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History of FOMR's

E. Coli Monitoring Program

May 2015 - June 2016          


In early May, FOMR decided to launch an E. coli bacteria monitoring program on the streams in the Upper Middle River area — main stem of Middle River, Back Creek, and Eidson Creek.  This area was chosen so that FOMR could partner with Headwaters SWCD on a grant Headwaters had received targeting livestock exclusion in that area.


In discussions with Nesha McRae from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), it was decided that FOMR should use the Coliscan testing method for their program.  McRae arranged for DEQ to donate enough Coliscan supplies and an incubator to FOMR to cover the first year of the testing program.  Testing would be every month for 12 months on 10-12 different sites in the Upper Middle River area. 


On May 19th, James Beckley and Nesha McRae from DEQ held a training session for FOMR's monitors and lab personnel.  Trainees included FOMR volunteers Joe Thompson, Pete Cooper, Joe McCue, Bobby Whitescarver, Robby Brown, and Justin Fischbach; Courtney Hallacher, teacher, Riverheads High School (RHS); and Jo-el Nelson, teacher, Shenandoah Valley Governor's School (SVGS). 

FOMR and DEQ agreed that the E. coli monitoring year would start in July and end in the following June.  At the end of the monitoring year, the program would be evaluated, and a decision would be made whether or not to continue it for another year.


Joe McCue was the first E. coli Monitoring Coordinator for FOMR. The Coordinator is responsible for: 


  • training volunteers,

  • scheduling monthly water sample collection by volunteers,

  • ordering Coliscan supplies and delivering them to monitors and labs that process the samples,

  • collecting data from labs, 

  • publishing the results monthly on the FOMR website,

  • disseminating results to monitors, and

  • maintaining E. coli monitoring records.


Thirteen original sites were chosen: twelve in the Upper Middle River area and one on Bells Creek where a large livestock exclusion project was underway.  The twelve sites included:  Middle River sites MR1, MR2, MR3, MR4, MR5, MR6; Eidson Creek sites EC1, EC2: and Back Creek sites BC1, BC2, BC3, BC4.  The Bells Creek site was BSC1.  


The first water samples were collected on July 13th and processed by Joe McCue, Courtney Hallacher, and Jo-el Nelson at Courtney's classroom at RHS.  The next day, the petri dishes were counted, and FOMR's E. coli program was underway.


In August, the operational phase of the E. coli program started.  FOMR volunteer monitors collected nine water samples and students from Courtney's Ecology class at RHS collected three water samples.  The nine samples from FOMR volunteers were transported to SVGS where they were processed, counted, and recorded at the SVGS lab by Isabelle Leonard, a senior there and at RHS.  Courtney's students processed, counted, and recorded their three samples.


FOMR's program started as a collaboration between FOMR volunteers, DEQ supplies & training, Courtney and her students at RHS, and Jo-el and Isabelle at SVGS.  This collaboration stayed together for four years. 


During the four years of collaboration with RHS and SVGS, FOMR had to have another lab available for those times when school was not in session — snow days, holiday closings, and summer closing.  During that time Joe Thompson, Mike Harmon, and Joe McCue worked together as FOMR's "Lab."

July 2016 - June 2017


In July, a new site was added on the main stem of Middle River.  The MR3 site is at a bridge on Shuey Road where Middle River flows into a riparian buffer.  That riparian buffer ends 1/2 mile downstream at a bridge on Trimbles Mill Road.  It was decided that we needed to monitor the water at the Trimbles Mill bridge so that we could see what happens to the amount of bacteria carried by the River as it flows through this buffer.  MR3 on Shuey Road was renamed to MR3A, and the new site on Trimbles Mill Road was named MR3B. 


In March 2017, a new site was added at the end of another buffer just downstream of MR3A and MR3B. The MR4 site is at the bridge on Cattleman Road.  MR4 was renamed to MR4A, and the new downstream site was named MR4B.  The decision to add MR4B was the same as in establishing MR3B.  MR4A is at the beginning of the buffer, and MR4B is on private land at the end of the buffer.


During this school year, SVGS student Damien Wade processed samples for FOMR at the SVGS lab.


July 2017 - June 2018


In August, monitoring was discontinued on one site on Back Creek - BC4.  A new site upstream of BC4 was added - BC3.8.


Also in August, Mike Harmon joined the group of volunteers collecting water samples.  He volunteered to be the courier who would meet other monitors on the scheduled monitoring day and transport all the water samples to the lab at SVGS.


During this school year, SVGS student Louisa Esteban processed samples for FOMR at the SVGS lab.


July 2018 - June 2019

In April, DEQ Citizen Water Monitoring Coordinator, James Beckley, helped FOMR complete a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) for the Upper Middle River monitoring project.


During this school year, SVGS students Louisa Esteban and Emma Evans processed samples for FOMR at the SVGS lab.

June marked the end of the fourth year of monitoring.  FOMR then decided to reduce the monitoring program in the Upper Middle River to just four sites - MR1, MR2, MR3A, and MR3B.  These four sites were chosen because they are sites on the upstream and downstream sides of riparian buffers. Riparian buffers are important in reducing E. coli levels in streams.  Since FOMR already had four years of data proving the benefit of these two buffers, it was decided to continue monitoring them.  (Insert link to Bobby's blog) MR1 is at the upstream side, and MR2 is at the downstream side of one buffer.  Likewise, for MR3A and MR3B for the second buffer.  Mike Harmon at MR1 & MR2, and Bobby Whitescarver at MR3A & MR3B are each both monitor and lab for their two sites - collecting water samples, processing them, and recording the data.

The four-year collaboration between FOMR and Courtney Hallacher at RHS and Jo-el Nelson at SVGS ended when the 2018-2019 school year ended. 


July 2019 - June 2020


Starting in July, FOMR began a new monitoring program on Christians Creek.  Twelve sites were chosen: ten sites on the main stem of Christians Creek, one site on Barterbrook Branch, and one site on Meadow Run.  Ten FOMR volunteers started collecting water samples - Ann & Mike Cline, David Driver, Diane & Todd Holt, Joe McCue, Jan & Eddie Painter, Joe Thompson, and Tom Shapcott.  Ruth Harp & John McCarthy volunteered to be the "Lab" to process water samples, read the petri dishes, and record the data.  Joe McCue was project coordinator for Christians Creek.  Tom Shapcott also volunteered to be trained to perform the duties of being a "Lab."


In September, Tom Shapcott agreed to become the E. coli Monitoring Coordinator for FOMR, starting on January 1, 2020.


In December, FOMR once again collaborated with SVGS.  FOMR was contacted by Ezekiel Esteban and Westley Siemers, both students at SVGS, requesting FOMR's expertise in helping them design and implement a research project which included testing for E. coli in a stream.  Their project compared the number of macroinvertebrates in a stream with the amount of E. coli present at the same time to see if there were a correlation between the two. The results of their project were submitted to the James Madison University Science Fair in March 2020.  FOMR trained Esteban and Siemers in how to use the Coliscan method to test their water samples and supplied them with supplies needed to complete their testing.


In March, the results of their project were presented as "A Study of Manure and Macros of Naked Creek" at the JMU Science Fair.


In May, FOMR received a grant from the Shenandoah Valley Pure Water Forum that was used to purchase Coliscan supplies for the period from July 2020 through June 2021, to be used for the Christians Creek E. coli monitoring program.


July 2020 - June 2021


In February 2021, the Science Committee decided to end the monitoring on Christians Creek with the June samples, and the next phase of monitoring, starting in July, would be conducted on the main stem of Middle River.  It would start at the bridge over Rt. 250 near Churchville and extend as far downstream as possible.


In Tom Shapcott's own words, "The intent of the new project is 2-fold. The stretch being monitored is considered the main recreational waters of the Middle River and so, first off, we are assessing the general health risk here. Secondly, the sites being chosen include those above and below main tributaries allowing us to evaluate possible E. coli loads coming in from these."


In March, Tom and Kate Guenther made a training video on how to collect a water sample from a bridge.  The video was used to help train new volunteers.  


In April, FOMR applied for and received a grant from The Shenandoah Valley Pure Water Forum to purchase Coliscan supplies for the first year of monitoring on the main stem of Middle River.  Todd and Diane Holt agreed to be the new "Lab" as of July 1st, and Jan Painter agreed to help as the "Lab Backup."


Eight sites were chosen and new volunteers were trained.  New volunteers included Heather Berry, Mark Gatewood, Eunice Sill, Zach Swanson, Nancy Fauber, Rob Riner, Tina Dove, Teri Beasley, Ann Murray, and Art Fovargue.  Joe Thompson, a veteran monitor who has collected water samples for FOMR's E. coli monitoring in the Upper Middle River area and in Christians Creek, agreed to continue collecting water samples on the main stem for another year.


In addition to the main stem of the River, two additional sites were chosen on Whiskey Creek near Churchville.  Bobby Whitescarver, also a veteran monitor, collected and processed each sample himself on a monthly basis during this period.


July 2021 - June 2022


On July 1st, Tom Shapcott passed the baton as E. coli Monitoring Coordinator to Todd Holt..  Todd and Diane also began their second year as FOMR's  E. coli "Lab."  Joe Thompson, who has collected water samples for FOMR's E. coli monitoring for seven years, retired on July 1st, and Randy Bertin took his place.

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