Water quality testing to begin in Fort River 

  • A barn swallow perches near its nest in a barn at the Fort River Division of the National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley on Friday, July 13, 2018. The barn remains on the site from the former Bri-Mar Stables. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2020

AMHERST — A group advocating for protecting the Fort River and the habitat surrounding the 15-mile long tributary of the Connecticut River, where several swimming holes are used throughout the summer, is beginning water quality tests this month.

The Fort River Watershed Association, formed in 2019, recently started drawing samples from the river at Amethyst Brook Conservation Area on Pelham Road and at Groff Park on Mill Lane to assess the bacteria levels.

Brian Yellen, a member of the group and a research assistant professor in the geosciences department at the University of Massachusetts, said the group will be obtaining samples every other week through the end of September.

Data from the tests, which are being coordinated with the Connecticut River Conservancy’s water quality program, will be posted on the “Is It Clean” database at https://connecticutriver.us.

Supported by a small state grant and through sponsorship of Fort Hill Collision Services, the testing comes during a period when summer camps are closed and some communities have shuttered municipal pools, putting more pressure on the places along the river for people to cool off, including a place known as the Jump Bridge off Stanley Street.

Yellen said the Fort River is known to have some of the highest nutrient levels among local waterways, causing excessive algae and bacteria.

But the Fort River, as it passes through parts of five towns — Shutesbury, Pelham, Belchertown, Amherst and Hadley — is also free of dams.