For the past 10 years, Watonwan County farmer Norman Penner has been making weekly visits to a small bridge over the Watonwan River, about 1,000 feet from his home near Darfur.
Penner, who grows corn and soybeans and raises beef cattle, is a volunteer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizen Stream Monitoring Program. Penner and 1,700 other volunteers across the state take regular readings of water clarity at assigned lakes or streams. The information the volunteers collect aids in the MPCA's efforts to improve water quality and ensures a long-term, continuous data record for water scientists.
Water clarity, measured using a transparency tube (for streams) or a Secchi disk (for lakes) is a simple test that helps water resource professionals understand the health of a water body.
"In much the same way that blood pressure can alert a doctor to changes in a patient's health, a robust record of data on water clarity can help scientists track the health of a stream or lake," said Laurie Sovell, who coordinates the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program for the MPCA.
This year marks Penner's 10-year anniversary monitoring water clarity on the Watonwan River. Penner enjoys noticing how clarity patterns change during the seasons.
"In spring, after planting, I notice a lot of sediment in the water after a hard rain," he observed. "Into the summer, as the crops grow, that doesn't happen nearly as much, and there is very little change even after a heavy rain. You notice things like that when you've been monitoring for a while."
Frequently, when Penner is conducting his monitoring work, people will stop to ask what he's doing. "I like that," he said. "It gives me a chance to strike up a conversation and tell people why this is important to me. People are very curious about how the river is doing."
Penner first heard about the volunteer program through an article in his local newspaper. He was interested in the opportunity because the Watonwan River passes directly though farmland that has been in his family since 1931.
"Volunteering gave me a good reason to look at the water and to watch how it changes across the seasons," he said.
The MPCA is currently recruiting volunteers for the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program and Citizen Lake Monitoring Program. Volunteers are asked to take readings of water clarity at a designated site every week from April through October. The readings are taken using equipment provided by the MPCA. Training is provided, so volunteers do not need special experience or expertise. Lake volunteers must have access to a boat to do their monitoring, but a boat is not necessary for the stream program.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer, call Laurie Sovell (for the streams program) or Johanna Schussler (for the lakes program) at the MPCA at 651-757-2227 or toll-free at 800-657-3864. More information is available at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/cmp.