By foot and by boat, volunteers take to the water to collect valuable data

Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-206-2608

When spring arrives in Minnesota, hundreds of volunteers across the state will head out to their lake or stream to measure its clarity. By collecting data for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), these volunteers provide valuable information for protecting or restoring their waters.

The agency uses the data to help determine whether lakes and streams are meeting water quality standards designed to protect aquatic life and recreation like fish and swimming. If so, these waters are candidates for protective strategies. If not, then studies may follow to determine the pollutants, sources of those pollutants, and ways to reduce them.

Through the Citizen Monitoring Program, volunteers do a simple water clarity test in their favorite body of water twice a month during the summer. Lake monitors boat or paddle to a designated spot to check the clarity, while stream monitors may walk, bike or drive to the water or a bridge over it.

More than 1,300 citizen monitors gather data for the MPCA, but more are needed to reach the 69,000 miles of rivers and more than 12,000 lakes in the state. The MPCA provides equipment and training, and no experience is needed. For some waters, citizen data is the only data available.

Many volunteers go beyond collecting data:

  • In Hennepin County in the Twin Cities area, Sean Connaughty coordinates an annual cleanup of Lake Hiawatha.  Over the past three years, he and others have logged 879 hours of volunteer time removing 4,500 pounds of trash from the lake.  
  • For Lake Washington in Le Sueur County in southern Minnesota, Pam Olson initiated a project in an upstream wetland to slow the movement of water during rain events and let sediments settle out before the water flows into the lake.
  • In Anoka County in the Twin Cities area, Wayne LeBlanc helped establish a no-wake zone surrounding a shallow sensitive area on Peltier Lake.
  • Richard Heimkes in Polk County in west-central Minnesota has long advocated for Gilchrist Lake and other waters in Minnesota through work with land management boards.

To join this volunteer effort, use the MPCA’s interactive map to find out if your favorite lake or stream needs monitoring. To learn more and sign up, visit the Citizen Water Monitoring Program webpage.