Students and faculty from the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and Geography, and Urban Studies have collaborated since 2006 to assess the health of the Casperkill, the stream that flows through the Vassar College campus and the Farm Ecological Preserve.
Researchers have been working to determine the impacts of land use changes on this urbanized stream and visit a total of 21 sampling sites (four of which lie on the Farm) along its length once a month. Parameters being studied include nutrient concentrations in stream water, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, fecal coliform levels, and metals in water and sediment. Researchers have also conducted kick-net studies for macro-invertebrates, done vegetation surveys to determine the width and composition of the riparian buffer, and conducted GIS analyses of land use in the watershed. They have found a strong correlation between conductivity, a measure of the amount of road salt in the stream, and the amount of impervious surface (pavement, rooftops, sidewalks, etc.) upstream of each sampling location and have noted that the Casperkill is the saltiest stream in the county. They have also found a strong relationship between the width of the vegetated buffer strip along the stream and the health of the aquatic community and determined that bacteria levels in all parts of the stream exceed DEC guidelines for bathing.
As part of this project, we are developing a weather station at the farm for use in climate modeling.