Wednesday, April 29, 2009

King Philip’s Revenge: DEC Closes Spring

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has closed King Philip’s spring, apparently for good. DEC removed a pipe that connected the fenced-off spring to a popular pull-off on Route 73/9 in the town of North Hudson near Exit 30 of the Northway (I-87), citing high levels of coliform bacteria as the reason. (Wish I’d known before I filled a water bottle there a week ago. I wound up pouring most of it on a plant anyway.)

Coliform indicates human or animal waste has gotten into the water. It’s unlikely DEC tested for giardia or E coli (such tests are hit or miss), but the chronic presence of feces brings risk of these and other disease-causing organisms. Following is DEC’s press release:

DEC removed the pipe to the spring after periodic waters samples taken by DEC over the past six months indicated high levels of coliform bacteria exceeding Department of Health water quality standards.

“The Department understands that obtaining water from the spring is very popular with visitors and residents,” said DEC Regional Director Betsy Lowe. “The decision to close the spring was made after considerable deliberation, however, it reflects our responsibility to ensure the safety of the public.”

Coliform bacteria are found in the digestive tracts of animals, including humans, and their wastes. While not necessarily a pathogen themselves, the presence of these bacteria in drinking water, however, generally is a result of a problem with water treatment or the pipes which distribute the water, and indicates that the water may be contaminated with organisms that can cause disease. Disease symptoms may include diarrhea, cramps, nausea and possibly jaundice and any associated headaches and fatigue.

DEC weighed a number of factors before making the decision to close the spring, such as NYS Department of Health (DOH) regulation and disinfection.

DOH regulations require that public drinking water supplies be treated or taken from underground wells— the spring is essentially a surface water supply.

Measures to disinfect the pipe and spring are only temporary. Due to the location and accessibility of the spring, it can be easily contaminated by humans or animals at any time — even shortly after the system has been disinfected.

Constructing and maintaining a permanent structure and with equipment to disinfect the water would not comply with the Article XIV of the State Constitution and the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. It most likely would be costly, ruin the experience of obtaining water from the spring and change the taste of the spring water, as well.

DEC regrets the inconvenience caused by the closure of the spring, but can not ignore its responsibility to protect the public. DEC continues to recommend that users of the Adirondack Forest Preserve treat any water obtained from surface waters, including springs, before drinking or cooking with it. Questions from the public may be directed to the DEC Region 5 Lands & Forests Office at (518) 897-1291 or info@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

Galen Crane wrote an enlightening article about water quality at popular Adirondack springs in the 2001 Collectors Issue of Adirondack Life. At that time DEC did not test springwater, and the magazine did an independent test. Crane found that coliform was present — though in insignificant amounts — at six of seven springs sampled, including King Philip’s. Some people advocate drinking even untreated, unfiltered surface water in the Adirondack backcountry, arguing that worries about giardia are overblown. But where coliform is confirmed, doctors say it’s prudent not to gamble with that water source.

King Philip’s spring is reputed to have been named after a Wampanoag Native American chief who waged war on New England colonists in the late 17th century and was beheaded in 1676. If anyone knows why this spring bears his name, please tell.

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Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.




5 Responses

  1. Matt Funiciello says: