The Citizen Lake Monitoring Network

One of the most successful efforts of the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership has been “The Citizen Lake Monitoring Network.” Every year since 1986, dedicated volunteers monitor lakes statewide for a variety of different water quality and lake health indicators. The effort, which started as 126 volunteers on 113 lakes, has grown to an impressive 1,100 volunteers on 850 lakes. Today, in addition to monitoring water clarity, volunteers take chemistry samples and monitor for aquatic and shoreline invasive species.  The amount of data the Department and partner organizations receive from these volunteers is astounding and crucial for long-term lake planning.

                                                                       Photo taken by Scott Provost, DNR

Water clarity data is taken using the Secchi disc method. Volunteers lower a Secchi disc attached to a marked rope into the water. The disc is lowered into the water until the disc can no longer be seen, this number is noted.  The disc is than slowly raised back up until the disc can first be seen again and this measurement is also noted. The average between these two measurements is then recorded as the clarity in feet for that day. A single reading of Secchi disc measurement is not very significant; however, numerous Secchi disc readings over extended periods of time are incredibly valuable as they can begin to describe overall trends in lake health as related to clarity.

Volunteers first began to collect chemistry data in 1990. This data is taken in order to measure the chlorophyll and phosphorous levels present in a lake. Water samples are collected four times a year and sent to the State Lab of Hygiene for analysis. Chlorophyll measurements are an indicator of algae presences and Phosphorous levels will help determine how much plant and algae life can be supported within a lake.  This data is then used to determine the lake’s trophic state at the time of sampling. The trophic state of a lake tells the extent to which eutrophication has taken placeLaura and Plants
                                              Photo taken by Bob Korth, UWEX

Monitoring for aquatic and shoreline invasive species, while the newest, is an extremely important component. Volunteers are trained how to identify several different invasive species they are likely to find along or in their lakes. If a volunteer finds one or more of these species, they are asked to report the finding to the Department so appropriate actions can be taken. Without the eyes of volunteers throughout the state, there would be no way to know where this species currently inhabit or where they are likely to inhabit in the near future. Volunteer monitoring is also one of the ways new invasive species infestations are discovered.

The “Citizen Lake Monitoring Network” shows no signs of slowing down anytime in the near future. Volunteers are constantly becoming involved and new and different lakes are being added. With the potential for infestations of new and already present invasive species, there is plenty more to be learned about how water quality and lake health are effecting and being affected.
As long as there are folks concerned about and interested in Wisconsin lakes, the information provided by “The Citizen Lake Monitoring Network” will be critical in furthering our understanding and planning for the future.

For more information about the “Citizen Lake Monitoring Network,” visit or call Laura Herman, Citizen Lake Monitoring Network Educator at (715) 346 -8998.

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