New lab for Harbor Watch buoys water-quality mission
Something new has buoyed the mission of Harbor Watch, the Westport-based group that monitors the region’s water quality.
The new Richard Harris Laboratory at Earthplace was officially dedicated Thursday in honor of the man who launched efforts to help improve water quality.
“I never expected they would do that, but that’s a very nice honor,” said Harris, who was quick to also credit Pete Fraboni, Harbor Watch’s associate director, the co-founder of the program in 1986.
“All of us out there have had a hand in this,” Harris told the crowd, who toured the large room after a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “It took a little bit of doing.”
“We probably have several hundred young people out there in all walks of life,” he said, who were touched by their volunteer work with Harbor Watch growing up. Consequently, he said, in adult life they are those who can make a difference with environmental work.
While Harbor Watch serves as an education opportunity for young people, it also provides a slew of data to the state and municipalities on water quality.
“We study water quality (and) conduct monitoring in rivers and streams across Fairfield County,” said Sarah Crosby, Harbor Watch’s new director.
Harbor Watch has, over the years, become a partner of both the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and local public works departments and municipal administrations. By collecting consistent “usable data,” Crosby said, Harbor Watch is able to sound the alert about water-quality problems, enabling govenment officials to act on the issues.
“We’re in direct contact with the people who are doing the fixing,” Crosby said. “The work that we do has measurable impacts on the environment.”
“We’re now actively monitoring over 150 field sites this season,” she said. “All that work helps to improve water quality in our community.”
Harris said that 11 major leaks have been detected by Harbor Watch over the years, which were then brought to public attention. “It’s broken down infrastructure and aging infrastructure that’s causing the problems,” he said. “But we can’t make the repairs,” which is why their partnerships are so valued.
“I think that what Harbor Watch does that sets it apart is the work we’re doing in cleaning up Long Island Sound,” said Crosby, who grew up in Greenwich and recently received her doctorate from Brown University in ecology and evolutionary biology.
The lab will now afford researchers three times the capacity to conduct its work, and more young people will be able to take part in that process.
“They’re going to be learning about how to monitor the rivers and they’re going to be developing a data base,” Fraboni said, which includes measuring a variety of chemicals and substances in local waterways.
“We have uncovered a number of pollution things and brought them to the authorities … and they’ve been remediated,” he said.
“It’s fitting that we honor this guy for the years of what he did starting this group,” he said of Harris, who began the idea helping to improve Norwalk Harbor 29 years ago. “And it’s continuing to grow as witnessed by this lab opening.”
“By their data they’re able to highlight the troubled areas in our waterways so that we can focus our attention on fixing those problems,” said Alicia Mozian, Westport’s conservation director.
“Their data is consistent because they’ve been around so long,” she said, “so we’re able to determine if the problems are chronic or acute.”
But Mozian said the most important work of Harbor Watch may be its impact on young people, who develop a new outlook on the environment through their work in its programs.
“I always feel that no matter what they do in life, they’re always going to remember this experience,” she said, “and never look at the landscape in quite the same way.”