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Citizens aid scientists in Roe Jan water study


GERMANTOWN—What’s in your water?

It’s up to you to find out.

You might get some help from citizen scientists. These are everyday people who volunteer to observe, monitor or collect samples to help bona fide scientists figure out what’s going on with some aspect of the environment.

Kaare Christian of Germantown is one of them.

He is not yet 65 but is mostly retired from a career in the optical imaging field. Mr. Christian was up working on his roof this week when he took a break to tell The Columbia Paper about the Roe Jan Watershed Association, it is not quite a full-fledged entity yet, but will be in the next few months, he said by phone.

31 16news water samplers
Martin Overington samples the Roe Jan Kill above the Bingham Mills Dam, observed by Elizabeth Winig of the Bard Water Lab. Photo by Kaare Christian

It is a group he founded and which is already testing the waters of the Roeliff Jansen Kill as part of Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program. Riverkeeper is a member-supported organization with a mission “to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries, and to safeguard the drinking water of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents,” according to its website

Mr. Christian said he noticed a map on the Riverkeeper website that tracked the sites where citizens were collecting water samples from numerous Hudson River tributaries. The Catskill, Esopus and Rondout creeks were among them.

The stream sites being tested “heavily favored the west side of the Hudson River,” he noted. It made him want to “see what’s going on with the Roe Jan… there is no hard data.” Mr. Christian said the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has some “ancient” information but now “no one is keeping track.”

In a Riverkeeper report, “HOW’S THE WATER? 2015 Fecal Contamination in the Hudson River and its Tributaries,” it is noted that DEC “staffing is down 10% over the past decade, and [its] budget is projected to decline 25% by 2020.”

But Riverkeeper’s water quality program, says the report, “has invigorated grassroots water-protection efforts.”

Starting May 21, volunteers with the Roe Jan Watershed Association, with the support of Riverkeeper, the Bard Water Lab and Trout Unlimited, began sampling the Roe Jan Kill for enterococcus, an indicator of fecal contamination, at 14 locations. The testing is done monthly on the third weekend and will continue through October. The schedule is “in sync with the whole region” and the samples are tested at the new Bard Water Lab.

Copake Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski said that he volunteered to participate in the first sampling and travelled to six sites along the kill at Collins Street in Hillsdale, near the Roe Jan Park and Brown’s Dam in Copake, Wiltsie Bridge Road and Hall Hill Road in Ancram and a site in Milan in Dutchess County. He also sampled the Noster Kill at a site on County Route 7A, near the southern entrance to the Copake hamlet from Route 22. He said he received instruction, along with other volunteers for labeling and washing the sample bottles and how to obtain the bottles by facing upstream.

Other test sites are in Germantown, Clermont and Livingston.

Though the testing is currently limited to enterococcus, Mr. Christian said study participants hope that by next year with the help of the Bard Water Lab headed by Eli Dueker, that testing will be broadened. Current testing can then serve as a baseline.

Mr. Dueker “is trying to create a world class resource right here in the Hudson Valley. He’s been a great resource for us getting started, he has revitalized the Saw Kill watershed group, and overall it’s just great to be working with him,” Mr. Christian said by email.

The Roeliff Jansen Kill is a 60-mile-long stream that originates in Austerlitz and empties into the Hudson River between the towns of Germantown and Livingston.

The Roe Jan has a 212-square mile watershed, comprising about a quarter of Columbia County—37 square miles of the watershed are in Dutchess County, and about 13 square miles in Berkshire County, Massachusetts,” according to an article Mr. Christian wrote about the Roe Jan Watershed Association, published in The Hudson River Watershed Alliance newsletter August 2.

From its origin “a few miles north of Hillsdale, [the kill] flows southwest passing near Copake Falls and Copake, spilling over a dam alongside Ancram town center, down almost to Pine Plains, and then it turns to the northwest flowing past Elizaville, Livingston, Blue Stores, over the historic remnants of the Bingham Mills Dam. And then, after passing east of Germantown, it finally empties into the Hudson near Linlithgo. “The Roe Jan is primarily a rural river, threading through forests and farms, and only Ancram can claim the river as part of its town center.”

The testing for enterococcus indicates the safety of the water for swimming. The threshold measurement for a “beach advisory” is an EPA standard of 60 Entero/100 mililiters of water. That level or above prompts the EPA to recommend public notification and possible beach closure.

With results in for May, June and July, Mr. Christian said, “the Roe Jan is looking pretty good” with most sites coming in well below the EPA threshold.

Many more samples taken over a longer time period and in a variety of weather conditions “are needed before reliable patterns and relationships can be identified,” according to the report on the water quality data so far released.

The formation of the Roe Jan Watershed Association will help make people aware of fecal and sewage contamination, get more people interested in water quality issues and “get more eyes on the kill,” said Riverkeeper Water Quality Program Associate Jennifer Epstein told The Columbia Paper by phone this week. She said she was excited to be working with Mr. Christian and that Riverkeeper will now have test data from a portion of the watershed that was previously lacking.

Moving forward, we have many of the same challenges as other watershed organizations,” Mr. Christian writes in his newly-published article. “As a watershed start-up we have very low membership, and we need to attract a much larger following, along the length of the Roe Jan.” The effort and the stream also need greater visibility in watershed towns.

“The health and environment of the Hudson Valley starts with the health of its watersheds, and the Roe Jan Watershed Association is now making a contribution to this effort,” he said.

To get involved with the Roe Jan Watershed Association contact Mr. Christian, founder, at

To contact Diane Valden email

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