High school students are monitoring state’s waters

Fabiana Torreao

For two years, Jane Potterfield’s 10th-grade science class has taken a close look at the biological importance of water.
The 30 students in Potterfield’s Apple Valley East Ville High School science class adopt a lake or pond every year which they observe during fall to assess its health the following semester.
During the observation period, the students monitor the lake by collecting water samples and comparing them. This shows how storm water runoff and product disposal by humans can affect water quality.
Potterfield said it is important for children to be aware of good water management practices, for example, how lawn fertilizers and automotive products disposal can pollute the water.
“All these small things that each person does can have a cumulative effect on water,” she said.
With this in mind, the University’s Dakota County Extension Services is developing a teacher workshop on lake monitoring for secondary educators that want to have lake studying as a part of their curriculum.
The workshop, to be held in October, will give teachers a menu of possible activities for their classrooms, said Charlotte Shover, coordinator of the environmental education program.
Funds for the workshop will come from a $5,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant received in June.
The data collected by students is very important to assess the health of the lakes, said Barb Liukkonen from the University’s Water Resources Center.
Through lake monitoring we can compare one lake to another and to itself over time, which is necessary to make management decisions, she said. The storm water retention ponds at Lake Calhoun, which minimize the water runoff to the lake, is one example.
To monitor a lake, pond or stream, researchers look at four items. First the water quality — minerals, pH, nutrients; second, its physical properties — depth, size; third, its biological community — fish, plants; and last its social-cultural properties, Liukkonen said.
The three-year-old Water Resources Center has recently been awarded a $400,000 grant from the Metropolitan Council to coordinate a volunteering stream monitoring program in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
The center uses alternate ways to monitor waters including remote sensoring, which analyzes satellite pictures to assess water quality; and the use of robots, which continuously collect water samples to be analyzed.
Both methods give researchers more detailed information about lakes as well as a greater amount of information, Liukkonen said.

Fabiana Torreao welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.