Local volunteers are helping scientists solve a water quality mystery. For some time now, environmental officials have known there is excessive E. coli bacteria in Claiborne Run. The problem is they don’t know the source.

E. coli live in the intestines of healthy
humans and animals and are usually
harmless, but can produce a powerful toxin and cause severe illness. The presence of E. coli in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste

Sewage may contain many types of disease-causing organisms. In the Fredericksburg area, volunteers collect water samples to monitor E.coli bacteria levels in Claiborne Run, located in Stafford County.

Volunteers from Friends of the
Rappahannock participate in the collection of the samples, along with other local
citizens. They are known as the
Fredericksburg Area Monitors for the
Environment (FAME). The group is
dedicated to collecting useful water quality information, encouraging environmental stewardship, promoting community involvement and resource conservation, and aiding educational and technical programs.

Samples collected from several sites are cultured in Petri dishes and analyzed for bacteria growth. If the plated
sample grows bacterial colonies that are dark blue or purple, then E. coli is present. Data gathered from this project will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Izabela Sikora, education technician for the
Fredericksburg-based Tri-County City Soil & Water Conservation District, leads the local effort, which is based on similar citizen partnerships with DEQ. “The District is basically the official link between FAME and DEQ,” she said. “We
acquire and manage funding for the group, process and submit data, and train volunteers, as well as perform outreach to the community.”

DEQ will use the local data to help determine the source of E. coli in Claiborne Run. FAME hopes to solve the mystery in about six months, and then begin work on another local impaired stream. For more information about FAME, contact
Izabela Sikora at (540) 656-2402, or e-mail her at Izabela.sikora@tccswcd.org

By Megan Pyles, FOR volunteer

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