20 years and 400 inspiring volunteers yield priceless water quality information

Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-206-2608

In 1998, 17 volunteers began monitoring the health of 22 streams sites in southeast Minnesota. Today, more than 400 volunteers monitor 500 stream sites across the state as part of the Citizen Stream Monitoring program. The data is indispensable to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

“Where else do you have continuous data like that? It’s really rare. That citizen component is really important,” said Donna Rasmussen, director of the Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District, where the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program began 20 years ago.

Volunteers adopt a stream site, use a simple tool called a Secchi tube to measure water clarity and track how clear the water is every week during the summer. They report their findings and observations to the MPCA. The agency uses the information to determine whether the streams meet water quality standards designed to make sure those streams are fishable and swimmable.

The MPCA is celebrating the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program’s 20th anniversary this year. It produced a video program recognizing volunteers and their contributions to cleaner water. For many volunteers, their observations and opportunities to bring attention to streams are just as important as the data they collected.

One volunteer featured in the video, Richard Betz, is a nine-year monitor on a Flute Reed River site in Cook County. “I can report things like this slumping bank. If I wouldn’t have been here, the county soil and water (conservation district) wouldn’t know about this,” he said.

Ruthann Yaeger, an 11-year volunteer on Silver Creek in Olmsted County, said, “More importantly, the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program gives me a base to speak to people about water and to show them ways this impacts our watershed and their wells.”

With Minnesota’s 69,000 miles of streams and more than 14,000 lakes, the MPCA cannot monitor all that water on a continual basis. For some lakes and streams, citizen data are the only data available. For all waterbodies monitored, data are crucial to tracking long-term trends in water quality and helps the agency determine whether lake and stream health are getting better or worse over time.

If you’d like to be part of the Citizen Stream Monitoring program to help ensure clean water in Minnesota, visit the Citizen water monitoring webpage, or call the MPCA at 651-296-6300 (Twin Cities) or 1-800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota). The MPCA provides equipment and training and no experience is needed.