Equipment Loan Program Leads to Growth of the Unified Water Study

Elena Colon, Laboratory Manager at Save the Sound's laboratory in Larchmont, New York, places sample cups into the facility's new discrete analyzer.
Elena Colon, Laboratory Manager at Save the Sound’s laboratory in Larchmont, NY, places sample cups into the facility’s new discrete analyzer. The equipment will enable the Unified Water Study to do in-house analysis of water quality samples for nitrogen, phosphorous, continuous dissolved oxygen, and additional measures. (Long Island Sound Study photo/Robert Burg)

Ten years ago, a Long Island Sound Study-funded report outlined steps to establish a  soundwide network of community-based groups monitoring for near-shore waters. It also highlighted a major challenge toward its creation.

Community-based volunteer groups, said the study’s authors, were highly supportive of joining a network,  but “this is dependent upon the provision of necessary resources in the form of training, equipment and supporting funds.”

Save the Sound, which eventually took on the role of creating the network through the Unified Water Study, has met that challenge through its Equipment Loan Program.

Originally run by Harbor Watch, an early member of the Unified Water Study, the Equipment Loan Program was taken over by Save the Sound in 2017 at a time when about 12 groups were participating. Managed by Elena Colon, the program provides equipment ranging from sophisticated water quality sensors to supplying data sheets and buckets. The most unusual loan is a boat, an Amesbury Dory, donated to Save the Sound from a supporter, and provided to the Bronx River Alliance on loan for six months a year to conduct water sampling on the Bronx River, including an outermost station near the Western Narrows of Long Island Sound.  

During the monitoring season, the groups collect data, including readings from a device with a sensor called a multiparameter sonde that measures dissolved oxygen, temperature, water turbidity, and chlorophyll a (a pigment in plants that helps in coastal waters to indicate the abundance of microalgae and its need to use nitrogen to grow). It also collects physical samples of chlorophyll a. At The John and Daria Barry Foundation laboratory, part of Save the Sound’s New York office in Larchmont, Colon analyzes the samples and ensures that all the data that has been collected is validated so it can be used for scientific study and for reports such as the Long Island Sound Report Card. Thanks to funding from the Long Island Sound Study the supplies have been able to keep pace with the growth of the UWS, which will monitor 46 embayments through 27 groups in 2023.  

Peter Linderoth, director of water quality for Save the Sound, describes the Equipment Loan Program as a game changer in helping UWS expand around the Sound.

“With the equipment loan program, Elena and the team are getting this equipment all the way out to eastern Connecticut and Long Island and west to New York City,” he said. “It really is an impressive feat.”

Wearing a pair of purple gloves, Elena Colon places reagents and standards into the analyzer at The John and Daria Barry Foundation Laboratory in Larchmont.
Colon places reagents and standards into the analyzer at The John and Daria Barry Foundation Laboratory in Larchmont. (LISS Photo/Robert Burg)

Through funding from The John and Daria Barry Foundation, Colon also is now able to conduct in-house analysis of the physical samples instead of contracting out to a third party laboratory, which has often resulted in long wait-times to get results back. A new discrete analyzer will be particularly useful for “tier 2” monitoring groups, a subset of the UWS monitoring groups that have the capacity to collect samples of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other substances that provide more detailed measures of the Sound’s water quality. The in-house work will save money, and the faster turnaround should help the monitoring groups get information faster to make corrections if necessary and “fine-tune” their sampling techniques.

Each April, Colon and Linderoth also provide training for the groups on how to use the equipment and how to collect data that meets the program’s Quality Assurance Project Plan. Colon also is available during monitoring season from May to October to answer any questions.  

“I am basically a built-in tech support for everyone,” she said. “So, I make sure that all of the equipment is running. I make sure to order, purchase and replenish inventory. I make sure that when any of the groups run into problems I am there, and I am going to fix it for them. “

Colon also has noticed that the groups are not just talking to her. They are getting to know each other through training sessions, conferences, and video chats, and exchanging information and collaborating to improve their skills.

“There is something to be said when you are all part of the same study of this scale,” said Colon.  “It is just kind of like you are all in the trenches together. It is so great (for them) to be able to exchange stories. ‘How did you do that?’ ‘How was it for you?’ It really brings people together.”

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