://aww.auburn.edu/Docs/Impact07.pdf), others are more elusive and require further vigilance and monitoring.
    Several other citizen monitoring groups around the state, from the Tennessee River to the Gulf Coast, employ the AWW bacteriological monitoring method to monitor E. coli contamination in their watersheds. To explore the growing body of citizen water quality data, go to www.alabamawaterwatch.org and click ‘Water Data.’

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