Volunteers kick off eighth water quality monitoring season with Waterkeeper

By Chantilly Higbee
Reader Contributor

A team of dedicated water stewards wrapped up training sessions in April and May, and will now be kicking off their 8th season monitoring water quality on Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River. In the past few weeks, citizen science volunteers learned how to measure a variety of water quality parameters; ranging from surface temperature and pH to nutrients and bacteria. Altogether, this team of 24 volunteers will collect surface water samples and other site-specific information from 15 locations in the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille watershed within the framework of the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper Water Quality Monitoring Program. 

A map showing LPOW monitoring sites around Lakxe Pend Oreille. Image courtesy Google Earth.

Filled sample bottles will be sent to SVL Analytical Labs in Coeur d’Alene for analysis after each monthly sampling event. Those data will then be reviewed by LPOW staff to inform advocacy strategies around the health of the watershed. This information can then be shared with the appropriate authorities when water quality impairment is suspected, or as otherwise needed. 

As a small grassroots nonprofit, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper leans heavily on these dedicated citizen scientists to monitor the lake and river each year from May through September. Their passion for understanding and protecting the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille watershed is apparent in their contagious enthusiasm and commitment; Sandpoint and surrounding communities are fortunate to benefit from their efforts. 

“This summer will be our fourth one volunteering,” said Ally Unzen, who monitors Garfield Bay. “We’ve participated in quite a few beach clean-ups also. We love our lake!”

The 15 sites, which have been monitored annually since 2012, span several bays, backwater sloughs, wastewater outfalls, recreation areas and river channels. They vary in their unique physical and chemical characteristics, and in how they are influenced by human activity; this is one reason why LPOW elected to monitor these locations, specifically. 

Water quality parameters at these sites change seasonally and annually; the goal of the program is to track changes, inform the public of site-specific conditions, provide data that can aid authorities as they manage land and water resources, and to otherwise prompt or inform conversations aimed at restoring and protecting local waterways.

Citizen science-driven monitoring programs are quickly becoming one of the most sought-after ways to answer ecological questions at local, regional and national levels. Such programs are cost-effective and empower communities by enabling better understanding and active stewardship of natural resources. Across the Panhandle, similar volunteer groups monitor other major waterways; including Priest, Cocolalla, Spirit, Twin, Hauser and Fernan lakes. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality hosts the Citizen Volunteer Monitoring Program, wherein these groups share their local knowledge and work together to identify trends and solve water-quality problems. 

Chantilly Higbee is the project manager and volunteer coordinator for the LPOW Water Quality Monitoring Program.

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