Well, I did it. I took the plunge! The water's great and I aim to help keep it that way!

No, I didn't "literally" jump into the water, especially this time of year. But after thinking about it for several years, I decided that now was the time to put away "all talk, no action" and jump into being a citizen water monitor (CWM) volunteer. Join with me as I find out what being a CWM is all about.

Like with any job, especially volunteer work, you have to learn what and how to do it, where to do it, why it needs to be done and why you should do it. And the best people to learn from are the ones who have been or are currently doing that kind of work. So I went searching for CWMs to answer my four questions.

To answer my first question: Why does monitoring work need to be done?

I started with Melanie Bomier, water resource technician at the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District. Bomier has done water monitoring for several years through grants received by the SWCD. She has also trained and directed CWMs.

To answer the question of "why," Melanie said: "Citizen monitoring is so important because it helps us understand lake and stream trends.

"We usually only have grants to monitor a lake or stream for a couple of years and may not have another opportunity to monitor it again for another 10 years," she said. "In the meantime, we might be working on projects to improve water quality or find that major changes are happening in the watershed, but it's hard to know what effect these changes are having without the monitoring data."

Byron Kuster, a resident on Coffee Lake, south of Moose Lake, has been a CWM on that lake for four years. A licensed teacher of physics and chemistry, Kuster monitors "to see what changes happen with the lake. If all of a sudden there were differences, it would indicate something is going on."

Torina Stark, a CWM monitor on the Nemadji River and Rock Creek, added that "the MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) relies on data from citizen water monitors all over the state to gauge the health of our water systems and determine what needs to be studied further."

This brings us to the second question: What do CWMs do and how do they do it?

For over 40 years, MPCA has recruited and worked with CWM volunteers and they have set up a simple and easy system. CWMs don't need experience or training. MPCA provides the volunteers with everything they need except for the bucket or the boat.

Those who monitor lakes will need access to a boat, canoe or kayak. Those who monitor streams or rivers will do their work from the riverbank or a bridge crossing, usually using a bucket to collect water.

If they are volunteering on a grant project, the CWM may have to take samples of water and deliver them to a location where they will be delivered to a testing site. However, most CWMs are simply asked to conduct water clarity tests once a week, or at least twice a month, from the end of April to the end of September.

Third: Where are CWMs needed? According to the MPCA website, there are over 400 CWM volunteers monitoring over 500 stream sites in Minnesota. Most of us who live in Carlton County live within a short distance from one or more water bodies.

Finally, why should you, or I, do water monitoring?

Kuster continues CWM work because "I'm measuring the water quality on the lake I live on. It takes minimal effort to have some basic data on this lake."

That answers my questions! I will be heading to the river soon and will get my family involved in helping me monitor.

Melanie, Byron, Torina and I, along with hundreds of CWMs around the state, invite you to get out and "take the plunge." The water in Carlton County is great!

Kim Samuelson is Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District's elected supervisor for District 4.

For more information about the Citizen Water Monitoring program, contact Melanie Bomier, Carlton SWCD water resource technician, at 218-384-3891, or visit pca.state.mn.us/water/about-programs.

For more information about Carlton SWCD, go to facebook.com/CarltonSWCD or carltonswcd.org.