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White Iron Chain Of Lakes Association

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Civic Engagement – We All Can Play a Role in Protecting Water Quality

By Kelli Saunders

Last week, I mentioned that there are three components to the International Watershed Coordination Program here in our basin, one of them being the “local” or grassroots component.  This is where you come in.  Protecting water quality is everyone’s responsibility, but how does an individual find a way to make a difference?  Let me offer a few ideas based on the civic engagement work we do with our partners.

We are so fortunate to have over 40 lake associations in this watershed – most are in Minnesota, but the largest in Ontario is right here!  The Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association (LOWDSA) has been promoting good water stewardship for over 50 years and absolutely anyone, not just waterfront residents, can be a member.  They have a strong environmental focus and we partner with them regularly.  For the past three summers, for example, LOWDSA has been a key partner in our cross-border drain stencil project working with children in the community to paint the message “A Healthy Lake Starts Here” or “Dump No Waste” beside storm drains - to date, well over 300 drains have been painted in three communities, reminding us that only rain should go down the drain, because these drains direct runoff directly to our nearby waterbodies.  As a way to support the many lake associations in the basin, we also host an annual Lake Association Network Event, bringing together like-minded individuals who are motivating their members to be good stewards in a wide variety of ways.

This past year, as a partnership with MPCA, Koochiching Soil and Water Conservation District and University of Minnesota, we are conducting one on one interviews to discuss values around water and the barriers and opportunities to being a good lake steward.  With opinions coming in from Minnesota and Ontario, it will be interesting to compile the responses; the end goal is to be sure we are helping break down the barriers and understanding what motivates individuals to become involved. 

On both sides of the border, there is an army of volunteers who collect water clarity data and water samples that are analyzed for phosphorus.  This is civic engagement at its best, supported by the provincial and state governments.  In Ontario, volunteers with the Lake Partner Program collect total phosphorus samples and make monthly water clarity observations on their lakes during the summer months. By measuring total phosphorus and water clarity, it is possible to detect long-term changes that may be due to impacts of shoreline development, climate change and other stresses. Phosphorus is measured because it is the nutrient that stimulates algal growth in the majority of Ontario lakes.  Similarly, in Minnesota, the Citizen Lake/Stream Monitoring Program has a network of volunteers who conduct water clarity tests at least twice a month each summer at designated locations on lakes or streams. To determine water clarity, volunteers find the disappearance/reappearance point of a Secchi disk as it descends into a lake or a specially designed stream collection tube. With both programs, the data being collected by these volunteers are often the only data that exist in more remote locations and are very valuable.

These are only a few of the civic engagement projects ongoing here in the basin – there are lots of ways to get involved - if you are interested in any of these initiatives, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Next week, I’ll be focusing on the work Minnesota is doing to get their portion of Lake of the Woods off the state’s impaired waters list!

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation. 

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