About the program

For over 40 years, volunteers have gathered critically important data on lakes and streams across the state. This information helps us better understand the health of Minnesota’s waters and protect them for future generations.

Formerly known as the Citizen Lake and Stream Monitoring Programs, the new inclusive Volunteer Water Monitoring Program serves all residents of Minnesota equally. While the name of the program has changed, the work of our amazing volunteers and the impact you have on water quality throughout the state remains the same.

Can anyone be a volunteer water monitor?

Yes! No prior experience or training is needed. Lake monitors need access to a boat, canoe or kayak; stream monitors access their sites from a streambank or bridge crossing.

What do volunteer water monitors do?

Volunteers conduct water clarity tests at least twice a month each summer at designated locations on lakes or streams. To determine water clarity, volunteers find the disappearance/reappearance point of a Secchi disk as it descends into a lake or a specially designed stream collection tube. Volunteers submit their readings at the end of each monitoring season.

Why monitor water clarity?

Water clarity is an important indicator of lake and stream health. It signifies the amount of algae or sediment in the water, which can affect plant, insect, and fish communities and impact recreational opportunities. Long-term monitoring by volunteers can detect declines or improvement in quality of a lake or stream.

Are the data volunteers collect useful?

Yes! Volunteer-collected data help government agencies and municipalities make decisions on protecting and restoring lakes and streams across the state.

The MPCA uses volunteer-collected data in two important ways:

  • To detect trends in water clarity over time. Increases or decreases in water clarity may indicate changes in water quality on a lake or stream.
  • To formally assess the health of lakes and streams by comparing them to state water quality standards. Lakes and streams that fail to meet water quality standards are categorized as impaired and require restoration to improve their overall health.
    • For lakes, volunteer water clarity readings help determine if swimming standards are being met by combining them with phosphorus and chlorophyll-a (algae) data.
    • For streams, volunteer water clarity readings help determine if sediment standards are being met.

What do you get out of the program?

You will be part of a community of volunteer scientists from across the state that is passionate about water quality and focused on protecting our state’s water resources. You will also receive:

  • First-hand knowledge of your lake or stream’s condition
  • Annual online monitoring site reports detailing the data you collect
  • Program newsletters
  • Notification of local watershed efforts that may affect your lake or stream
  • Access to experts working on water quality issues in the state

Program goals

  • Help determine the condition of Minnesota lakes and streams by expanding the state water-quality monitoring network.
  • Provide the opportunity to any Minnesota resident interested in water quality to participate in a basic, centrally administered water monitoring program.
  • Support existing volunteer monitoring programs.
  • Facilitate understanding of water-quality issues, and promote shared responsibility for protection of Minnesota's water resources.

Join us!

Use our online enrollment page to find lakes or streams in need of monitors and to sign up.