By David Tacke, 3-year CSMP volunteer in Fillmore County
When I was 12, Rachel Carson published her long-researched documentation of environmental abuse in America, Silent Spring. I was a South Dakota farm kid, getting sunburned every spring as I went out to disk fields ahead of dad’s planting. I took too little note of this monumental publishing event, as I took too little note of many other monumental events then.
Three years ago I decided that I had to begin to do more personally, and I discovered a volunteer opportunity in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Stream Monitoring Program.
Changing climatic conditions are altering streams and rivers in my area. During cold winter, crystal clear water pours out of the karst, and stream readings here in southeast Minnesota are 100+ cm. But during the recent January 2017 thaw, streams around Lanesboro ran high and opaque, and the chocolate brown water which poured over the dam tested just 2 to 5 cm visibility in my Secchi tube on different days.
Two summers ago, I paddled the backwaters of the Mississippi River near Goose Island south of La Crosse, photographing the giant leaves and plate-sized yellow blossoms of the American Lotus. So this past summer, not spring, I was surprised to see the Mighty Mississippi surging high and brown, looking more like the Muddy Missouri I knew well. There were no plate-sized blossoms; in fact the lotus plants were in tatters from the raging water. A lot of soil is migrating to the Gulf of Mexico.
Each year I enjoy the stream monitoring experience more. I’m a landscape and wildflower photographer, and I record the blooming of wildflowers. The Root River basin is wonderfully rich in habitat and therefore species. As I have repeatedly visited stream sites, I’ve become much more aware of the habits and cycles of wildlife, at each site, and it has been most educational for me. Birds and animals of all kinds need a good supply of water, and I have naturally begun to note when swallows appear, and how many geese choose an area in spring, or when blackbird chicks have hatched, as indicated by scolding adults who suddenly become very protective of certain trees or marshy areas.
Well, it is so important that we monitor streams and rivers and lakes accurately and consistently, year-to-year, to help fill out a clearer picture of how human practices and unfolding climatic events affect the quality of our environment today, and how they may into the future.
This is no time for complacency. We need to freely offer our time and talent for greater good. Volunteering in environmental data monitoring helps us to discover, appreciate, and enjoy our natural world. The data we collect helps us look future generations in the eye and affirm that through good citizenship we were doing our best to leave them a beautiful planet. We actually do well to remember back one year before Silent Spring, when John F. Kennedy challenged us, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!”
If you’re 12 or 72, it’s a good year to help collect environmental data.