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The Stream Team - Volunteers Who Know it All

09/30/2021 5:33 PM | Kaitlin Fello

As the Stream Monitoring season comes to a close, we thought it high time we discuss the program with those who know it best - VOLUNTEERS!

Interview with Kelly Coughlin

Kelly, what do you do as the Stream Monitoring Program Coordinator?

I help to coordinate volunteers from our Stream Monitoring Program "stream teams" to sample six streams in the Seneca Lake watershed: Big Stream, Catharine Creek, Glen Eldrige Creek, Keuka Outlet, Kashong Creek and Reeder Creek. Currently we are sampling four times per year, with a goal to collect in both dry weather and high water conditions. We collect samples to look at the concentrations of bacteria and nutrients from stream runoff sources such as manure applied to farm fields, wastewater treatment and residential septic systems to see how these sources may be impacting lake water quality. We test for temperature, phosphorus, nitrate/nitrite, E. coli bacteria, and total suspended solids (for water clarity). Sample results are available for all to see on the Community Science Institute's website at, look under "Seneca Lake Region." The results go back to 2014 when the program first began.

Do you feel a sense of accomplishment with your volunteer work and how do you feel your volunteer work helps Seneca Lake and the community?

It is very satisfying to participate in a volunteer effort like this, where with each passing year we are adding more data and adding to our knowledge of the water quality of Seneca Lake and its tributary streams and how water quality may be changing. People are becoming more aware of how our actions and decisions as a community can affect water quality and potentially improve it - for example, learning about the importance of maintaining wastewater systems, both at the municipal and residential level, to control bacteria and nutrient runoff into our lake.

There are many volunteer opportunities in our community – what motivated you to volunteer for SPW and this program in particular? What do you think other people should know about volunteering for this organization? Would you recommend others consider volunteering?

I would definitely recommend people get involved in a community project they care about - there is always an opportunity to find a fit for your particular skills, strengths, and interests with an organization that is looking for help! In my case, my interest and background in public health and water quality made volunteering with the stream team a good fit.

Is there anything else you would like to share with me? Is there any question I should have asked you, but did not?

Seneca Lake Pure Waters has undergone a lot of change in recent years, with many volunteers and members working hard to develop new approaches and priorities. It's exciting to see the changes and how Pure Waters can develop an important role in educating residents about their watershed and how to take care of it as well.

Interview with Mary Rose

There are many volunteer opportunities in our community – what motivated you to volunteer for Seneca Pure Waters and this program in particular?

My name is Mary Rose, and I’ve been sampling the water of Big Stream for Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association since the stream program began in 2014. The members of my family have been members of SLPWA since its inception; I consider myself a lifetime member even in the years when my dues are late.

Mary Rose, what do you do as a “Stream Team” volunteer and Big Stream leader?

I’m the leader of a team ranging from 3 to 9 active samplers, and as leader what I really do is make the calls or send the text messages that rally whoever is available to come out to the 4 stream sites to collect 3 bottles of water at each location.

We collect these samples, which are delivered to Community Sciences Laboratory (CSI) in Ithaca for analysis, to monitor the presence of nutrients and pollutants. We are mainly looking at phosphorus, nitrogen, and bacteria — e.Coli specifically. The data extracted shows us what is feeding Seneca Lake, and when; samples also give us readings that indicate the steady influence of output from the Dundee sewer plant. Heavy rains from storm events wash soil laden with fertilizer and animal excrement from agricultural properties adjacent to the stream and also from tributaries that flow into the stream.

For a period of years we were tasked with collecting samples from six sites along Big Stream, and occasionally were able to collect six times a year. I look on those early days as our pioneer period. There’s something self-affirming for being out at dawn in November and February in the sleet with your hands in a wild, zero-degree stream. During that period we divided our team in to two teams, one for 3 “lower” and one for 3 “upper” locations. It was interesting in those early years to sample from the northern-most significant, and the southern-most significant headwaters of Big Stream. Those sites being respectively under the bridge at Gibson Road, and at Carly Brace Road.

What do you think other people should know about this program and organization? Would you recommend others consider volunteering?

Everyone on our teams is a leader, each person capable of directing their own collection site if necessary. There have been days when I wasn’t available to even make the rally phone calls, and the team delivered 100% of samples.

I think it was 2019 that we found redundancy amid site location, and so we cut back to four sites; budget constraints further reduced our sampling events to four a year.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

The data output from CSI is readily available from the database website. I wish everyone held the curiosity to go visit, and the patience to maneuver through the data. The storm-event data should at least open eyes, if not outright shock the viewer.

Perhaps I’ve become a stream-output fanatic since taking on this welcome position of citizen scientist. I do not pass any water running down-hill without equal appreciation and concern.

Please check out our volunteer opportunities at

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