Frequently Asked Questions about the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program

Below are some common questions and answers about the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program.

There are multiple levels of studies that can be done on lakes as part of the Volunteer Lake Monitoring program, which are described here. The level of study that is chosen is based on the volunteer commitment and the specific concerns for the lake itself.

The time commitment for volunteers is dependent on the level of study that is being conducted.  Typically for a level 1 or 2 study the time commitment is minimal as the secchi depth and surface temperature readings will take around 10 minutes.  Usually these measurements are done weekly, and can be done from a dock, pier or watercraft at any location on the lake.  A level 3 study takes more time because of the additional data and water samples included in this study type.  We generally estimate approximately 1 hour of sampling time per site, per lake.  This does not include travel time to or from the site, nor between sites on lakes with multiple sampling locations.  In a level 3 study the sampling locations are pre-determined and fixed.  Frequency of sampling for a level 3 study varies from bi-weekly to monthly depending on the lake.  Level 4 and 5 study time commitments depend on the breadth of those study parameters, which is specific to each lake.  All levels of study are ideally conducted over a 3 year span, preferably consecutive.

 

3. What kind of training would I be required to do?  How do I get the training?

In-Person training on how to use monitoring and/or sampling equipment will be provided by either Ministry or BC Lakes Stewardship Society staff at no cost to volunteers.  We will come out to the lake, or a pre-arranged meeting location, on a pre-arranged date and time to demonstrate equipment and provide necessary training.  The meeting location, date and time will be coordinated with the volunteers.

If you are doing a Level 1 or 2 study where you collect your measurements from a dock or pier only one person is required.  If you are doing a level 3 or higher study, or are doing a level 1 or 2 study from a watercraft then, for safety reasons, we require that there be a minimum of 2 persons present for each sampling event, regardless of the type of watercraft being used.

The cost of a Volunteer Lake Monitoring program varies depending on the level of study being conducted.  Level 1 and 2 studies have a net zero cost.  Level 3 studies start at around $2000 for a lake with one sample location.  For lakes with additional sample locations we add an additional $1000 per sample location.  These costs are related to laboratory analysis of water chemistry samples. Level 4 and 5 study costs depend on the breadth of the study, and the funding usually comes from multiple sources.

When initiated through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, a Volunteer Lake Monitoring program will be paid for by the Ministry.  This includes shipping and laboratory analysis of water chemistry samples, and replacement or repair of any Ministry supplied monitoring or water sampling equipment.

When initiated through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, the monitoring and water sampling equipment for a Volunteer Lake Monitoring program is provided by the Ministry.  Watercrafts, fuel and other equipment required for safe watercraft operation, including personal flotation devices, are to be provided by the volunteers.  There is no reimbursement or compensation available for watercraft purchase, fuel, or repairs should the watercraft be damaged during a sampling event, nor for any of the other volunteer provided equipment.

If you, or the stewardship group you belong to, are members with the BC Lakes Stewardship Society, and you sign a safety waiver and submit it to either BCLSS or the Ministry, then you are covered by insurance when out sampling for a Volunteer Lake Monitoring program.

 

13. How are the water chemistry samples I collect analysed?  What happens to the data?

Water samples from the Volunteer Lake Monitoring program are shipped to the Ministry’s contracted and accredited laboratory for analysis.  The data are sent to Ministry staff who collate, review and interpret the data, and then work with the BC Lakes Stewardship Society to produce lake reports at the completion of the lake study period.  Once a lake report is finalized, the Ministry tries to work with local regional governments to distribute copies of the report to all lake residents.  Additionally, the Ministry and the BC Lakes Stewardship Society will coordinate a community meeting that all lake residents will be invited to where the lake report data will be reviewed and discussed.

There are several quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) measures in place to ensure data quality for volunteer monitoring programs.  For all study levels regular audits are conducted on the volunteers collecting the samples.  This is done on a different day than training occurs, where a Ministry or BCLSS staff person will join a volunteer group for a sampling event to ensure that all the data is being collected correctly.  Additionally, for level 3, 4, and 5 studies where water samples are collected, volunteers are required to collect both replicate and blank samples for submission to the laboratory along with the regular samples.  These replicate and blank samples are collected once during each sampling event.  For lakes with multiple sampling locations, the replicate and blank only need to be collected from one location per date, and they can be collected at different locations from each other. 

Replicate samples are used to indicate whether there may have been a problem with sample collection in the field.  A replicate sample is a second bottle that is filled side-by-side with the same sample water as a regular sample, and the results for these samples should match.  If the results do not match it can suggest a mistake may have occurred during sample collection, such as sticking a finger inside the bottle or lid, accidentally mislabelling the bottle, etc., which can indicate poor data quality for that day and the data may need to be removed from the dataset.  If the regular and replicate sample results match it indicates good data quality and can be included in the dataset.

Blank samples are used to indicate whether there may have been a problem with sample analysis at the laboratory.  A blank sample is a bottle that is filled with de-ionized water, which is completely sterile water supplied from the lab.  The results from these samples should all fall below laboratory method detection limits (MDL’s) and so should essentially be zero.  If the results come back with values above MDL’s it can suggest an error occurred during analysis such as contamination of an analyser, accidental contamination of the sample by a technician, etc., which can indicate poor water quality for that day and the data may need to be removed from the dataset.  If the blank sample results are below MDL’s it indicates good data quality and can be included in the dataset.

There are multiple locations where you may find information for your local lake.  For historic Volunteer Lake Monitoring lake reports, please look in the BC Lake Stewardship Society’s online Library.  Additionally, please search our interactive map, as well as the Long-Term Lake Trends program.

Algae blooms are naturally occurring in most lakes in BC and are not considered an environmental threat, though they may pose risks to humans, pets or livestock.  If you would like to report an algae bloom please contact your local health authority.