Wisconsin Lakes

We Speak for Lakes

WI Lakes

Volunteering for Lakes


By Wisconsin Lakes staff

Wisconsin relies on volunteers to be the eyes and ears in the lake world. Volunteers can play an important role in assessing lake water quality and the watershed health by monitoring: water clarity, water chemistry (such as dissolved oxygen or phosphorus), aquatic invasive species, aquatic plant communities, and many kinds of wildlife— from aquatic insects to birds.

Volunteer lake monitoring is a great way to, learn more about your lake, observe and document long-term changes in lake health, and collect valuable data. This data is used to report on lake conditions and water quality trends, to prepare lake and watershed management plans, and to teach others about our lakes’ health and what we can do to take better care of them. Wisconsin has several monitoring programs that depend on citizen involvement.

Citizen Lake Monitoring Network

Wisconsin’s Citizen Lake Monitoring Network (formerly called “Self-Help Lake Monitoring”) began in 1986. Today more than 1,100 citizen volunteers statewide are collecting water quality data for more than 850 Wisconsin lakes. The goals of citizen lake monitoring are to collect high quality data, educate and empower citizens, share and use this data and knowledge.

DNR and University of Wisconsin-Extension staff provides volunteers with the necessary equipment and training. Volunteers provide their time, energy, and a willingness to share information with their lake community and other lake users. Lake enthusiasts can receive training through the Citizen Lake Monitoring Network in four main areas (see below).

1) Water Clarity

This is where volunteer monitors typically get started. Consistent measurements of water clarity (using the Secchi disk method) provide easily gathered, reliable trends data on lake changes over time.

2) Water Chemistry, Temperature, and Dissolved Oxygen Data

After a year of water clarity monitoring some volunteers begin water chemistry monitoring to gather more detailed data on nutrients and other aspects of a lake’s physiology. Openings for water chemistry monitoring are limited and depend on the needs of the lake and interest of the volunteers.

3) Aquatic Plants

Aquatic plants are at the root of a healthy lake ecosystem. They play a vital role in stabilizing sediments, cycling nutrients, providing oxygen as well as food and shelter for all kinds of wildlife and other aquatic life. Understanding how the aquatic plant community is changing over time is a key first step before undertaking aquatic plant management activities.

4) Identify and map aquatic invasive species

Participants review monitoring protocols for specific aquatic invasive plants and animals such as Eurasian water milfoil, curly leaf pondweed, purple loosestrife, zebra mussels, rusty crayfish, etc.

Additionally, whole lake monitoring methods are discussed to assist participants in developing a proactive approach with early detection and rapid response efforts.

Information about the Citizen Lake Monitoring Network and training opportunities >>

Clean Boats, Clean Waters

Volunteers can also work with boaters and anglers to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in Wisconsin lakes. This program trains volunteers to organize and conduct a boater education and watercraft inspection program in their community. Adult and youth teams educate boaters at boat landings about how and where invasive species are most likely to hitch a ride into water bodies. Volunteers perform boat and trailer checks for invasive species, distribute informational brochures, collect and report any new or suspected invasive species.

Information about the Clean Boats Clean Waters Program >>

Loon Monitoring

Another good way to determine changes in ecosystem health is to monitor native wildlife species that are sensitive to disturbances or accumulations of pollutants such as mercury. These species can be important sentinels, attesting to changes in our environment. Because loons need undisturbed shoreland areas for nesting, clean water, and uncontaminated fish to eat they are good indicators of lake health. Loons are a species of Special Concern in Wisconsin. The breeding range of loons used to be throughout Wisconsin, but it is now restricted to the northern 1/3 of the state. Loons are also important symbols of our lakes, and many people want to learn how to protect them.

LoonWatch is a program of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College that protects loons and their aquatic habitats through education, monitoring and research. Since 1978, hundreds of people across northern Wisconsin have helped keep an eye on nesting loons. Volunteers for the LoonWatch program receive training on how to collect data on loon activities and threats at Wisconsin lakes every year from ice out to ice on. Volunteers not only record important loon events on lakes, but they also provide a critical educational service by discussing loon protection and habitat conservation with their neighbors, lake organizations, boaters, anglers, and other lake visitors.

Information about LoonWatch Programs >>

Citizen Based Monitoring Network of Wisconsin

Volunteer monitoring is not just for lakes. There are monitoring programs for terrestrial plants, plus all kinds of wildlife and their habitats too. Consider expanding your lake monitoring expertise to learn more about the ecological health of your watershed.

The Citizen-Based Monitoring Network provides support and funding to initiate or expand citizen-based monitoring programs for all kinds of natural resource components. The Network facilitates collaboration among monitoring enthusiasts by providing communications, resources, and recognition to build our understanding of the dynamic connections among all aspects of our natural world.

Information about the Citizen-Based Monitoring Network of Wisconsin >>

There is a whole world of opportunities out there to become involved with your lake’s health through volunteering!