"The neat thing about the CRG sponsored program" says Mary Browning a volunteer from Boone County, "is that the kids have been doing water monitoring testing for e-coli in the Coal Rivers. The national publicity is reinforcing how important there testing is to public health".
The Coal River Group started out four years ago doing its own e-coli testing to help determine if the Big, Little and Coal Rivers had problems with e-coli. “The group was determined to conduct sampling for the material during the highest recreational periods. Swimming, boating and other water based activities have always been a part of the summer life of residents living along the Coal Rivers,” says CRG spokesperson Mary Browning.
Our group just wanted a way to help the state agencies collect data that would answer the question, is the Coal River safe to swim in".
Now the entire nation is focusing on e-coli and more people than ever understand how dangerous it can be, Mary says.
The Coal River Group has grown the testing program by providing funding for five schools located near or adjacent to the Rivers to help conduct regular e-coli tests for the rivers. The funding provides $500 each year to support not just testing but to acquire environmental teaching modules, safety and technical equipment as well as funding for teacher training and other related school based activities.
The schools involved in the program this year include: Sherman Junior High School, Madison Middle School, Lincoln High School, Hayes Middle School and St. Albans High School.
Bill Currey, President of the Coal River Group says, "We are extremely gratified with the educational opportunities that our funding is providing at the middle and high school levels of education. The basic objective of the CRG has been to supplement state Data collection activities to help create a data base for protecting the health of recreational users of our rivers.
The program has grown from rudimentary sampling started by Bill Queen one of our Volunteers to a much more sophisticated program that includes students and provides scientific data that can help protect the public’s health.
Taryn Murry, a WV DEP staff person has been instrumental in helping us bring the efforts to a high level of sophistication. Says, Currey, "We now see a potential to regularly access the condition of the rivers on an annual basis while at the same time educating students in a hands on way to the importance of protecting our environment.”
The CRG has developed a 100 mile water recreational trail system for the Coal Rivers. (Called the Walhonde Water Trail)The project will encourage tourism and others to enjoy the 100 miles of rivers in the Coal River Watershed, but according to Currey,”We want to make sure that our efforts to bring new life to the Coal Rivers include providing a safe river for the visitors.”
The Coal River water monitoring program now includes schools in three counties. Boone, Lincoln, and Kanawha. The water monitoring efforts by the students will produce real time data that when compiled in a data base will help pinpoint sources of e-coli and encourage the elimination of sewage in as many areas as possible.
The organization was instrumental this year in promoting and securing a $20 million dollar grant to build sewer systems in the lower Coal River area. (The area was considered the most impacted of all 100 miles of the watershed) Over 1700 customers will receive public sewer service as a result of this effort and construction for the system is expected to begin in 2008.
The CRG is now working on promoting an extension of that system from Tornado to Corridor G. When combined the system could eliminate 10 major privately run sewer systems that have been out of compliance for many years and eliminate hundreds of old septic systems and aerators