Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Volunteer Water Monitoring Program


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Become a volunteer water monitor

Exciting volunteer opportunity for community members

Spring is here and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Volunteer Water Monitoring Program is gearing up for our 50th season of lake and stream water clarity monitoring across the state. With more than 92,000 miles of streams and over 12,000 lakes in Minnesota, more volunteer monitors are needed to help track the health of our waters. 

Help us recruit new volunteers
If you have space in your spring newsletter, or are looking for content for your next social media post, please consider helping us with our recruitment efforts by sharing information on the program, a volunteer story (see below), and/or an attached graphic. Please also include our website link where anyone interested can learn more about the program and sign up to volunteer at their favorite lake or stream.

How does it work?
Volunteers conduct a simple water clarity test in a body of water at least twice a month during the summer. We provide all the equipment and training for free, so no experience is needed. Lake monitors boat or paddle to a designated spot in the lake to check the clarity, while stream monitors record data from the streambank or a bridge over it.

The MPCA uses the volunteer-collected data to help determine whether lakes and streams are meeting water quality standards, designed to protect aquatic life and recreational activities (like fishing and swimming). In some cases, the information gathered by volunteers is the only monitoring done on a particular lake or stream, making volunteer gather data critical to our work to protect Minnesota waters.

Volunteer Story: A lifelong fascination
At the age of eight or nine, Richard Adair developed an interest in Minnesota lakes when he spent summers in the 1950s with his grandparents in Grand Rapids.

"From the bus windows, my sister and I could see Lake Mille Lacs from Highway 169. It looked like the ocean, and we were in complete awe," Adair said.

Holding onto that fascination as he grew up, Adair bought a cabin on his beloved, ocean-like lake and became a volunteer water monitor where he has been observing changes both big and small for 31 years.

“When zebra mussels arrived, the lake went through the cycle of population explosion, then retreated to a stable but lower level,” Adair said. “I could observe this in my readings. The lake was shockingly clear for a couple of years as zebra mussels improve water clarity by eating small plankton, and now is almost back to where it had been prior.”

Adair now has five grandchildren who enjoy helping lower the Secchi disk into the lake and record the depth when it disappears. Along the way, they often talk about our changing climate and how it affects the environment around them.

“For 31 years, I have felt involved with my lake. Being a volunteer water monitor helps us all feel like we're doing something to help protect it,” Adair says.

Volunteer Story: A family affair
For the past 36 years, checking Long Lake’s water clarity often involves the whole family for volunteer water monitor Sheri Berg. First, her children helped her check the clarity of the lake in the Detroit Lakes area, and now her grandchildren accompany her.

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

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

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

Berg retired from state employment a few years ago after working almost the same number of years as the family has been volunteer monitors. “I probably won’t ever ‘retire’ from monitoring,” Berg says. “We will likely continue to do it because the kids and grandkids love doing it so much, and I’m always curious how the lake is doing.”

Gain experience
This is the perfect opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts and those interested in protecting our state’s natural resources! 
 We’d be happy to provide a certificate, letter and/or resume/cover letter language at the end of each monitoring season you participate in to verify your participation in the program.

 Head to 
www.mn.gov/volunteerwater or contact watervolunteers.mpca@state.mn.us to locate open volunteer sites near you and learn more about this important program. Please let us know if you have any questions or would like further information on the program. Thanks so much for your time!