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Citizen Lake Monitoring Program

Citizen volunteers using secchi disks to monitor lakes

Because lakes are so central to Minnesota's economy and way of life, it is imperative that we try to maintain and improve the quality of water in our state's lakes. The Citizen Lake-Monitoring Program (CLMP) requires only minimal volunteer time, yet it provides what is essential for achieving these goals.

About the program

Two Common Loons on a Minnesota Lake The CLMP is a cooperative program combining the technical resources of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the volunteer efforts of citizens statewide who collect water-quality data on their lakes.

The program greatly multiplies the MPCA's water-quality sampling capabilities, while volunteers learn about the water quality of lakes in their region and the causes and effects of lake pollution.

Listen to the loon wave file

What do volunteers do?

volunteer using Secchi diskCLMP volunteers collect water transparency data using an 8-inch, circular, all-white metal plate attached to a calibrated rope. This tool is called a Secchi disk. About once a week during the summer, volunteers boat to a designated spot on their lakes to collect transparency readings. The volunteer lowers the disk into the water until it is no longer visible and notes that depth from the markings on the rope. The disk is then lowered a little further and then raised back up until it is just visible. This second depth reading is averaged with the first, and the final number is recorded on a data sheet. At the end of summer, volunteers send their data sheets to the MPCA to be compiled with other water-quality data.

To find out more about the program and what volunteer lake-monitors do, check out our monitoring handbook.

What kind of information do transparency readings provide?

Water transparency is a quick and easy measurement that tells scientists a lot about a lake's water quality. First it indicates the amount of light penetration into a lake. Second, Secchi transparency provides an indirect measure of the amount of suspended material in the water, which in many cases is an indication of the amount of algae in the water.

Long-term transparency monitoring by CLMP volunteers helps scientists detect signs of degradation to a lake. Generally, the sooner water-quality problems are detected, the easier and less expensive it is to restore the lake to its previous state.

Measuring Water Clarity

What about ice on and ice off dates?

What’s happening with lake ice data collection at state agencies? Are multiple organizations collecting the same information? Is there collaboration with the State Climatology Office? Good questions! We’ve heard these kinds of questions from volunteers and even other state program coordinators over the years and we are working to provide clarity.

Several programs at the MPCA and DNR are interested in collecting ice data for Minnesota lakes. The information is useful in tracking lake trends and understanding changes that may affect lake health, local wildlife and citizen lake use. Citizen volunteers are a vital source of information for lake monitoring programs at both the PCA and the DNR and they are critical to the long-term success of water monitoring in the state. Coordinators of the PCA’s Citizen Lake Monitoring Program and the DNR’s Lake Level Monitoring Program see value in lake ice data collected by volunteer monitors and would like it available for use in our lake health assessment process. It is for this reason that PCA and DNR citizen monitoring programs individually collect lake ice data. Citizen Monitoring Programs at both the PCA and DNR share volunteer-collected ice data with the State Climatology Office several times a year. The ice data you submit is eventually reflected in the State Climatology Office’s online database and map. To see past ice data, please visit the DNR's website. Exit to Web

If you happen to volunteer for both the PCA Citizen Monitoring Program and the DNR Lake Level Monitoring Program you do not need to submit your ice data to each program. Please choose which program you would like to submit your ice data through and be consistent each year in sending your data to that particular program only. You can rely on the citizen monitoring programs at both the PCA and DNR to share your ice data with the State Climatology Office.

Over the coming months, the PCA Citizen Monitoring Program will determine how to better promote the collection of lake ice data and how to conveniently receive that data from volunteers. Stayed tuned for more information!

If you have any questions, please contact Shannon Martin at 651-757-2874.

Who can volunteer for CLMP?

Any person or group willing to devote a small amount of time and energy to conduct simple water-quality checks on a regular basis can become a volunteer monitor. This includes anyone who lives on or near a lake or is a frequent user of a particular lake. The only restriction is that volunteers need to have access to a boat or canoe in order to take the transparency readings.

Sign me up!

Sechi volunteers in a boat
CLMP Volunteers

Volunteers will receive data sheets, instructions for assembling and using the disk, a copy of the annual report on water quality of lakes in their region, and current CLMP newsletters. If you are interested in becoming a CLMP volunteer, use our CLMP Volunteer Sign Up or contact the MPCA at 651-296-6300 (Twin Cities metro) or 800-657-3864 (Greater MN only), NOTE: The MPCA reserves the right to limit the quantity of disks to any individual, group or organization.

CLMP datasheets

The electronic datasheet is a specially formatted Microsoft Excel file, and it includes instructions. Save it to your computer and add your records. If you decide to use the electronic datasheet, you will not need to send in your paper datasheet. Note: Mac users, please see the tips below.

CMP Electronic Datasheet Tips for Mac Users

Since Microsoft Office on the Windows 7 Operating System are the current standard tools for CMP staff, we are unable to process your data in file formats other than Excel 97-2003 (.xls). While some Mac software supports saving in this format, we have heard that some do not. To avoid frustration, please check to see if you can open and save the file in Excel 97-2003 (.xls) format with whatever software program you happen to be using before entering your data into the file. If you cannot save the file to your computer in Excel 97-2003 (.xls) format, please mail your paper datasheet to us at:

Citizen Water Monitoring
MN Pollution Control Agency
520 Lafayette Rd N
St. Paul, MN 55155

We apologize for any inconvenience this limitation causes for anyone who prefers to submit data electronically.

Submit your electronic datasheet attached to an email to by October 31. If you have any questions about the new electronic datasheet, please contact Shannon Martin at 651-757-2874 (toll-free at 800-657-3864), or email

  • MS Excel Document CLMP Electronic Datasheet (wq-s1-51) — Note: If you sample more than one site, fill out and submit one Excel document for each lake site.

Contact information

If you need additional information or assistance, please contact: Shannon Martin at 800-657-3864 (Greater Minn.), 651-757-2874 (Twin Cities metro area), e-mail or by mail at: Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. N., St. Paul, MN 55155.

Last modified on December 30, 2014 09:41