Water monitoring season is upon us, meaning that nearly 1,400 Minnesotans are currently donating their time to gather information about the health of our lakes, rivers, and streams. These Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizen Lake and Stream volunteers are working hard to collect water clarity data, which the MPCA uses to help guide decisions on watershed protection and restoration.
One volunteer in particular, Paul Thompson, has been volunteering with MPCA’s water monitoring program for the last 15 years in the Cascade Creek area in Rochester. He first started volunteering when his sons were little. According to Thompson, “My sons were young and interested in science and the outdoors. I thought it was a great volunteering opportunity for us to do together weekly that they could actively be involved in. We included other fun activities with monitoring such as bicycling or walking near our site, and closely investigating the changes in the creek each week.”
After years of monitoring as a family, Paul’s son Greg now holds a degree in microbiology from South Dakota State University. Greg’s interest in science and early exposure to data collection and water monitoring has helped shaped his career.
Volunteers like Thompson use simple equipment provided by the MPCA to regularly measure water clarity, which can be an indicator of the health of a lake or stream. “There was a time when some local water experts were interested in learning more about my data to see if the information could be helpful in making a zoning decision along the stream,” Thompson stated. Because scientists can’t be everywhere, some data collected by volunteers is the only data available for particular lakes and streams, making this work indispensable.
When asked why he keeps coming back each summer, Thompson said, “I know that my data collection is helpful for scientists and may help protect water quality. There are a lot of changes happening in Rochester, and I want to make sure that the health of the water remains an important piece.”
MPCA’s citizen stream and lake monitoring programs give Minnesotans the opportunity to participate in the long-term protection of water bodies, but in order to reach all water bodies across Minnesota, more volunteers are needed.
Paul recently provided his reflections on his and Greg’s experience as CSMP volunteer monitors over the years:
Reflecting back, it is hard to believe that 15 years have gone by since Greg and I started monitoring “our” site on Cascade Creek. Greg was only 8 years old in 1999, and his enthusiasm for environmental science made being MPCA Citizen Stream Monitoring Program volunteers a perfect fit for us to share science together. During this time, we have seen many changes at our creek site: multiple revisions to lay rip rap, flash flood levels, a spill that leaked from a truck, and the development of the Cascade Lake public areas upstream.
It is interesting to see how the data that we have collected has changed as the land use around our site has changed. On each visit to our site, Greg and I often answer questions from walkers and bikers on the nearby trail, to people pausing as they cross over the bridge that are curious about what we are doing and why we are doing it. I think this is one of the things I enjoy the most about my weekly visits. It is surprising to me how many of them thank us for our efforts.
I have learned a lot about our watershed from working with the CMSP program for all these years. I think it is fascinating to see how the creek changes from week to week. Personally, I think what I am doing is a small, but very valuable part of helping the water quality in our community.
For more information
For more information about the Citizen Monitoring Program and how you can become a volunteer, visit the citizen monitoring webpage.