June 2019 Transparency Times

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a webpage.


Newsletter of the Citizen Lake and Citizen Stream Monitoring Programs

June 2019

2018 Citizen Monitoring Reports Coming Soon

We apologize for the delay in getting 2018 reports online. Updates to our trend analysis process (see story below) have pushed back the timeline for finalizing reports until the end of June. A separate notification will be sent to all volunteers when reports are ready. Thank you for your patience!

Back to top

Trend Analysis Update

Lake trend plot

In 2010, the University of Minnesota Statistics department helped the Citizen Monitoring Programs develop a way to use volunteer data to see if water clarity was changing over time on a given lake or stream. The ability to track lake and stream water clarity changes over time is highly valuable, and is only possible because of the huge amount of data the state of Minnesota has banked, in large part due to you - the 1,300 citizen lake and stream monitors across the state who collect the data needed to conduct the analysis!

Five years after the initial trend analysis was developed, we found some issues with the results and decided to do a full review and update of the process. A complete update to the lake analysis was completed during 2016-2017. Then, a closer look at the initial results of the stream updates in 2017 led to a second overhaul of the process for both lakes and streams.

Fast forward to June 2019 and we are pleased to report that water clarity trend analysis updates for BOTH lakes and streams are nearly complete! The updates have required a fair amount of work, and took quite a bit more time to complete than we had anticipated. However, the new process uses more robust statistical methods than those available in 2010, which are more sensitive and allow us to detect changes more accurately.

Because of this increased sensitivity, you may notice changes in the results for your lake or stream that are posted on the "Transparency Trend" section of your Citizen Monitoring Individual Site Report when they become available.

Please contact us at clmp.pca@state.mn.us (for lakes) or csmp.pca@state.mn.us (for streams) if you have detailed questions on the updates, or questions about the most recent results for your lake or stream station.

Back to top

New CMP Promo Video!

Promo video image

In our new CMP promotional video, volunteer water monitors reflect on their experiences, share why they decided to get involved in water monitoring and encourage others around the state to join them.

“[This program] enlightens families to protect our natural resources. Sometimes we forget that on a daily basis,” says Jason Benjamin, a 5th grade teacher in Minneapolis.

Michael Brinda, volunteer monitor on Lake Harriet, believes “it’s one of the best volunteer opportunities there is.” We couldn't have said it better ourselves!

Help us promote the Citizen Water Monitoring Programs and recruit more volunteers across the state by sharing the video with friends, family and on social media: https://youtu.be/58HcXqIdlRU

A very big thank you goes out to the following CMP volunteers who agreed to be on camera (and were wonderful doing it!), and whose families took time out of their days to help make it all happen: Abby Wacker, Michael Brinda, Jason Benjamin (+ Burroughs Middle School students) and Solin Duffy,

Back to top

Water Exchange Series

Water Exchange

We had a great lineup of Water Exchange sessions this past winter! Our guest presenters introduced us to a wide range of topics that sparked wonderful discussions.This season focused on implementation of the 2015 Buffer Law, native shorelands and fish monitoring in lakes and streams.

Throughout this past season, we were still troubleshooting background noise and overall sound quality, but feel we finally nailed it in our last session. We now feel 100% ready to host these sessions again this fall, knowing how to provide a good experience for everyone!

If you have topic ideas for future Water Exchange sessions, please give us a call or email us at clmp.pca@state.mn.us or csmp.pca@state.mn.us.

Back to top

Lawn Signs Available!

Lawn Sign

Citizen Monitoring Program lawn signs are here and ready for the taking! A lawn sign is a great way to show your citizen water monitoring pride and recruit new volunteers to the program!

The sign is roughly 18” W x 12” H and sits just over two feet tall when coupled with the stake and stuck in the ground. If you would like to receive a lawn sign to post in your yard, please call or email. 

We want to give a big shout out to CLMP volunteer Jim Ploof for coming up with the lawn sign idea and for drafting initial design concepts!

Back to top

We Are Water Exhibit in Austin, MN

We are water

Check out the We Are Water MN exhibit - currently in Austin at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center from April 27-June 16, 2019, hosted by the Cedar River Watershed District.

We Are Water MN is a popular statewide traveling exhibition and community engagement project that invites visitors to reflect on the experiences of local people and come to a deeper understanding of what taking care of water means to people. Science and history are also included via the 1,000-square foot, hands-on exhibit created by the Minnesota Humanities Center, MPCA, Minnesota Historical Society and Departments of Health, Agriculture and Natural Resources. This is the second statewide tour of the We Are Water MN exhibit.

Next stops for the exhibit:

Cannon River Watershed Partnership
June 20 – July 28, 2019

Grand Rapids
Itasca Waters
Aug. 4 – Sept. 16, 2019

Mille Lacs Indian Museum, Minnesota Historical Society
Sept. 25 – Nov. 2, 2019

Back to top

lake news

Are Monitoring Site Locations Important? YES!

Monitoring site

Your monitoring location. Your special spot on the lake. The place you return to time and again to drop your trusty Secchi disk and log your data. You've been there so many times you could probably find it your sleep! What you may not realize is that your monitoring location is not only special to you, but to the MPCA as well.

All volunteers are assigned a monitoring location when they become Citizen Water Monitors. All data collected by a volunteer are associated with that particular monitoring location. This is important because water clarity can vary across a lake, depending upon factors such as depth, shoreline composition and aquatic plant growth. This can be especially true for large and bayed lakes.

Now, there may be times when you are tempted to scuttle over to an easier access point, or perhaps you don't have time to drive all the way to the other end of the lake, so you take a reading at a different point on the lake and write it on your datasheet. No harm, no foul, right? Au contraire! Understanding how Secchi readings may vary over time at a site is important for watershed planners and future Secchi disk readers alike.

If you can't make it to your monitoring location on a particular day, that's okay - just don't take a reading that day. Consistently collecting data in the same location is what is important. If you find your assigned monitoring location has become difficult or time consuming for you to travel to, we'd be happy to help identify another, more convenient monitoring location. The most important thing is that we know where you are collecting the data and that we are linking that data to the appropriate location on the lake. Happy monitoring!

Back to top

Recap of 2019 Lake Ice-Out Season

by Pete Boulay, Assistant State Climatologist

Ice out

There were enough mild spells in an otherwise cool spring that prevented lake ice out from being as late as 2018, when some late ice out records were set. In general, lake ice out in 2019 lagged behind historical medians by about a week, with some exceptions. The first lake to lose its ice in 2019 was Lake Pepin on March 28, assisted by barge traffic.  One of the early benchmark lakes to lose its ice was Budd Lake in Martin County. The ice left its shores on April 3, four days behind the median date of March 30.

Progress of ice out slowed a bit in the Twin Cities Metro area. Lake Minnetonka lost its last ice on April 20, seven days behind the median. Moving north, Mille Lacs lost its ice on April 28, only three days behind the median.  Wind assisted the lake ice out for many lakes in central and northern Minnesota.

The fishing opener was on May 11 and while most lakes in the state were ice-free, parts of Lake County and all of Cook County had ice that prevented boat traffic, but that was also not stable enough for ice fishing. The final lake to have more open water than not was Greenwood Lake in Cook County on May 18. In all there were over 350 lake ice out reports in 2019, thanks to the vigilant eyes of volunteer lake ice watchers!

Check out the State Climatology Office's 2019 interactive map to see lake ice-out dates across the state.

Back to top

Report Blue Green Algae Blooms Using BloomWatch App


BloomWatch is an app citizen scientists can use to report harmful algal blooms in Minnesota. If you report a blue green algae bloom on a Minnesota lake using the BloomWatch app, the MPCA receives notification of your report so we can track it locally. Download the BloomWatch App today and get ready to report!

The MPCA is always here to answer any questions you may have regarding blue-green algae blooms.  Please don't hesitate to contact us directly and always remember - when in doubt, stay out - if you suspect a blue green algae bloom.

Back to top

stream news

Stream sampling reminders


Even though CSMP monitoring is fairly simple, here are a few sampling reminders to help make sure that you monitor and record data accurately, so we can use the data to its fullest extent.

Rain Event (Yes/No)

We want the data you collect to be representative of the overall condition of your stream or river monitoring location throughout the monitoring season. To this end, we recommend that you monitor once a week, on a regular basis throughout the season. In addition to this weekly “baseline” reading, we suggest that you also track how your stream responds to significant rainfall by monitoring a few so-called “rain events.” This is why we ask you to fill in the “Rain Event" column on the datasheet each time you monitor - so we can track the number of baseline vs. Rain Event readings you take. It does get a bit confusing to decide whether to record your monitoring as Rain Event = ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ when you have a very wet season like we did last year! To clarify, if you are conducting your regular, weekly reading, and it happens to be raining - either as you monitor or just prior - you should record it on your datasheet as 'Rain Event = No' because you are not adding a special sampling in response to the rain event. It’s your regular, weekly sampling and it just so happens to be raining. Please note that we do NOT want you to monitor in response to rainfall too many times during the course of a monitoring season. This keeps your data from being biased toward high rainfall - and potentially high runoff and low water clarity - situations.

Physical Appearance and Recreational Suitability Rankings

Your personal, subjective judgement of the stream water condition helps characterize what is happening in your stream and its watershed. Your stream water ‘Appearance’ ranking provides information on the material in the water that may cause low water clarity - is it sediment (cloudy or muddy), or is it related to algae too (green, or muddy and green)? This information, alongside your water clarity reading, can help inform MPCA staff as they determine if your stream meets water quality standards, and what may be the underlying cause of problems detected by your data.

The ‘Recreational Suitability’ ranking reflects how the water’s appearance affects the benefits that you receive from the stream such as swimming, fishing, and even aesthetic, visual enjoyment. Even if your stream is small and you cannot swim, fish, or boat in it, consider its aesthetic value when recording this ranking. This information helps set regional goals for both water clarity, and for water quality overall.

Finally, don't factor weather conditions into your rankings. Consider water quality conditions, only.
Make sure to record your “Appearance” and “Recreational Suitability” rankings before you take your water clarity reading so your rankings are not biased by your clarity measurement.

We hope this helps answer some of your stream monitoring questions! If you still have questions, you can always refer to the CSMP Instruction Manual at: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/wq-csm1-05.pdf or, feel free to contact either Laurie or Josh at csmp.pca@state.mn.us

Back to top

CSMP monitor makes a difference in Meeker County!

Brad Bird CD 26

Brad Bird started monitoring County Ditch 26 in Meeker County back in 2006. 2019 will be Brad's 14th year monitoring! This spring, MPCA staff evaluated whether the ditch, which is an inlet to Long Lake, was meeting state water quality standards for sediment.

Isaac Martin, the MPCA water quality expert conducting the evaluation, contacted CSMP staff about the "ton of CSMP data" that was available on the ditch. Isaac wanted to know if we could contact the CSMP volunteer for more information about his observations on the ditch over the years. Isaac had questions that he could not answer, but that someone like Brad who was there regularly for the past 14 years could.

Some of Isaac's questions included:

  • On days when the clarity was low, was it more likely green or brown?
  • What were the average flow conditions over the years?
  • Did pond weed ever affect Secchi tube readings?

We were able to pose these questions to Brad, who was a wealth of information! Only with Brad's on-the-ground, place-based knowledge over years at his monitoring location was the MPCA able to adequately determine that sediment is not a significant issue on Brad’s stream. Through Brad's notes and recollection of typical conditions during his monitoring, and his developed understanding of how this particular stream changes over the course of a summer, the MPCA was able to avoid assigning an ‘unwarranted’ impairment.

Isaac had this to say about Brad’s efforts and the Citizen Monitoring Programs in general:

This!  This is the type of local knowledge that our field workers aren’t able to develop in the long-term.  At most, our crews get to see a monitoring location once a month, for two consecutive years.  Brad’s efforts over the years, and his intimate knowledge of the stream he monitors provided us with invaluable data. Those data, his site notes and his anecdotal evidence all contributed to help prevent us from listing an unwarranted impairment for Total Suspended Solids.

When we at the agency talk about a great need for filling data gaps between our own monitoring efforts, this is precisely what we mean.  Citizen science is a wonderfully powerful tool when volunteers become stakeholders, and that helps everyone in the state who cares about our water legacy.” 

Brad's long term monitoring and observations in this situation are irreplaceable. Not only his data, but his knowledge of the condition on both the inlet and the lake over time, are excellent examples of the added value that only Citizen Scientists can provide - especially when agency monitoring and data are not quite enough to confidently complete a water quality assessment.

Thank you Brad, for your long-term commitment to water quality in the North Fork Crow River Watershed!

Back to top

Volunteer Reflections

The Secchi Disk's Role in Teaching Water Stewardship at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center

By Peter Harris, Science Specialist at Wolf Ridge ELC


Canoes dart all over Wolf Lake looking like whirly-gig beetles on a still pond. As they gain confidence, the paddlers navigate & explore something in the water under the 60 foot cliffs. Zig-zagging paths gradually straighten as canoers perfect their skills over the three-hour class, enabling them to visit an old beaver lodge, a wetland, and more.

Meanwhile, their Naturalist pauses their boat above a deep spot in the narrows and drops a Secchi disk over the shady side of the boat. They call over some of the nearby canoers to show them what they are up to. After explaining how these disks can tell scientists if a lake is healthy, the Naturalist passes out additional disks for students to try their hand at it. In between a few intentional splashes and laughter, students begin to gather information and pass their findings along for the Naturalist to record. 

Back at the landing the Naturalist gathers the class around a large sign that shows people dropping Secchi disks in lakes and explains how MN residents can help monitor the health of MN lakes and streams by participating in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen Lake Monitoring and Citizen Stream Monitoring programs. Chaperones and students are encouraged to consider monitoring lakes and streams near their homes.

Questions arise. What causes a lake to become less or more clear?  What impact does that have on the lake ecology? One of the students shares that the lake they spend their summers at was clear in the spring but got very cloudy and green from algae in August.

After some animated discussion the class heads up the hill to the main campus of Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. Along the way the Naturalist stops and asks the class to break into small groups to discuss why the trails they are walking on are not right next to the lake. Eventually the idea of vegetation buffers emerges from the discussion. This group is from a farm area and some of the adults let the kids know that this idea is being talked about a lot in their community. Not everyone in the class agrees with the idea of buffer strips to keep excess nutrients out of lakes, rivers and streams, but a respectful discussion was started.

Group with certificate

The next stop is an old path that leads up hill to the septic system. The students learn that this is where the waste water from toilets and sinks in the dorms is treated. A hand goes up. “Does this mean my pee ended up in Wolf Lake?” After a few giggles, the students find out that the short answer is yes, but the septic system cleaned it up so it is very clean water by the time it enters the lake. They learn that if the septic system did not work correctly the water in the lake would start turning green from excess algae growth from too many nutrients.

Wolf Ridge ELC started monitoring Wolf Lake in 1994 as part of the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program. We noticed that our secchi disk measurements were decreasing which indicated a potential pollution problem. We asked the MPCA for help in figuring out this problem and they not only identified that the septic system was failing but helped us with a solution to fix it. We strive to model to the students and community chaperones attending Wolf Ridge ELC that we all make mistakes, but as stewards of the environment we have a responsibility to fix these mistakes and pass clean water on to the generations that follow.

After the students get back to their dorm and dry off, they head to the dining hall for a meal of freshly grown vegetables from the Wolf Ridge farm. Over the next 4 days they take 8 more classes that let them explore past cultures, emerging cultures, non-motorized adventure sports, plants, animals, and ecology, along with their own personal growth.

When the students got home, some told their siblings they “canoed in pee” but also told them how to make sure it is clean pee. Others talked to their family about monitoring their nearby lake with a Secchi disk. Nearly all the students grasped the idea of being good stewards of our water.

Dangling a white disk in water on a rope may seem simple, but it can make a big difference to the health of a lake. Thanks to the MPCA for providing these citizen science monitoring programs along with expert advice on maintaining a healthy environment to live in, and to the hundreds of naturalists, students & chaperones who have helped collect Secchi disk data over the last 25 years at Wolf Ridge ELC. Wolf Ridge also collects water clarity data for Sawmill creek using Secchi tubes in our Stream Study class.

Wolf Ridge ELC strives to provide authentic hands on learning experiences for students from 170 schools who spend 3 to 5 days each year at our campus in Finland Minnesota. Wolf Ridge ELC curriculum is aligned with Minnesota education standards and we employ innovative teaching techniques. We are a school for training future naturalists/environmental educators and resource managers in addition to the 12,000 K-12 students attending our programs each year.

Back to top