Friends of the North Fork seeks monitors

Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, a nonprofit group that seeks to “engage the public” about the river and issues surrounding it, is looking for more monitors.

Friends Executive Director John Eckman said the group wants to expand the number of monitoring sites it has along the north fork of the river and reach more areas northern Shenandoah County.

As far as numbers, Eckman added, “It depends on how many sites they can take. Actually, we wouldn’t mind having folks in reserve for when people are out of town.”

Eckman said the group’s river monitors take samples of the river every other Friday morning — depending on the weather — at various sites along both the north and south forks.

He said they have about 20 monitors tasked with collecting samples at sites within various localities, including Strasburg, Fisher’s Hill and Toms Brook.

“Some of them are dipping a bucket into the river, pulling it out and then filling a bottle up,” Eckman said. “There’s a particular protocol for how all of that is done to ensure that there’s no contamination.”

The samples are then taken and sent for analysis by scientists at the Friends of the Shenandoah River laboratory at Shenandoah University.

Eckman explained that the overall research work by Friends of the Shenandoah River is “a chemical monitoring effort” to test for levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the river basin.

On occasion, Eckman added, Friends will test for other chemicals and harmful pathogens such as E. coli. “We’re going to be doing some of that this summer.”

In October 2014, researchers from Friends concluded that nitrate levels in the river are “on the rise” [http://tinyurl.com/p69r42d].

“This type of monitoring is really important to have a longer-term view of the overall health of the river,” Eckman said. “People just tend to be focused on the more immediate things.”

According to Eckman, this bi-monthly monitoring can help organizations understand the problems of the river in much greater detail.

“[The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality] does an admirable job, but I know that they are able to check certain parameters once every few years,” he said.

Work done by groups such as Friends of the Shenandoah River, Eckman said, “is able to give us a much tighter look at things like seasonal variations” as well as potential spring runoff effects.

Although Eckman noted that Friends of the North Fork has “needs for five to 10 monitors right now,” they are not opposed to being “overwhelmed by requests.”

At the same time, Eckman said the organization would also like to “get some young people involved who can do it before they run off to work.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com