Transparency Times, September 2018

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Newsletter of the Citizen Lake and Citizen Stream Monitoring Programs

September 2018

Calling all 2018 Secchi Data!

Calling All Secchi Data

The 2018 monitoring season is quickly coming to a close and soon hundreds of data sheets will come streaming into our offices - evidence of all your hard work. Thank you for coming together, as a community that values water quality, to dedicate so much of your time to tirelessly protecting and restoring it.  We are so thankful for your dedication to lakes and streams in Minnesota!.

We look forward to receiving your 2018 Secchi data and ask that you please send it to us by October 31st, if possible. This gives us the time needed to enter it into our database and prepare it for display through our online reporting system.

As a reminder, you can submit your data to us electronically using our Microsoft Excel template.  Download the file to your computer, fill it in with your data, attach it to an email addressed to us, and you're done! If you submit your data electronically, you can keep your paper datasheet for your records. Important Note: DO NOT reply to this newsletter email with your 2018 Secchi data. The CMP DOES NOT receive any replies through the newsletter delivery system. Please send a separate email to us at the addresses listed below with your 2018 data.

You can download both the Lake and Stream Excel Electronic Datasheets from the Resources for Volunteers page on our website.

Please contact us if you have any trouble or questions at: with LAKE questions  with STREAM questions

Volunteers who have requested paper communication will receive a letter by the first week of October reminding them to submit data. All paper datasheets can be submitted via mail to: Citizen Monitoring Programs, 520 Lafayette Rd N., Saint Paul, MN 5515. 

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Register for the Secchi Social Today!

Secchi Social

The third annual Citizen Monitoring Program (CMP) Secchi Social is just a few weeks away! It will be held at at Chase on the Lake in Walker on Thursday September 27th. Coffee and sign-in starts at 10:00am. The program begins at 11:00am and runs through 2:00pm.

We have pulled together an exciting group of speakers, food, and activities for you, and we hope that you will join us for a fun day of sharing information, stories, and getting to know one another! Here is a glimpse of what we have planned for the day:

  • Panel Q&A with local water quality, AIS and fisheries experts, ready to answer your most pressing water quality questions.
  • Citizen Monitoring Program volunteers will share their thoughts & perspectives on their monitoring experience
  • Hands-on presentation with DNR Invasive Species Specialist

  • Special recognition of 5-year “Milestone” volunteers in attendance

  • Raffle prizes, including Fishing, Camping, and Hiking Gift Packs, and 2 State Park Annual passes

If you haven't already contacted us, please complete the online RSVP form by Friday, September 14th or call Laurie at 651-757-2750 or Shannon at 651-757-2874 with your attendance information. There is no cost, and each volunteer can have one additional guest attend.  You only need to RSVP if you plan on attending.  If you are unable to join us this year, don’t worry, Secchi Socials will be held annually at rotating locations around the state.

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MPCA is Testing Fish for PFAS

By Bruce Monson & Summer Streets, MPCA Research Scientists

PFAS Sotry

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has worked with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in the Interagency Fish Contaminant Monitoring Program to monitor mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in fish since 1970. Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, previously known as perfluorochemicals or PFCs), were produced by 3M at their Cottage Grove facility since the 1950s. They were used in many products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. PFAS have been contaminating the global environment for decades, but became widely known to the public in 2001, when scientific studies showed PFAS were accumulating in animals throughout the world. In 2002, 3M phased out production of PFOS and PFOA, which are PFAS known to have adverse health effects.

Fish in Minnesota were first analyzed in 2004 for PFAS in the Mississippi River near the discharge of 3M’s Cottage Grove plant. In addition to the high levels in fish from the river, some lakes in the Twin Cities Metro Area had high concentrations that lead to fish consumption advisories and impairment classifications. Monitoring was expanded to lakes throughout the state in 2006 - 2010. Many lakes had detectable amounts of PFAS in the fish, but were below the concentrations that would trigger an impairment. Since then, better understanding of the adverse health effects to humans and wildlife, has led to levels of concern being much lower than previously established.

Because of the new lower thresholds for potential adverse effects, lakes tested before 2010 were resampled in 2018, along with some lakes in the metro area that have not yet been tested.  Seventy lakes were tested in 2018.

In 2004, MPCA found high concentrations of PFAS in drinking water wells throughout the East Metro area of the Twin Cities. Drinking water contaminated with PFAS continues to be a concern for public health.

There are many uses of PFAS. MPCA is continuing to investigate other sources of PFAS, such as metal-plating facilities, landfill leachate, compost facilities, consumer products, and many others. For example, a metal-plating operation was identified as the source of PFOS contamination in Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun).  A common route of environmental contamination are fire-fighting training sites, where PFAS-based foams have been used. Those sites are being investigated throughout United States and other countries.

The MPCA is currently working to secure additional funding to continue PFAS monitoring, in the hopes of monitoring an estimated 50 lakes and streams a year. Results from a 2012 study can be found on the MPCA's Perfluorochemicals webpage, with 2018 study results expected by the end of 2019. If you have questions about this work, or would like to receive the list of lakes monitored in 2018, please contact Bruce Monson at

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Reflections on Reflections (Survey!)

Each year the Citizen Lake & Stream Monitoring Programs create an annual yearbook called Reflections where we highlight the accomplishments of our volunteers through stories and photos. The yearbook serves as a forum for volunteers to share their stories, learn about one another and discover what drives people to dedicate their time to the Citizen Water Monitoring Programs. All “Milestone” volunteers receive a copy of Reflections each spring along with their service award. The CMP considers Milestone volunteer service years to be 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, etc...

In an effort to ensure we are providing valuable programmatic content in ways that are compatible with your viewing preferences, we are seeking your thoughts on the Reflections yearbook in a brief survey (only 6 questions, we promise!). Please take a few minutes to let us know what you think. Thank you!

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Send us your best photos for the 2020 CMP calendar!

Pigeon river high falls

With the monitoring season coming to a close, we are compiling photos to feature in the 2020 Citizen Monitoring Program Calendar. The CMP Calendar is a great way to highlight your favorite lake or stream, enjoy images from your fellow CMP volunteers, and spread the word about the important water quality work that you do! Please send us your beautiful, high resolution water monitoring images captured across the seasons. We are looking for:

  •    A scenic vista of your stream or lake
  •    Wildlife that you encountered while monitoring
  •    An action shot of taking a Secchi reading
  •    Images from a variety of seasons - snow & ice too!

Showcase your photograph in the 2020 CMP Calendar! Email your best images to: (streams) or (lakes)

Please note that images need to be high resolution (300 dpi or greater) so that they are good enough quality to print. Back to top

lake news

Expanding Volunteer Water Monitoring in the BWCA


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is an iconic slice of wilderness. Stretching over 1 million acres, this heavily forested landscape is speckled with gorgeous glacial lakes. In fact, nearly 20% of the BWCA’s total area is water, making it a paradise for lake lovers. The BWCA is also the most heavily used wilderness in the country. Enthusiastic paddlers flood into the BWCA every summer. Some seeking a much-needed dose of nature therapy, others hoping for the adventure of a lifetime.  Only a place as intensely beautiful and wild as the BWCA could succeed in meeting both.

These nature-loving visitors, over 200,000 annually, hike, camp, paddle and portage their way through the BWCA. Their trips span all reaches of the sprawling wilderness. In 2004, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency realized that all these visitors, all these eyes and ears on the ground, represented an untapped resource for water quality monitoring in the region. The BWCA is wild and remote - two things that make regular water monitoring a challenge. In fact, very limited water quality data exists on lakes in the BWCA.  So, with the intent to remedy this significant data gap, the MPCA launched the BWCA Volunteer Water Monitoring Program.

In its current form, the BWCA Water Monitoring Program takes a two-pronged approach to data gathering. First, on a small scale, it relies on the kindness of strangers planning a BWCA canoe trip. Interested paddlers contact the MPCA and arrange to receive a compact monitoring kit – light enough for long portages between lakes. Second, on a larger scale, the MPCA collaborates directly with the Boy Scouts of America’s Northern Tier High Adventure Camp - capitalizing on a mass of eager Boy Scout groups launching BWCA canoe trips from the Ely base camp. Through this initiative, the Boy Scouts have proven to be rock star data collectors. The sheer number of kids participating has led to thousands of data points collected on BWCA lakes over the years.

When looking to expand the BWCA data collection program in 2018, the MPCA saw the Boy Scout partnership as a model for future collaborations and wondered if there were other organizations in Ely interested in partnering with the MPCA. It turns out there were! This past summer, the MPCA had the pleasure of working with three Ely-based outdoor outfitting companies, and a Voyageurs adventure camp, to offer free water clarity monitoring kits to students and guiding clientele. Ely Outfitting Company, North Country Canoe Outfitters, Spirit of the Wilderness and Voyageurs Outward Bound School began offering the kits in May to positive results. Not surprisingly, BWCA visitors are eager to learn more about the region and give back to aid in its long-term preservation. The MPCA is excited about these new partnerships and looks forward to many successful data collection seasons ahead!

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CLMP Data Essential to U of M Program Using Satellites to Monitor Lake Health

By Leif Olmanson PhD, Researcher & Benjamin Page, Research Fellow, University of Minnesota

Satellite Image

The University of Minnesota Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory and the Water Resources Center have been using Citizen Lake Monitoring Program (CLMP) Secchi disk data for ~25 years in our work to develop a groundbreaking method for identifying lake water quality using only satellite imagery. Through this work, we have found that the health of a waterbody can be assessed by examining imagery collected by NASA’s Landsat satellites. These satellites are equipped with sensors with spectral bands that go beyond detecting the red/blue/green portion of the electromagnetic spectrum including the near-infared and shortwave infared regions. Using different band combinations, we can identify optically active particles present in surface water such as chlorophyll-a, suspended sediments and dissolved organic matter – elements which can reveal the health of the waterbody.

Applying the satellite imagery model to lakes across Minnesota requires regular calibration, using water clarity data collected on the ground by CLMP volunteers. We compare Secchi readings taken by CLMP volunteers (generally within a 1-3 day window from the satellite overpass of a particular lake) with the image generated by the satellite. Correlations between Secchi readings and lake images are used to calibrate the water clarity model. So far seven statewide water clarity assessments have been completed on over 10,000 lakes, from 1975 through 2008. The data is currently available in a Google Maps like Lake Browser that can be accessed at,  with 2010 and 2015 results coming soon.

water Clarity

With the increasing number of NASA and European Space Agency satellites, we have entered into a new era of remote sensing with sensors capable of measuring more water quality variables more often. As these new satellites become operational, we have the opportunity for continuous monitoring of Minnesota’s surface waters on a weekly to biweekly basis. To take advantage of this opportunity, we are transferring our conventional methods to an automated image processing system, using the data from CLMP to build a near real-time water quality monitoring system in a high performance computing environment. This system is being funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and will provide citizens, researchers and agencies the data needed to help improve decision-making for fisheries and lake management. We intend to implement additional water quality parameters in our mapping objective, such as chlorophyll-a and other algal indices, colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) as well as lake surface temperatures.

We encourage CLMP participants to take water clarity readings on days when satellites pass over their region of Minnesota. Our goal is to work more closely with CLMP staff to make satellite overpass information for a particular lake easily accessible. The efforts achieved already by concerned Minnesota citizens have proven to be an invaluable resource for Minnesota and remote sensing of water quality research. As we move forward with the near real-time water quality monitoring system, data collected by CLMP will be even more essential for validation and to improve water quality models.

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stream news

Waterway Jay paddles for progress

Jay Gustafson

Jay Gustafson - aka 'Waterway Jay' - quit his job in 2017 as a business analyst to canoe each of Minnesota’s 34 state water trails, paddling roughly 4,500 miles to raise awareness of the threats facing the health of our state’s freshwater ecosystems. As of early August, Jay had completed 25 of the state's 34 water trails. Through his  'Paddle for Progress' project, Jay aims to galvanize Minnesotans to take pride and ownership of the freshwater ecosystems that make our state unique. He is also carrying a Secchi tube with him as he paddles, taking water clarity readings along the way!

Watch for a short film scheduled to be released this winter by Adventure Minnesota Films that will follow Jay's journey.

You can find out more and track Jay's current location on the Paddle for Progress website.

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Assessing "Unsewered areas" in Minnesota

SSTS installation

What is an unsewered area?  This is a great question!  At the MPCA we look at clusters of five or more homes/businesses within a ½ mile that have inadequate treatment of their wastewater.  We consider clusters of individual septic systems that are potentially failing, inadequate, non-existent, or simply unknown. We have had areas in the past where entire communities collected untreated wastewater and discharged it to a nearby ditch or wetland. In the 1800’s, this was a common practice in rural areas. We are trying to assess how many of these areas might still exist today.

Raw untreated wastewater…aka sewage…in our surface waters has the potential to carry viruses, bacteria, and parasites.  Historically, large amounts of untreated sewage caused major health epidemics like Cholera, Typhoid Fever, and Dysentery.  Today these risk are much smaller, but the potential for human health impact still exists. Untreated or under-treated sewage may also contain higher concentrations of phosphorus, nitrogen, and ammonia and contribute to water quality impairments in our lakes, rivers, and streams.

To figure out how big the problem could be, the MPCA began looking through regional lists of areas of concern, partner agencies lists, and the 2010 census of all named places in Minnesota.  We then took a long list of nearly 6000 areas and sent them to all 87 counties for the counties to give us their input and data.  With the help of each county, we were able to sort through records from as early as the 1940’s and determine where we had compliant systems, where we had questionable systems, and where we had no records of systems.  This helped us cut the list down to a little over 1280 areas.  While this might seem like a lot of areas that are unsewered, the reality is 80% of these areas are on the list due to lack of records.  As counties began implementing the Subsurface Septic Treatment Program and creating ordinances, there was often haphazard documentation or records retention. 

So the big question is, what is the MPCA doing now?  We are working with the counties to prioritize completing assessments on these areas to determine if the current systems are compliant.  This is often done with county inventories or community assessments. Both are tools the counties can use to get a better understanding of the systems in the entire area, instead of one by one when ordinance triggers require a septic inspection. Counties can apply for Clean Water Legacy Grants to complete inventories in areas with a downstream impairment. They can be done county-wide or in a specific geographical area, such as by watershed.  Community Assessments are typically used in incorporated areas or densely populated unincorporated areas to determine the compliance and potential needs of the area. It looks at existing systems, rate of noncompliance, and if there is potential for individuals to upgrade onsite, or if a community wastewater treatment system is needed. This work is time consuming, but necessary to determine the true scope of noncompliance. We have already eliminated nearly 200 areas by working with the counties to do further investigation. We’ve increased the number of unsewered projects the MPCA is working on from 17 to 38 in two years. And while we have a long road ahead of us, being able to partner with counties to do some of the investigative work has made great strides in getting more accurate information and moving ahead much faster than originally thought!

If you have questions about the MPCA's unsewered areas work, or you would like to find out more please contact Lisa McCormick at 320-248-1210 or

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Volunteer Reflections

Thank You Citizen Volunteers for the Important Work You Do

By Bruce Paakh, 30 year CLMP Volunteer & retired MPCA Limnologist, Aquatic Ecologist

Bruce Paahk1

In November of 2015 I retired from my 32-year career with the MPCA at the Detroit Lakes Regional Office. One of my most important and enjoyable roles was that of Water Quality Monitoring Coordinator. Early on my supervisor, Jim Ziegler, instructed me to develop and provide training for people to properly collect data from our lakes and rivers. He prescribed to the logic that a well-trained “army” of citizen and local government monitoring experts could amass far more data than I could ever hope to collect on the job and at the same time they could become the local experts and advocates for water quality protection and improvement. Promotion of the CLMP and CSMP was an important part of this strategy and these programs have been hugely successful THANKS to your involvement and commitment.

In carrying out this vision, I worked with dozens of COLAs, 100s of lake associations and 1000s of folks interested in or engaged in collecting lake and stream water quality data.  The dedication and commitment to our water resources by these groups and individuals that I witnessed during my career was humbling. One of my biggest regrets in retiring (besides missing out on the awesome lake association potluck lunches and dinners) is that there wasn’t a great way to say thank you to all those devoted individuals who have participated in collecting data and who have promoted the protection of our water resources. It is you folks that are on the front lines who commit to collecting the data that tells the story about the condition of a lake or stream, who attend the zoning meetings to make sure development happens in a responsible way, who set the example for your neighbors with shoreline buffers, who keep the association members informed about trends in water quality and who work toward reducing the risk of aquatic invasive species. THANK YOU for your collective efforts to protect our environment. The quality of our lakes and streams directly benefit from what you do.

Bruce Paakh2

In 1993 I developed a monitoring program for the Becker County COLA that provided for the volunteer collection of total phosphorus and chlorophyll in addition to the Secchi disk. That program took off and spread rapidly to about 9 other COLAs before I handed it off in 1999 to the contract lab that was conducting the analysis for the program - RMB Environmental Labs.  Since that time over 1000 lakes have participated in the program and many have built an impressive data set that serves as a strong water quality benchmark for a host of various uses (trend assessments, goal setting, condition/impairment assessment, etc.). The data collected from this program is often the only phosphorus and chlorophyll data for many of the lakes who have participated. THANK YOU to these program participants (often the CLMP volunteer for the lake). You are one of the early pioneers in collecting this type of information on your lake and the importance of it cannot be overstated.

30 years of collecting Secchi data in the CLMP for me has been an extension of who I am as a scientist and my passion for protecting the environment. I first started collecting Secchi and other lake data (on Lakes Irving, Bemidji, Wolf and Andrusia) and Mississippi River data in 1979 as a grad student at Bemidji State University, as part of an EPA grant. So when I bought my current lake home in 1986, collecting Secchi data was an important part of the process of learning about and tracking the lake's condition. 

Data is absolutely needed to understand how an individual lake or stream behaves and reacts to various climatic conditions (excessive precipitation, drought, late or early spring warmup, unusually hot or cool summers, etc.). Each lake and stream has its own “personality” in the way it responds due to the host of variables including watershed size, land use, climate, biology, chemistry, soil type, groundwater interactions, etc. I have had folks tell me things like, “20 years ago the lake was so clear you could read the date on a quarter down 15 feet” or “you could have read a newspaper down 10 feet.” Now those are interesting ways to describe water clarity but they would be tough procedures to try to duplicate. Aren’t you glad we aren’t dropping a quarter or book down on our rope?

The CLMP and CSMP are like fraternities for us who care deeply about our lakes and streams. Because we share those values I have always felt a strong bond with the many volunteers I have met over the years. Thank you again for all you do. In God we trust, all others need data.

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