Citizens Monitor for Sewage Pollution in Local Streams

By: Alecia Donaldson

On October 25th, Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) had the pleasure of hosting our first Citizen Monitoring event in the Wells Run and Sligo Creek subwatersheds of the Anacostia River. AWS, the Center for Watershed Protection (CWP), and the Friends of Sligo Creek (FOSC) joined forces to educate volunteers on the impacts of illicit sewage discharge on our streams and train them to help detect and report these occurrences.

What is Illicit Discharge?

Illicit discharges are generally any discharge into a storm drain system that is not composed entirely of stormwater. Illicit discharges are a problem because, unlike wastewater which flows to a wastewater treatment plant, stormwater generally flows to waterways without any additional treatment. Illicit discharges often include pathogens, fertilizer components, surfactants, and various toxic pollutants.1 All of these can have a negative impact on our local waterways and wildlife.

(2014) US. EPA Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination. November 13, 2014

Why is Citizen Monitoring important?

Our local government agencies lack the capacity to collect samples and analyze the data for all the streams in our county or state. Volunteers help to fill this gap and help draw attention to high-risk areas that may otherwise go unnoticed. As residents of the Anacostia Watershed we can all be stewards of the Anacostia River and the abundant wildlife that live here; it is our responsibility to be the eyes and ears of the watershed. Monitoring for illicit discharge is just one of the many ways we can help.

Thirty volunteers from Sligo Creek, University Park, Towson University and University of Maryland joined us in Silver Spring, MD for a very informative training session provided by Laurel Williamson and Carol Wong of Center Watershed Protection. It was awesome to see so many people come out to train and spend the day with us, especially at 10 am on a Saturday. After lunch, we split into two groups and traveled to our sites. AWS along with about 15 volunteers headed over to University Park, MD to investigate the stream’s water quality.

Sample collecting went pretty smoothly, no one fell in the stream or got stuck in mud and the weather was amazing. It was a great day to be outside. 

Once all the samples were collected Wells Run volunteers came back to our office in Bladensburg, MD to prepare bacteria cultures and test the pH, salinity, conductivity, ammonia and potassium of water samples. The above mentioned parameters were tested because they are good indicators of sewage contamination and other forms of pollution.

What we learned about Wells Run…

Overall, the monitored sites of Wells Run did not show signs of illicit sewage discharge! There are two sites in particular that we would like to continue monitoring; the outfall at the end on Tennyson Rd and an outfall at Queens Chapel Rd near University Park Elementary School. Conductivity and Ammonia results from Tennyson Rd were much higher than the other sites, as was the E.coli count from the Queens Chapel Rd #1 site.

Both sites receive stormwater runoff from the nearby road, which may be a potential source of additional pollutants. However, the opaque color of the water which some volunteers described as having a “chocolate milk” appearance may be an indicator of some other form of pollution such as sediment erosion or pollutants from road runoff. Further monitoring efforts in Wells Run could shed more light on the cause for these inconsistencies. More monitoring with the help of the residents of University Park will be needed to ensure that the streams overall health is improved and maintained.

By the way…how awesome is our little future environmental scientist in the picture on the left!

We had a great time working with CWP and all of our amazing citizen monitors. We hope that you will join us again in the future for this and other stream monitoring and restoration activities.

If you would like to monitor a stream in the Anacostia River Watershed contact Alecia Donaldson at [email protected].

For more information about Illicit Discharge and Citizen Monitoring visit:
Friends of Sligo Creek "Snapshot Day"




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