MPCA needs volunteers to collect water quality data in Alexandria area lakes

Several lakes in Douglas County are on the MPCA's list of lakes needing water quality data.

A loon sits on the open water of Lake Winona in Alexandria on April 13, 2022. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking water quality monitors for the lake and others in Douglas County.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA – The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is looking for more volunteers to collect data on the water quality in some lakes in the Alexandria area.

“There are some spots around the Alexandria area that my program staff have identified that they'd like to try and get a volunteer on,” said Lee Engel, MPCA supervisor of the water quality monitoring unit.

Some of those lakes include but are not limited to Lake Winona, Lake Alvin, Lake Charley, as well as “various lakes and streams that are in the surrounding area of Lake Le Homme Dieu and its tributaries.”

“We'd like to have as much coverage at any given lake or stream as possible,” Engel said.

These readings conducted by the Volunteer Water Monitoring Program are used to decide whether certain lakes and streams are meeting the water quality standards designated to protect aquatic life and recreational activities such as swimming and fishing.


Engel said that the readings can also help them see trends in the water quality.

“When you have enough measurements throughout a given year, you can start developing powerful trends and look at the data,” Engel said. “So when they have high priority sites, it's usually on locations that we currently don't have a monitor on, or [enough] coverage. So I wouldn't characterize it as any one site is more important than another. It's just important to have as much coverage on these labor resources as possible. Inherently your likelihood of having a monitor on a very popular large lake in the area is higher than a lake outside of town, that’s smaller and has less residents or cabins or boat traffic.”

In addition to that, that information could be used in grant writing if a certain body of water in the county needs to be addressed, according to Douglas County Soil and Water technician Danielle Anderson.

Lake monitors will be asked to boat or paddle to a designated spot in the lake to check the clarity of the water. Meanwhile, the stream monitors will be asked to record data from the stream bank or a bridge over it. Once the data has been collected, volunteers will be asked to send the data over to the agency.

This effort is just one of many that is being done in Alexandria area lakes.

“We have over 20 lakes where we have volunteers that monitor lake testing,” Douglas County Lakes Association president Steve Henry said.

In addition to that, Henry said the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District conducts water monitoring tests on 16 other lakes in addition to doing some on the other 20 mentioned.

Training and proper equipment will be provided with the program.


“So this program is really going to take a simplistic yet powerful reading for transparency,” Engel said. “In a stream that is measured with a one meter long or 100 centimeter long tube that has a small disc on the bottom and you fill the tube of water, pull a string that raises the disk up and then when you can see the disk appear, you record that measurement. You pull the disk up and it gets to 57 centimeters, your reading of transparency is 57.”

The MPCA is looking for volunteers to do the water monitoring about two or three times this summer.

“I would say a couple times a month would be ideal to get good representation on a lake,” Engel said. “You probably need at least a monthly measurement on a stream that can be a little more variable because stream clarity changes kind of, depending on the weather.”

Henry said that water monitor testing in a lake is a little more straightforward than testing in a stream.

“With stream testing, you need to not just take a sample of the water, you need to know what the flow rate is,” Henry said. “You need a flow meter. That's expensive and a little trickier to do. But that's what you need to do.”

One of the streams that Henry hopes to be tested by the MPCA is the stream that comes into the south end of Smith Lake, east of Alexandria, which he says hasn’t been tested by the MPCA since 1987.

Anderson said that having volunteers is essential for the health of Douglas County lakes.

“I would say they're (volunteers) very vital because the MPCA only has so much money to test so many lakes and they don't have enough to test everything,” Anderson said. “So our volunteers really fill in all the gaps so we have a really robust water quality data set.”


According to the MPCA website, there are about 1,400 Minnesotans who participate in the volunteer program.

More information on the MPCA volunteer water monitoring program can be found on its website and on the program's Facebook page. Those needing more information or assistance may also contact a coordinator at 1-800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota).

Sam Stuve covers a variety of sports in the Douglas County area. He also is assigned to do some news stories as well.
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