The water quality monitoring began its 34th season at the lake almost a week later than previously scheduled, according to an email from Michael McCord of the Smith Mountain Lake Association.

“This year is unlike any other,” McCord said in an email to SMLA members. “Pandemics and floods may slow us down a bit, but they have not stopped us in our efforts to monitor and protect this beautiful place we call home.”

Because most water quality monitors are married couples, McCord said social distancing has not been an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, other volunteers who perform water quality monitoring together have been asked to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“By the very nature of our monitoring program, our monitors while collecting the samples on their boats are away from other people,” McCord said in the email.

The collected samples are then placed in a freezer in the volunteers’ homes. When the samples are collected by Ferrum College interns, they are stored in coolers and left outside for contactless pickup, McCord said.

Delia Heck, a professor of environmental science and division chair of natural science at Ferrum College, took over the director’s position of the program this year after the death of Carolyn Thomas, a retired Ferrum professor and founder of the program. This season has been dedicated in memory of Thomas.

“The project will continue to serve as an early warning sentinel as well as a model for how to to work collaboratively with our neighbors in living out our motto of ‘Not Self, But Others,’” Heck said in a news release about the program. “The partnership with the business sector, state government and community exemplifies the very best Ferrum College has to offer our region.”

While the heavy rain delayed the start of water quality monitoring program, McCord said none of the water samples collected contained E. coli bacteria that exceeded the Virginia Department of Health’s standard for recreational waters.

McCord also reported on results regarding use of remote sensors to measure water quality. “Regrettably, SMLA’s bid with the Virginia Environmental Endowment to implement a Smart Lake concept using remote sensors was not successful,” he said in the email. “SMLA will try again next year in a scaled-down version.”

For more information about the water quality monitoring program, visit