Just about every week for the past decade, Beth LaVigne has walked the wooded path along Duluth’s Tischer Creek. As a member of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen Water Monitoring program, she totes her bucket, Secchi tube (to evaluate water clarity), and thermometer down to the water. There she works through a ritual of measurements and observations on water clarity, temperature, and physical appearance that might indicate an issue such as algae or erosion.
“I need to collect water from the middle of the stream, so I’ve got my handy dandy bucket, and I just toss it out there,” LaVigne says. From there, she pours the water into the Secchi tube all the way to the top, then drops a disc into the tube. She peers straight down the cylinder and records when she can no longer see the disc’s pattern.
“Just like that, you’re a citizen scientist!” says LaVigne. As a professor of education at the College of St. Scholastica, she’s invested in this scientific process. “I teach science methods to future teachers; it was serendipitous,” she said.
LaVigne started water monitoring when she moved from a rural location on acres of “natural world” to the City of Duluth. This weekly obligation got her into the area’s urban green space, giving her back her connection to nature. After reading a national science teaching association journal article on citizen science, she started incorporating her citizen water monitoring work into her classroom. “I show my students the water monitoring movie on the [MPCA] website as part of a larger class project,” she explained.
It’s also an opportunity for her to make the connection for students between data and real life. “These observations are where scientists get evidence, see trends, support scientist theories, and eventually used to make policies,” LaVigne says..
She sees the long-term data, just like she’s been collecting, as the basis for making decisions and informing the public.
But beyond how her hobby dovetails with her work, for LaVigne it’s become deeper. “I have a pat phrase: if you learn about something, you come to care about it and come to care for it – and I really care about my stream,” she said.
Her passion for Tischer Creek prompted a news story about the Citizen Water Monitoring program on a local station.
If you would like to make a difference to Minnesota’s water quality, sign up to monitor a lake or stream today: www.pca.state.mn.us/water/about-programs.