An army of volunteers across Minnesota diligently watch over our waterways, and that includes two women who have kept tabs on Coon Creek in Coon Rapids for years.
There is a sort of peace that Sue Suchy receives from nature.
“If you look at a stream, you're never looking at the same stream twice,” she says.
“The bucket of water that I pull out will not be the same as the next bucket of water I pull out.”
Every Wednesday Sue heads out to a pedestrian bridge over Coon Creek with a job to do. She is a volunteer stream monitor for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Her job is to collect data, but the time spent at the creek is never work.
“It's very beautiful here,” she says.
“It's kind of spiritually refreshing, yeah, like a medicine.”
Pam Foster monitors Coon Creek too. Each week she's about four miles down the creek from Sue, taking water samples at Lion's Coon Creek Park.
“Well, I love the wildlife, looking at the ducks, just being out here is just terrific. And understanding the water quality is actually beneficial to me as a stream monitor because I care,” explains Pam.
Volunteers like Pam and Sue are out checking the clarity and appearance of Minnesota's waterways each week. It's as simple as scooping up a bucket of water, pouring it into a long tube, and then slowing pulling a black and white Secchi disc up through the water until it can be seen clearly.
The Citizen Stream Monitoring program began in 1998 with just 17 volunteers. Now in its 20th anniversary year, the program has more than 400 people who monitor 500 streams throughout the state.
“To have all these people go out and sample all these points once a week - it's an incredible amount of data - each sample is a piece of the puzzle that provides information for the whole,” says Pam.
“We're all connected to this whole ecosystem and water's really indicative of the health of the whole community.”
By day, Pam Foster works in the environmental field, so stream monitoring was a natural fit. She began volunteering many years ago hoping the experience would help her land a job, but pam continues to volunteer simply because it's who she is.
“I personally care about the environment, and I care about wildlife, and I also care about the community. And I think ecosystems and the community - the health of both of those things - are interrelated. So that's important to me is to be part of this.”
Sue Suchy has collected data for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for eight years. She monitors both Coon Creek and the Rum River. She is also a Minnesota master naturalist. When her kids left the nest, she wanted to find a past time outdoors.
“It's also fun just to come here every week and look around, stick a bucket in the water, kind of relax, and that part is fun too,” says Sue.
For both volunteers, it's a chance to make a difference downstream.
“We're always looking for ways to give back,” says Pam.
“And this is just a small way I can give back about something that I really care about.”
Minnesota has 69,000 miles of streams and more than 14,000 lakes, so there is always a need for more volunteers. All of the equipment and training is free, and no experience is needed.
Learn more about the program at https://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/citizen-water-monitoring.
Jennifer Anderson reporting
June 27, 2018