Water Quality Monitoring

 Learning about the river’s health through community science in our urban tidal ecosystem

Bartram’s Garden staff work alongside Denkyem River Guardians interns and volunteers from the Community Boathouse to regularly test water from the Tidal Schuylkill River. Our data about bacterial and nutrient levels, combined with records about recent rainfall, helps inform our safety practices for public recreation like boating. We also share our findings to advocate for improved protections of the river’s health and water quality.

Why test the water?

The Tidal Schuylkill River is a public waterway that all may enjoy, just like a city park. Thousands of visitors participate in free river programs each season at the Bartram’s Garden Community Boathouse, and many more enjoy the riverfront on their own. More than 40 species of fish thrive in the river today: living evidence of vast improvement in water quality since the end of the 20th century, when pollution levels decreased as coal plants and factories shut down.

However, this section of the river still experiences a frequent source of pollution that affects the safety of close contact with the water: the Tidal Schuylkill is home to 40 combined sewer outfalls (CSOs) that can discharge untreated municipal sewage and stormwater into the river when it rains. Our understanding of pollution patterns from CSOs is limited because historically, agencies and researchers have not collected much water quality data from the section of the river affected by CSOs. As a precaution, we cancel public boating programs within 24 hours of rainfall above 0.25”, and in 2018, we began water quality monitoring to learn more about the river’s health.

We now collect water samples at least weekly during our public program season to test for bacterial and nutrient levels. In partnership with Stroud Water Research Center, we also host an EnviroDIY Mayfly sensor station in the river near our dock that measures additional physical and chemical properties of the water and records these readings every five minutes.

 

Hear more about the process from Denkyem River Guardians:

Advocating for River Health

In addition to learning from our data to inform our own safety practices at Bartram’s Garden, we share data with regional agencies to advocate for improved protection of river health and water quality. For example, in 2020 we sent a letter to two agencies that implement water quality standards for the Tidal Schuylkill, asking them to expand their own testing and improve consistency between the agencies. You can learn more from our partners at River Network. 

Data

Bacteria & Rainfall

Sensor Station Data on Current Conditions & Water Chemistry

Get Involved

For information about how to get involved in community river science at Bartram’s Garden, contact Chloe Wang, River Programs Coordinator, at cwang@bartramsgarden.org.

You can participate in a project to monitor trash along the Schuylkill River by filling out this online form on a smartphone, which will ask you to assess any 100-foot stretch of riverbank. Check out this guide to learn how it works. We want to know about as many locations as possible, at different times of the year, so the more responses the better!

See, or smell, something fishy in the water? Here are some telltale signs of pollution and how to report them.

River BlogGarden Insights

A Letter from Bartram

June 5, 2020

A Letter from Bartram's Garden to the PA Department of Environmental Protection

This post was written by Carly Schmidt and originally published by our partners at River Network. In the days of the Clean Water Act, the Lower Schuylkill River was a...

Read More

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