UMass Amherst Scientists, Volunteers Check for Acid Rain in Lakes

AMHERST, Mass. - On Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, a group of volunteers for the Acid Rain Monitoring (ARM) project based at the University of Massachusetts will quietly wade or row into 190 lakes and ponds around the state. The hearty group of 70 men and women is part of a unique project that incorporates science with a grass-roots effort to protect the health of the environment. The water samples they collect will be rushed that day to 15 regional volunteer laboratories for preliminary testing, then will be analyzed by UMass scientists who are attempting to provide definitive evidence of the presence and/or effect of acid rain in the state''s recreation resources and drinking water.

Director Paul J. Godfrey of the Water Resources Research Center at UMass, along with a group of about 1,000 volunteers, founded ARM in 1983 in order to provide closer scrutiny of the acid-rain situation than the state could afford at the time. Federal laws regarding emissions of pollutants have been strengthened since then, but little data is available today to determine whether acid rain has increased, receded, or remained at the same levels, as a result, said Godfrey.

According to Godfrey, over its 18-year history, the ARM project has drawn national attention for its work. Godfrey says ARM draws its dedicated corps of volunteers from environmental groups or outdoor recreation organizations, including the Massachusetts Audubon Society and Trout Unlimited. Volunteers work under the direction of University scientists to keep track of the effect of noxious and/or toxic emissions that land on pristine water in New England, even when those emissions emanate from hundreds of miles to the west and south.

With the help of a $50,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), ARM has provided the state enough data on acid rain to make a determination of the level of the problem in recreational and drinking water. Between 1983 and 1993, volunteers sampled 2,444 lakes (87 percent of the total in the state), and 1,670 streams (69 percent) for a total of more than 40,000 samples.

"Most states sample only a few lakes, and only occasionally, using highly paid professionals to do the work," according to Godfrey. "We are the only ones who can say, with confidence, that we know the effect of acid rain on inland waters because we have such an extensive random sample, thanks to the volunteers."

According to the DEP, 30 of the 190 bodies of water sampled on Earth Day have been targeted because they historically were close to being acidified, were very low in alkalinity, and/or demonstrated a significant trend for further acidification.

"Most of our volunteers have a strong love for the environment and the outdoors; many are sportsmen," said Godfrey. "They see good science coming out of this, and want to be a part of solving a serious problem in the region."

Volunteers are given special bottles to use to collect water in the middle of lakes or outlets, or at shorelines far from weeds or obvious sources of pollution. Water is drawn, then delivered to 15 local labs, where another set of volunteers perform pH and alkalinity analysis. From there, all samples are sent to the UMass Environmental Analysis Lab in Amherst for analysis of total phospherous and major ions. The Water Resources Center conducts detailed analysis and interpretation of data results.

"This project shows how the University can help state residents solve problems," Godfrey said. "Many people see problems and want to do something useful, but need guidance and training. We need volunteers to help us keep the costs down, and they need us to organize the project and do the science. Together, we can make this happen."

Water samples will be taken from 190 bodies of water on April 22, including the following:

* Upper Naukeag Lake, Ashburnham

* Ashby Reservoir, Ashby

* Ashfield Lake, Ashfield

* Quabbin Reservoir, Belchertown

* Ponkapoag Pond, Canton

* Cobble Mountain Reservoir, Blandford

* Laurel Lake, Erving

* Newell Pond, Greenfield

* Mirror Lake, Harvard

* Wright Pond, Holyoke

* Houghton Pond, Milton

* Hawley Reservoir and Cadwell Creek, Pelham

* Blue Hills Reservoir, Quincy

* Lake Wyola and Locks Pond, Shutesbury

* West branch of the Swift River, Shutesbury

* Porter Lake West, Springfield

* Lake Lorraine, Springfield

* Webster Lake, Webster

* Herring Pond, Wellfleet

Paul J. Godfrey can be reached at 413/545-2842, or godfrey@tei.umass.edu. Volunteer contact information is available through the News Office at 413/545-0444.