Look around the shores of any recreational lakes and streams in Minnesota, and very likely you’ll find citizens who volunteer their time and effort to benefit water quality. More than 1,300 participate in the MPCA's Citizen Lake and Stream Monitoring programs. They provide valuable data about water clarity, one of several measures used for assessing overall water quality.
About 60 volunteers gathered Sept. 25 at the University of Minnesota-Morris for the MPCA’s fourth annual “Secchi Social.” The event recognizes volunteers for their water quality work, shares their personal monitoring stories, and provides information from experts about specific water quality topics. Locations vary around the state each year.
At least 10 times each season, volunteer monitors lower a Secchi disk in a lake, or fill a Secchi tube with stream water, and record the length at which the disk remains visible. The measurement is an indication of how clear the water is, and is one data point the MPCA tracks related to water quality around the state.
Richard Heimkes, who was recognized for 29 years of monitoring Gilchrist Lake in Pope County, urged more action toward addressing water quality problems. “We have enough data and we need to act,” he says. “People and development have created the problems, but we aren’t fixing things.”
Melody Shores, of Elbow Lake, talked about her three years of monitoring on Flekkefjord Lake. She described it as a “sunset lake,” with poor water quality leaving it suitable for viewing more than recreation. “We need to make it more than a sunset lake,” she says. “Monitoring creates a new relationship with your own lake, and an appreciation of the work being done for our lakes.”
“We need lots and lots of data collected consistently over the years to detect trends,” says Shannon Martin, coordinator of the Citizen Lake Monitoring program. For example, in Aitkin County, Lake Minnewawa has been monitored for 39 years by a succession of five volunteers, each playing a key role in collecting water clarity data used to detect an improving water clarity trend on the lake. Nine-hundred fifty-one volunteers take water clarity readings at 1,642 sites in 987 lakes statewide.
Most volunteers in the Citizen Stream Monitoring program monitor streams in southeast Minnesota. Streams in the Morris area and west central Minnesota need more volunteers. Lawn signs, calendars, brochures, and social media all help promote the program. Currently, there are 388 volunteers monitoring streams at 569 sites statewide.
A panel of experts at the Secchi Social shared their knowledge and insights relating to water quality.
- Russ Gesch, a research plant physiologist at the USDA field station in Morris, described how a cover crop of camelina can help water quality by taking up excessive nitrogen in the soil.
- Bruce Freske, U.S. Fish and Wildlife district manager, described wetlands restoration, which provides infiltration before runoff hits streams and lakes.
- Mark Erickson, a cattle producer from Donnelly, said their 450-acre farm in pasture virtually eliminates runoff, while raising grass-fed beef.
- Pat Baskfield of the MPCA, explained how the agency’s watershed pollutant load monitoring program provides long-term water quality trends statewide.
The MPCA's citizen monitoring programs always need more volunteers. Learn more on the Citizen water monitoring web pages.