Volunteers needed for lake health monitoring

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published January 22, 2018

 Lakes in Michigan, including this spot on Orchard Lake, will be monitored by volunteers throughout the summer.

Lakes in Michigan, including this spot on Orchard Lake, will be monitored by volunteers throughout the summer.

File photo by Edward Osinski

OAKLAND COUNTY — According to Paul Steen, an aquatic ecologist with the Huron River Watershed Council in Ann Arbor, there are plenty of things that can harm Michigan’s lake health.

The biggest one is us.

“There’s many things that can go wrong, from algae blooms to invasive species to excessive development — actually, that’s been called the worst threat to our Michigan lakes. When we build on them, it changes how water enters them, how wildlife lives,” Steen said. “We’re loving our lakes to death.”

For the past 40 years, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has hosted educational sessions for residents on how they can monitor their local lakes and report their findings back to scientists, who can make recommendations on further action. 

“When it comes to invasive plants, we’ve had volunteers find them at boat launches and have been able to eradicate them before they take over the lake,” Steen said. “Volunteers monitoring transparency and nutrients are able to detect increasing algae levels and then go to their neighbors to encourage better lawn care practices and reduce nutrient inputs. Other volunteers have become so invested in the monitoring they’re willing to go to planning boards and use their lake monitoring data to make an argument that their high-quality lake should not have any more development on it.”

Over the length of the 40-year program, Steen said, nutrient levels, like algae abundances, appear to have decreased. But shoreline disturbances and invasive species have increased greatly too, resulting in habitat loss for wildlife.

This year, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners and the Oakland County Health Division are jumping on board to make sure the region is a standout area for lake health.

“This has been going on a long time, but this is the first time a county has said, ‘Hey, we’re excited about this and we want our residents to be able to do this at no cost,’” Steen said. “It’s exciting to see county government get behind an effort like this.”

The Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program provides interested Oakland County residents with free training and equipment to monitor lake quality throughout the upcoming summer. Informational meetings, to be held in the commissioners’ auditorium at the Oakland County Service Center in Pontiac, are scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6, and 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 24. A required training session will be held beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 5. 

Once trained, volunteers will take weekly samples from their designated lake and watch for aquatic invasive plants. Volunteers must have access to a boat to participate.

“This is a win-win for protecting Oakland County’s lakes,” said Commissioner Dave Woodward in a press release. “I’m proud to have led the effort to launch this new environmental initiative to monitor, test and protect our numerous lakes — not just for today, but for long into the future. We all have a responsibility to protect our lakes and water.”

“Water is one of Michigan’s greatest resources,” Commissioner Marcia Gershenson stated in the press release. “This program will help reassure residents that our lakes are safe places to swim and fish.”

For more information or to register for the training, email Steen at psteen@hrwc.org or call (734) 769-1523, ext. 601.

The Oakland County Service Center is located at 1200 Telegraph Road in Pontiac.