Top of Utahns test water quality for state

Aug 9 2013 - 11:17pm

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Utah Water Watch volunteer Ken Paul, 70, of Willard, prepares to take water-quality measurements on Willard Bay recently. The retiree says volunteering provides a positive incentive to get out and enjoy Willard Bay. (Courtesy photo)
An avid fisherman, Ken Paul has volunteered with USU-led Utah Water Watch since 2010. Paul says he helps with water-quality monitoring to ensure Willard Bay remains a prime walleye fishery and recreational area. (Courtesy photo)
Utah Water Watch volunteer Ken Paul, 70, of Willard, prepares to take water-quality measurements on Willard Bay recently. The retiree says volunteering provides a positive incentive to get out and enjoy Willard Bay. (Courtesy photo)
An avid fisherman, Ken Paul has volunteered with USU-led Utah Water Watch since 2010. Paul says he helps with water-quality monitoring to ensure Willard Bay remains a prime walleye fishery and recreational area. (Courtesy photo)

Rhonda Adams, having first signed up as a "citizen scientist" this spring, visits a site in the Ogden River to conduct monthly water-quality tests, which are then shared with the state of Utah.

"I started to learn how unique our watershed is in Northern Utah," said Adams, a science teacher at North Davis Preparatory Academy in Layton.

"I hadn't realized, and I don't think a lot of people realize, how important water quality is here, more so than any other place in the country."

Ken Paul, 70, a Willard retiree and avid fisherman, became a citizen scientist to help ensure a good future for Willard Bay, an area he loves.

"I had a keen interest in the water quality here, right next to my home," Paul said. "And I certainly want to preserve the fisher, and a great reservoir for recreation."

Adams and Paul are two of about 100 volunteers working statewide for Utah Water Watch, a Utah State University program run by Brian Greene.

Utah Water Watch is a water-quality education and data collection program, in partnership with the Utah Division of Water Quality.

Interested members of the public receive measuring devices and are taught about Utah's water system and trained how to measure water temperature, turbidity (clearness), pH levels and other factors.

Different tiers are available for volunteers who want to do more or fewer tests. In exchange for training, volunteers agree to monitor a selected water site monthly at least seven times.

"Our youngest volunteer is 9, and our oldest is 85. A lot of families do it together, with a parent and a child getting the training. It's a fun outing, to visit your site," Greene said.

"And we are always looking for more volunteers. Utah has 2,085 lakes and over 85,000 miles of streams."

Adams, 41, of Syracuse, said she is committed to the project.

"I believe in what they are doing," she said. "The state doesn't have the resources to pay people to monitor water resources, so volunteers are huge."

Adams said what makes Utah's water system unusual is that it has a closed system.

"Our water cycle starts in the mountains, with rainfall and snowpack," she said.

"It goes into mountain streams and rivers, and reservoirs dump into the Great Salt Lake. There are no outlets. It ends right there. It is absorbed into the ground, and the rest of it evaporates into the atmosphere.

"So the water we have is pretty much all we are going to get. Since it is all self-contain, water quality is huge. We are essentially poisoning ourselves if we don't take care of the water we have."

Adams said the measurements she takes require 10 minutes, once a month.

"It's really easy. Anybody could do it if they attended the course and learned to use the equipment."

For information on upcoming classes, visit the UWW website, http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/htm/citizen_monitoring/uww, then click on "calendar & events."

Greene can also schedule classes for groups that make requests. To reach Greene, call 435-797-2580.

Paul, an electrical engineer by training, appreciates the chance to contribute to scientific studies worldwide. He spends 15 to 30 minutes taking water-quality measurements each time and, at UWW's request, shares some of his findings at www.secchidipin.org. Volunteers use a plastic Secchi disk to measure water transparency in oceans and lakes.

The disc is mounted on a pole or line and lowered into the water. The depth at which the pattern on the disk is no longer visible is taken as a measure of the transparency of the water.

"I started in 2010," Paul said of his data collecting. "I report back to Utah State, and the information goes national and international."

Paul also reports on how busy Willard Bay is with wildlife and recreation enthusiasts.

"It's a small thing for me to do, but it can contribute to protecting water quality," he said.

Greene said volunteers report the feeling of becoming stewards for their tiny piece of the environment.

"They care about their lakes and streams," he said. "Normally, they are the first people to pick up trash or report a problem, like E. coli levels that are too high. I alert scientists, and we work on a plan.

"The volunteers aren't radical environmentalists. They are everyday people who care about their communities. They want to help protect the lakes and streams so everyone can enjoy them."

That's how Adams feels.

"This is a truly beautiful area," she said. "People need to do what they can to take care of it."

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