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E. Coli colonies ready to count

In November 2009, MASS DEP published a French and Quinebaug River Watersheds 2004-2008 Water Quality Assessment Report.

This report refers often to our findings reported in previous years, and lists recommendations based on them. This is a tribute to the dedication of the more than 30 volunteers who spent a Saturday morning on the river during the first four years of our program.

French River Connection

Water Quality Monitoring

In 2013 our  Water Quality Monitoring Campaign will include the  15 sites which have been monitored monthly for five years or more,  using the TROLL 9500 water quality monitoring device provided by The Last Green Valley. Data we collect includes dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, turbidity, and conductivity. We will conduct our program in accordance with a Quality Assurance Program Plan developed by the Last Green Valley for all the users of their equipment.  We will also collect samples for E. Coli testing at these sites and two others above Clara Barton Road, following up the pilot program conducted in 2012. Monitoring will be conducted from April through October.In 2012, our eighth year of monitoring,  in conjunction with the Town of Webster, we  added E. Coli to our quality testing parameters. This testing is accomplished by gathering water samples and delivering them to the Webster Wastewater Treatment Plant. There, water samples are placed in petri dishes containing a growth medium, and after 24 hours colonies of bacteria are counted.  E. Coli are rod-shaped  bacteria that are commonly found in the lower intestines of warm blooded animals.  E. Coli cells are able to survive outside the body for a limited amount of time,  which makes them ideal indicator organisms to test water for fecal contamination.  The Massachusetts Department of Health has set a standard for E. Coli at bathing beaches as an average of 126 colonies per 100 ml for five samples and a maximum not to exceed value of 235 colonies per 100 ml.  To make room for this E. Coli program we did not collect nutrient data in 2012.

There are four noteworthy results of our 2012 campaign:

In general, parameters are consistent with results of previous years, contributing to the strength of our baseline understanding of the river and its tributaries.

Since 2010, we have been concerned about deepening and widening dips in dissolved oxygen readings taken at midsummer at the Dudley Road, Harwood Street and especially the Lowe’s Brook sites. Although in 2012 the dips continued to be present, the trend toward lower DO  was broken. We will need to continue monitoring this carefully.

The results of our new E. Coli testing were very encouraging at the main stem sites, each of which was tested four times in dry weather. Based on those four tests, it seems likely that by the criteria listed above, four of the sites could be pronounced “swimmable” if these findings are confirmed by future testing. E. Coli values are much higher at the pristine looking Clara Barton site and this should be investigated.  Note that these results do not say anything at all about contaminated sediment on the bottom of impoundments.

E. Coli testing during periods of runoff showed high levels of bacteria, confirming the need for effective stormwater management especially in urban areas.

See our 2012 Water Quality Monitoring Report

Links to other reports can be found in the Archives

Thanks to The Last Green Valley for the use of their equipment and calibration materials, without which we could not afford this program.  A special thanks to Tim Loftus, Chief Chemist at the Webster Wastewater Treatment Plant, for analyzing the E. Coli samples. And thanks especially to our volunteers, who now number more than 60 over the years, for their dedication and their willingness to brave the elements and the insects to achieve such high quality results.

Above, a three-person team including two Shepherd Hill students collects data near Clara Barton Road. In addition to the chemical data, volunteers note ambient and recent weather conditions, water appearance and odor, plant and animal life, and water level or flow


The French River suffered from more than a century of degradation from industrial activity along its banks, and its waters are listed as impaired by the Department of Environmental Protection, but life has returned to much of the river, with fish populations and an abundance of wildlife in the river corridor. The objectives of our monitoring program are:

To demonstrate to the public that the river is worthy of protection and enjoyment.

Locate pollution sources and report our findings to local and state officials for appropriate action.

Gather data to use when commenting to local officials on decisions before them affecting the river.

By maintaining a monitoring program over many years, document trends in the health of the river.

Engage community members in the monitoring program to interest them in the river as a community resource

E. Coli counts at each of the five French River sites collected during dry weather.
Dissolved Oxygen in Lowe’s Brook 2006-2012