There are many reasons why people volunteer – to give back to society, to support a cause they believe in, to learn new information or acquire new skills, to meet people who share common interests. Regardless of their motivations, volunteers are essential to improving our understanding of lake health in Vermont.
Through the Vermont Lay Monitoring Program, one of the oldest volunteer water quality monitoring programs in the country, volunteers have been helping the Watershed Management Division track nutrient enrichment in more than 90 lakes through the program’s 35-year history.
This dedicated network of lake stewards collects water samples and tracks water clarity weekly through the summer. These water samples are tested for total phosphorus and chlorophyll-a. Phosphorus is typically the limiting nutrient in a lake system and when in excess, feeds aquatic plants, algae, and other plankton (free floating, aquatic life), increasing a lake’s productivity. Chlorophyll-a is the green pigment in plants and algae used to describe the amount of algae in the lake. Generally, lakes with high phosphorus concentrations will have increased algal growth.
A second lake volunteer monitoring program, the Vermont Invasive Patrollers or VIPs, focuses on early detection of aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian watermilfoil, water chestnut, and zebra mussels. VIPs learn how to distinguish common aquatic invasive species from natives, how invasives are introduced and established, and survey techniques, then survey their favorite lake or pond for those invasive species that present the greatest threat.
Aquatic invasive species reproduce abundantly (for example, aquatic invasive plants can often propagate from a simple fragment) and lack natural predators and other control mechanisms. And if we’re not careful, they also tend to be adept hitch-hikers, hitching rides on boats, fishing gear, and other recreational equipment as we travel from one lake to another. Once established, they can form dense monocultures, outcompeting native species and impacting our recreational and aesthetic enjoyment of a lake. Spread prevention and early detection are critical to reducing the risk aquatic invasive species pose to Vermont’s surface waters.
With Vermont’s more than 800 lakes and ponds, Lay Monitors and VIPs play an integral role in tracking lake health. Regardless of their reasons for volunteering, we owe them an enormous amount of gratitude for their contributions to the monitoring work that informs our policies and management decisions.