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Volunteer water monitors needed in Detroit Lakes, Perham, Wadena areas

People who aren’t afraid to get their hands wet a couple times a month during the summertime are needed to help keep an eye on the amount of algae and sediment in area lakes and rivers. The volunteer job involves checking water clarity at least twice a month at designated points.

A boy lowers a secchi disc into a Minnesota lake to check the water clarity. Volunteers are needed locally for water monitoring.
A boy lowers a secchi disc into a Minnesota lake to check the water clarity. Volunteers are needed locally for water monitoring.
Contributed / Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
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DETROIT LAKES — The state of Minnesota is looking for a few good water monitors.

People who aren’t afraid to get their hands wet a couple times a month during the summertime are needed to help keep an eye on the amount of algae and sediment in lakes and rivers.

The volunteer job involves checking water clarity at least twice a month at designated points. In the Detroit Lakes area, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency needs volunteers at a number of streams, especially the Pelican River before it enters Big Detroit Lake and after it leaves Little Detroit Lake.

StreamMonitoring-SecchiTube-Child-a
A child holds a secchi tube, used for measuring water clarity in streams and rivers.
Contributed / Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

It also needs someone to monitor the water on Brandy Lake and Howe Lake, along with a handful of lakes in the Bucks Mill area and a dozen or so lakes in the Frazee-Vergas area.

Near Perham, there's a high-priority site on the Otter Tail River at 425th Street that needs monitoring, as well as Mud Lake near Perham, and the Toad River where it flows into Big Pine Lake.

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In Wadena, a slough of monitoring sites are in need of volunteers on Union Creek in Wadena, as well as the Leaf River, Wing River and Oak Creek nearby.

Find a site near you on the MPCA Volunteer Monitoring map .

The MPCA trains and equips its volunteers, who are sometimes providing the only data on a lake or stream.

“There’s no experience necessary” to become a volunteer water monitor, said Waverly Reibel, volunteer water monitoring program specialist at the MPCA. “We provide all the training through online video and mail the testing kits out to you.”

If it’s a lake, the job essentially entails canoeing, kayaking or otherwise boating out to a predetermined point — usually the deepest part — and lowering a simple secchi disc to measure water clarity, a key indicator of water quality since clear water is beneficial for fish, aquatic insects and recreation.

Secchi tubes are used to monitor streams, which can be done from the shore or from a bridge.

“We have families, Girl Scout groups, retirees — all walks of life participate across Minnesota,” Reibel said. “Older teens can do it, and kids can do it with adult supervision. I think the program is a great way to get people outside and connected to the waters. It gives you first-hand knowledge of the condition of your lakes and streams.”

The water monitoring program has been around for 40 years in Minnesota, and some of those 1,400-plus volunteers have been doing it from the start, she said.

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Those decades of volunteer labor are now providing long-term data on the health of Minnesota lakes and streams that is “super important,” Reibel said.

The MPCA only has enough staff to get out every few years to do chemical testing and secchi readings, she said, so the volunteer effort is huge: “It gives us a look at water quality over time. We can see if water bodies are meeting state standards over the years.”

There are always sites that need monitoring, and that changes all the time as longtime volunteers retire and newcomers step up to take their place, she said. Often the volunteers live on or near the lake or stream they are monitoring, but not always, and some people like to walk or hike to their sites.

Sheri Berg has been helping monitor water quality at Long Lake near Detroit Lakes for some 30 years, according to the MPCA website.

“It’s a whole family thing,” Berg said about being part of the state’s volunteer lake monitoring program for the past 33 years.

When she started out, it was her children helping her, and now it’s her grandchildren doing the honors. Once a week during the summertime, they lower a black and white Secchi disk into the lake and record the depth when it disappears.

“They all know how to do it, and sometimes we all go out together on the pontoon,” she told the MPCA.

When they started taking measurements in the mid-1980s, clarity in Long Lake was about 16-17 feet, but it gradually worsened down to about 11 or 12 feet, until a few years ago when it improved again. This was a few years after most of the homes on the lake hooked up to the city sewer.

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“We don’t know why, but the lake is much clearer now,” Berg said in the MPCA story. “In fact, we had to ask them to send us a longer rope since we ran out at 25 feet and we could still see the disk!”

She may have retired from her job with the state, but “I probably won’t retire from monitoring,” Berg says. “We will probably continue to do it just because the kids and grandkids love doing it so much, and I’m just always curious as to how the lake is doing.”

Related Topics: DETROIT LAKESBECKER COUNTY
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