An opportunity to give back while getting on the water

By Chantilly Higbee
Reader Columnist

Citizen science-driven monitoring programs are rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after ways to answer water quality-related questions at local, regional, and national levels. They empower communities by enabling better understanding of local waterways and by supporting the active stewardship of these important resources. 

A map of LPOW’s jurisdiction coverage area.

Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper’s volunteer-driven Water Quality Monitoring Program has relied on a dedicated team of community members to collect water quality data from 15 sites on Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River for the last seven years. LPOW provides a centralized training each year, during which the team learns and practices how to implement the collection methods. We are incredibly lucky to have the support and dedication of this volunteer group. They do invaluable work, and it is evident just how invested they are in understanding the health of our watershed. 

Despite its robust history and support, the program doesn’t come without its challenges. Thankfully, some members are currently able to monitor multiple sites. But this extra commitment can be challenging, particularly when lake conditions are less-than-desirable. So this program is in need of at least three additional community members who would be willing to contribute to the program by volunteering their time (and taking the extra load off of our current volunteers). No experience is needed! This is a great opportunity to get out on the lake once a month during the summer, while also contributing to an important cause. 

The data generated by this program has been used to inform agencies of site-specific water quality impairments and serves as a baseline for understanding the unique characteristics of our waterways. To the best of our ability, we monitor the same parameters as those measured by government agencies such as Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. The sites that we monitor are, for the most part different from those monitored by DEQ. This is important because it means that together, we can quickly identify future impairments if they arise. In addition to sites on the Pend Oreille River, we monitor nearshore areas, some of which are used heavily for recreation.

The tools of the trade. Photo by Aubrey Falconer.

The Lake Pend Oreille WQMP is the core program that enables our organization to uphold our mission of keeping Lake Pend Oreille swimmable, fishable and drinkable. The program cannot exist without volunteer support. They truly are the life blood of our organization. 

Monitoring takes place on the third Tuesday of each month from May through September. Volunteers can use any watercraft they prefer, although some sites (e.g. Pend Oreille River) require a motor boat given technical constraints. 

If you are interested in becoming a WQMP volunteer, or even serving as a motor boat shuttle for other volunteers, stop by our office in downtown Sandpoint at 100A Cedar St., or email [email protected]. 

Chantilly Higbee is the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and Volunteer Coordinator for the Water Quality Monitoring Program. 

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