By Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation
If you’ve been reading these articles since they began in late June, you’ve probably got the sense that there is a lot of research going on in this basin. This is a good thing – we need lots of data to understand such a huge, complex environment. But, because we are in a remote part of the world with thousands of lakes and streams, there is only so much the scientists can do. This is where the “citizen scientist” comes in. The beauty of the citizen scientist is that they can be of any age and any skill level; it only takes a bit of dedication, passion and accessibility to water.
Getting involved is easier than you think and if you do, you’ll be contributing to a better understanding of your lake’s water quality – whether it be Lake of the Woods or a smaller lake or stream. There are well-established programs in both Ontario and Minnesota for citizen scientists to get sampling. In Ontario, it is called the Lake Partner Program, run by Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). Lake Partner Program volunteers collect water samples each spring that are analyzed for total phosphorus and they make twice-monthly water clarity observations during the summer months using what’s called a Secchi disk. By measuring total phosphorus and water clarity, it is possible to detect long-term changes that may be due to impacts of shoreline development, climate change and other stresses. Phosphorus is measured because it is the element that stimulates algae; generally, more phosphorus means more algal growth.
Citizen scientists are collecting samples and doing water clarity readings all across the watershed, including Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods and many inland lakes, but the number of volunteers has declined over the years. The process is quite easy – everything is sent to you in the spring with instructions and materials and a postage-paid package is provided to send samples back.
In Minnesota, a very similar program exists, but it is on both lakes and streams and is offered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. These volunteers collect water clarity observations for the most part, though some volunteers do collect phosphorus and other water quality data and lake ice reporting. In 2018, there were 987 lakes being sampled across the State, but very few of these are in our watershed. In a recent presentation at our annual Lake Association Network event in September, Shannon Martin who coordinates the program for MPCA, presented on the importance of the data collected by volunteers to detect trends – a gap in data inhibits the ability to detect trends, so filling that gap with volunteer sampling is crucial.
As part of our International Watershed Coordination Program, we have been promoting these two programs for several years in an effort to recruit new members and see data collection happen on lakes and streams where they currently don’t exist. In this watershed, there are areas where there are very few or no volunteers – give it some thought and get involved!
For more information on how to sign up to become a volunteer in Ontario, call 1-800-470-8322 or in Minnesota, call 1-651-757-2874.
This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (www.lowwsf.com)