To the editor: Volunteers monitor Williams River

Frank Kelley testing the Williams River in 2012

It’s early Wednesday morning. At eight places in Bartonsville and Chester, the Williams River is getting its bi-weekly water quality check-up. Much like going to the doctor, the Williams River has temperatures taken, samples collected, and general observations made. All of this information is recorded, then sent with the samples to the lab. The results come back a few days later and are posted for everyone at the Connecticut River Conservancy, Is it Clean? website.

The water quality monitoring program is coordinated across the region by the Southeastern VT Watershed Alliance. SeVWA has volunteers on nine rivers and streams, collecting water samples from 33 sites. The Chester Conservation Committee enlisted 12 volunteers this year to monitor the Williams River from June through August.

The results from the lab provide a snapshot of the river at that specific day and time. E.coli data is used to determine how clean the water is. E.coli is a bacteria that lives in the digestive tracts of warm-blooded animals. The presence of E.coli indicates that there is contamination, most likely from animal waste, in the water. There is always some bacteria. So far this year, the Williams River has been clean enough for boating and swimming on all the testing days. Good news!

Nitrogen and phosphorus levels are also checked. These nutrients can increase the likelihood of algae blooms. Ryan O’Donnell from SeVWA said, “It’s important to monitor the rivers so that we understand and protect our local waterways, not only for our benefit but also because water flows downstream all the way to Long Island Sound, which is struggling with excess nitrogen in the way that Lake Champlain is struggling with excess phosphorus.”

So, what does this mean for the Williams River and the folks who use the waterbody? First, wait 24 to 48 hours after a rain event before swimming or boating. Second, check the water quality results and, lastly, please be respectful of the river that covers 117 square miles of our region. If you want more information or want to go out and collect water samples, email Frank Kelley at The next testing day will be at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, July 31.


Frank Kelley

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  1. Frank Kelley says:

    Thanks Tim for clarifying that the 117 square miles refers to the entire Williams River watershed.

    Thanks to Hannah Fleming for being a guest water tester on August 14th!

    Nice work done by the talented sculptors by the swinging bridge! Photo coming.

  2. Susan Hammond says:

    Thanks to all the volunteers. I rely on those test to know when to go into the river in Bartonsville.

  3. Tim Roper says:

    Thanks to all of the volunteers giving time and energy to this monitoring effort. Am I correct in assuming the 117 square mile figure refers to the land area that’s drained by the Williams River system?

  4. Frank Kelley says:

    Special thanks goes to the 2019 Williams River Stream team volunteers, Susan Brace, Jill Bruning, Heather Chase, Diane Holme, John Holme, Cheryl Joy Lipton, Miriam MacDonald, Cathy Mihaly, John Russell, and Jeannie Wade. Group photo coming soon!