While there are many tests that can be performed to determine suitability of water for drinking, the most serious potential health risk is from bacteria. The New York State Department of Health uses the Total coliform/E. coli test as the “basic potability test”, in other words, to determine if water is safe for drinking. The Total coliform/E. coli test gives results in terms of “present” or “absent” per 100 ml of water sample. The allowed level is “absent”, or zero bacteria colonies per 100 ml of water sample. The Total coliform/E. coli test is an indicator test – if bacteria can enter your well, other contaminants can also get in.
It depends on many factors. If you are on a municipal water supply, it is probably not necessary for you to test your water. Your water supplier tests the water on a regular basis and would notify you if it was not safe for drinking. You should receive an Annual Report of Drinking Water Quality in the mail once a year, often with your water bill. Contact your water supplier or local health department to find out about your municipal water quality. One exception to this is testing for lead (see below).
If you have a private well, the New York State Department of Health recommends testing your water annually for Total coliform/E. coli bacteria. If you live in an agricultural area, it is recommended to test your water annually for nitrate, which is associated with fertilizers in agricultural runoff.
Regardless of whether you are on a municipal supply or a private well, if the plumbing in your home or that connects your home to a municipal water system is older than 1986, you should test for lead. Lead pipes and solder were banned in New York in 1986. If you are unsure of the age of your pipes and solder and your home is older than 1986, you should test for lead.
Beyond these three tests, choosing what to test your water for depends on many factors. Knowing the current and historical land use in your area is very helpful to determining what water tests you need. In general, if there are not any industrial activities (current or past) then you probably don’t need to be concerned about toxic chemicals in your well. Naturally occurring metals like iron, manganese, and arsenic may be elevated due to local geology. Contact your county health department to ask about local contaminants of concern.
Decide what you are testing your water for:
For more guidance about undesirable water quality and what to test for, visit the EPA website: http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/well/faq.cfm#q1
CSI has three types of volunteer monitoring programs: Synoptic Sampling, Red Flag Monitoring, and Biological Monitoring. Results from Synoptic Sampling and Red Flag Monitoring are posted in our online database.
Synoptic Sampling volunteer groups work in teams to collect samples at fixed locations in a given watershed, like Six Mile Creek, on a single day to provide a “snapshot” of water quality. Volunteers collect samples and bring them to the CSI lab for analysis.
Red Flag volunteers work in teams to monitor small streams and creeks for baseline parameters related to shale gas drilling. Volunteers collect samples, perform field tests, and submit results to CSI for review.
Biological Monitoring volunteers work in teams to collect samples of aquatic organisms that live at the bottom of streams and identify them in order to learn more about ecosystem health.
Visit the Volunteer Partners page for more information.
CSI volunteers do not test private wells or ponds as part of any of our monitoring programs. Some stream monitoring sites are located, with permission, on private property and have been selected because of their position in the watershed in relation to land uses of interest and other monitoring locations. Red Flag volunteers purchase their own field kits and are able to use them freely, which could include well or pond testing, but not as part of a monitoring program.
At this point in time, CSI is not able to expand its stream monitoring programs to new locations without additional funding. If you are interested in sponsoring a new stream monitoring location in or near one of the watersheds where CSI volunteers are monitoring, contact us for details about sponsoring a site.
If you are interested in volunteering with one of CSI’s monitoring programs, contact us and let us know where you live and which volunteer program you are interested in.
Visit our Volunteer Partners page to find out more about our various volunteer programs.
CSI’s 4-H20 Programming provides members of the 4-H youth organization with the opportunity to participate in unique water-related projects that are fun and educational. The Community Science Institute has partnered with 4-H since 2006 to mentor youth with a general interest in environmental science and water.
Programs may include opportunities to:
CSI has worked with several area schools and colleges on specific projects including the BMI in the Classroom module at Southern Cayuga High School and Newfield High School, and Red Flag Monitoring training with New Roots Charter School, Ithaca College, and Broome Community College. Contact us to find out more about opportunities for CSI come to your classroom.
CSI works with interns on a case-by-case basis. Available internships are posted on the News page. If there are not any current postings and you feel you have skills or project ideas that could help further our mission, please send your resume and a letter of interest to Maribeth Rubenstein, Outreach Coordinator/Public Science Educator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back To Top
The mission of the Community Science Institute (CSI) is to foster and support environmental monitoring by volunteers in order to educate the public about natural resources, specifically water, and to collect scientifically credible data for use in protecting the environment and the sustainable management of such resources.
Community science projects focus on local issues and local government. They prioritize observational monitoring and the use of data for science-based management of local resources over hypothesis testing and publication in scientific journals. Community science adheres to the scientific method, and projects may contribute to new scientific knowledge. However, creating new knowledge is secondary to gathering data within a known scientific framework and using results to manage local resources sustainably.
Community science directly involves local residents but differs from citizen science in some respects. Citizen science is growing in popularity among researchers as a way to enlarge the scope of scientific inquiry by engaging volunteers to help collect data. Citizen science projects tend to be regional, national or international in scope. They may involve observational monitoring, the testing of scientific hypotheses, or a combination of the two. Audiences for citizen science projects are generally other research scientists and government agencies at the state, national and international level.
Collecting water quality data is important for a number of reasons and water quality data is used in many different industries. Water quality data is important for public and environmental health, for urban and regional planning, as well as in agriculture, food and beverage production, and most types of industrial manufacturing.
CSI’s volunteer monitoring partnerships collect water quality data that can be used to inform local policy and natural resource management. The data that is collected can also be used to evaluate ecosystem health. There are several specific examples of how CSI data is used. The best example of this is the monitoring downstream of the sewage treatment plant in Trumansburg that releases effluent to Trumansburg Creek. After repeated sampling upstream and downstream of the plant, CSI data showed that the plant was regularly exceeding its permitted levels of fecal coliform bacteria, and upon bringing data to the attention of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the village is working to upgrade the plant’s ability to properly treat sewage. Another example of how CSI data is used at the local level is for managing sediment in the Cayuga Lake Watershed. Since the Cayuga Inlet is used as a navigation channel, it needs to be periodically dredged to maintain access. By combining CSI data on suspended solids (sediment) in stream water with USGS flow data, one can estimate how often sediment will need to be removed and how often. Yet another example is the issue of hydrofracking. CSI collects baseline water quality data for things that would be expected to change if a well or stream was polluted by hydrofracking. New York has yet to see whether or not hydrofracking will take place in the state and if it does, citizens, agencies, and researchers will be able to use water quality data to evaluate whether or not contamination has occurred.
CSI has three main sources of funding: municipal support, lab fees, and donations.
Many local municipal governments have supported CSI’s volunteer monitoring partnerships as part of the Tompkins County-Wide Water Quality Monitoring Initiative funding model which distributes the costs of county-wide monitoring among municipalities based on their tax base and population and makes up about 40% of CSI’s annual budget.
Fees from our certified water quality testing lab help provide income to support our underfunded programs and maintain our lab and its certification in order to continue our stream monitoring programs.
Donations from individuals and businesses represent a growing portion of our annual budget. If you are interested in becoming members or sponsoring a monitoring site, visit our Donations page to learn how to offer support.
Our most recent Annual Report can be downloaded from the Resources page.
It depends on what you’re looking for. “Best” and “worst” are not the most appropriate terms when it comes to describing water quality in local streams.
Generally speaking, the water quality in and around the southern Cayuga Lake watershed is very good. Our online database contains over 40,000 water quality data items and can be explored online, or you can download data for your own use.
Coming soon – Watershed Fact Sheets and Database Tutorials!
Monitoring locations are chosen based on a variety of factors. When developing water monitoring programs, one must begin by asking what the purpose of the monitoring is, for example, to document a known problem, to investigate a possible problem, to document pristine conditions, or simply to learn about water quality. Looking at the land uses in a watershed will give you an idea of what types of parameters to monitor for. For example, if you are investigating agricultural runoff, you might test for bacteria and nitrates (fertilizer). If you were concerned about road salt, you could test for chloride. If there is a particular location with suspected pollution, you would choose at least one upstream and downstream monitoring location in an attempt to isolate any pollution.
CSI’s monitoring locations are chosen based on the following factors: safe and legal access, position in the watershed, position relative to land uses of interest (agriculture, urban development, industrial activity), upstream drainage area, and proximity to other water quality monitoring.