by CESAR SALAZAR
From the Mississippi River that runs through the heartland to the over 10,000 lakes throughout the state, Minnesota is supported by its waterways, but how is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) able to go with the flow with so many water systems to oversee?
The MPCA is assisted by over 1,200 Minnesotans who volunteer to monitor streams and lakes throughout the state. Established nearly 50 years ago, the Volunteer Water Monitors program, also known as the Citizen Lake Monitoring program, helps Minnesotans make a direct impact on their water bodies and communities.
The data collected by these volunteers help the MPCA gather information on a more frequent basis. “The MPCA is only able to monitor a lake or stream in a watershed every 10 years just because there’s so much water in the state,” Citizen Lake Monitoring Program Coordinator Shannon Martin said. “We’re only there every 10 years, but volunteers are there every year monitoring the clarity. Looking at volunteer data lets us know what’s happening in the intervening years when we’re not there, which is really helpful.”
Volunteers collect data on a water body’s clarity, temperature, and flow throughout the monitoring season, typically in the summer. Volunteers forward their findings to the MPCA, which tabulates the data to monitor water system health and find any trends over time. The MPCA is able to determine if there is any build-up of contaminants, pollutants, or sediments by monitoring these trends, according to Martin.
MPCA Volunteer Water Monitor and Winona County resident Amy Cordy has been with the program for seven years. Cordy monitors a stream that runs on her property, just like many other Minnesotans do throughout the state. Cordy is able to gather data on her stream that the MPCA would probably not be able to do just as well.
“I really enjoy it: it’s wonderful to get outside,” Cordy said. “The MPCA program is wonderful because you don’t need extensive training. Anyone can do it … and learn about the outdoors, about our most valuable resource: water.”
While Cordy believes she might not have enough volunteer time to spot any significant trends in her stream, Cordy has made note of the effects that rainfall has on her stream. “What I have noticed is the violent rain events that create the issues: the incredible amount of debris that it deposits on the stream; how it washes silt, rock, and mud into the stream; and how it covers, at certain times of the year, the [fish] eggs and spawning that’s being done. I’ve noticed that because we’ve lived here for 40 years, and it wasn’t until around the 1980s [when we had] the first really big flood.”
The MPCA uses the gathered data to determine the best course of action for a water body, according to Martin. “If it doesn’t meet state water quality standards, that water body goes on the impaired waters list,” she said. “We would have to then go to the next steps of identifying where the pollutant is coming from … It goes to more of a local level — city and county levels — for them to access funding to help restore that water body.”
Volunteer water monitor duties don’t stop there. The MPCA encourages its volunteers to be active within their communities to encourage local governments to take action toward the betterment of the bodies of water, according to Martin.
Cordy, like many others, was trained by the MPCA on how to conduct her water monitoring. The MPCA also provided the tools needed.
The MPCA is always looking for more volunteers, and as Cordy put it, “They’d love to have more volunteers because there are so many streams that they can’t monitor all of them.”
Martin said that there are plenty of water monitor volunteering opportunities, especially in Winona. “It’s a really great program for people who are worried or concerned about what’s happening with water in the state or just also interested in learning more about our water quality process,” Martin said. “It’s a great way for people to be involved directly with the [MPCA], see what state agencies do, and contribute to the scientific process to bettering our lakes and streams.”
For more information about the Volunteer Water Monitoring program, Minnesotans can visit www.mn.gov/volunteerwater. “I can’t really even underplay how important volunteers’ involvement is with the process,” Martin said. “It’s really critical and it’s really heartwarming to see everyone’s interest and involvement. We just want it to continue to grow in the future.”