What’s In The Water?

We stood on the dock and peered into the green muck that stretched along the shoreline at Lake Bella Tuesday afternoon.

“What makes the water green?” asked Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl.

“Algae,” replied Andy, the young boy I mentor in the Ocheda Beavers 4-H Club.

“Allergy?” asked his little sister Alissa.

Andy just shrugged his shoulders … after all, his little sister is just learning!

For the past two summers, Ocheda Beavers 4-H members have taken part in a water sampling project with Dan, the watershed man. Last summer, we helped him collect samples on Lake Ocheda, and on Tuesday, we wrapped up sampling on Lake Bella.

It was a much better experience this time around. It wasn’t 90-plus degrees like it was on our June sampling date … and the boat actually started this time. No need for oars!

I was the club’s leader back when Dan asked if we would be interested in helping him collect water samples. It sounded like a great Community Pride project for our club members, a chance for them to learn something about our lakes, and an opportunity for some, like Alissa, to take her very first boat ride.

Along the way, I developed a greater appreciation for the lakes that were essentially in my front yard and back yard while I was growing up in the Ocheda Valley (I found that reference on an old map of Nobles County several years ago). And, for the first time ever, I had a boat ride on each of the lakes.

Twice each month, from June through September, our club members joined Dan to collect water samples at various depths on Lake Bella this summer. The samples were sent to a laboratory in New Ulm, where they were tested for Chlorophyll-A levels, suspended solids and phosphorus. In addition to collecting water samples for the lab, the kids used a Secchi disk to measure the transparency of the water. On Tuesday, Andy and Alissa could see about 31 centimeters into the water … a far cry from the seemingly crystal clear waters in the northern part of our state.

The data collected from this summer’s experiment will be analyzed and sent on to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. If the data shows problems in the overall health of Lake Bella and Lake Ocheda, both could end up on the state’s impaired waters list. Dan anticipates both lakes will be deemed impaired at some point … the MPCA creates a new list every couple of years, with the next declaration made in 2010.

While many of our club’s members are too young to understand a lot of the technical data behind the research, I think many of them have learned the importance of keeping our lakes … and our environment clean and healthy.

The kudos go to Dan for being such a good and patient teacher.