Illinois Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program
Two new initiatives in 2013 that VLMP monitors are asked to participate in involve keeping their eyes open for potential harmful algal blooms (HABs) and the invasive aquatic plant Hydrilla verticillata (a.k.a. "hydrilla").
Harmful Algal Bloom Program: While not always a danger, blue-green algal blooms are capable of producing toxins that could harm the health of humans and animals when they've been exposed to large enough quantities. Exposure can come from recreational pursuits like swimming, boating, water skiing, tubing, and other activities where skin comes into contact with water or where water could be swallowed. If volunteers suspect a harmful algal bloom (HAB) is present at their lake, photos are taken and a Bloom Report Form is filled out (http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/algal-bloom/forms/bloom-report-form.pdf). These are then e-mailed to Illinois EPA-Springfield staff at EPA.HAB@illinois.gov. An investigation of credible reports of an HAB event is then conducted by Illinois EPA professional field staff, VLMP statewide or regional coordinators, or another Illinois EPA-approved designated party. Illinois EPA is using data collected statewide to assess its potential use in issuing public-health advice for recreational or drinking water uses, as well as for investigating predictive relationships between microcystin (the most common type of blue-green algae toxin found in Illinois), nutrient, and chlorophyll-a concentrations in selected eutrophic or hypereutrophic (nutrient-rich) lakes or streams. For more information, visit Illinois EPA's Harmful Algal Blooms and Algal Toxins web pages (http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/algal-bloom/index.html).
Examples of blue-green algae scums
Hydrilla Hunt! Initiative: Hydrilla is recognized as one of the world's worst weeds. It can grow an inch per day and form dense mats of vegetation at the water surface, seriously impacting our desirable native plants, sport fishing, native wildlife, waterfront property values, and recreational uses. Within the past few years, hydrilla has been discovered in Wisconsin and Indiana, and so it could arrive in Illinois very soon. VLMP participants help keep an eye out for this nasty invader. Through a collaborative effort with the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, Chicago Botanic Garden, and Lake County Health Department – Lakes Management Unit, hydrilla identification sheets were distributed to VLMP monitors statewide in 2013. The volunteers are encouraged to take an especially detailed look at the aquatic plants in their lake as well as in other lakes and rivers they might visit. Volunteers who suspect they may have found hydrilla are asked to take several photographs and e-mail them to the Hydrilla Hunt! program at email@example.com for verification. Through 2013, no hydrilla has been discovered in Illinois. This program will continue next year at a larger scale, with a media campaign expected to kick off in early 2014. For more information including photos of hydrilla, see the Hydrilla Hunt! website (http://www.niipp.net/hydrilla/).
Holly Hudson, Senior Aquatic Biologist
- Illinois Environmental Protection Agency
- Lake County Health Department
- Greater Egypt Regional Planning and Development Commission
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency
Annual contract since 1982
The 2013 monitoring season marked the 33rd year of Illinois' Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (VLMP). Initiated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1981, this popular program brings together citizens, state agency staff, and regional and local governmental staff to monitor and investigate the quality of Illinois' lakes. In northeastern Illinois, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) serves as program coordinator for the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, McHenry, and Will; the Lake County Health Department coordinates the program in Lake County. For 15 southern Illinois counties, the Greater Egypt Regional Planning and Development Commission serves as coordinator. Staff provides volunteer training, technical assistance, educational materials, data management, and assistance in newsletter and annual report preparation.
Volunteers measure water transparency (clarity) in a lake of their choosing using a simple device called a Secchi disk (an 8-inch diameter plate painted black and white in opposite quadrants, attached to a calibrated rope or tape measure). The disk is lowered into the water and the depth at which it is no longer visible is recorded. The Secchi measurements are used to document changes in water transparency during the monitoring season as well as from year to year (Secchi transparency is affected by the color
of the water and the amount of suspended sediment and algae in the lake). Volunteers also record water color, aquatic plant growth, and several other factors relating to lake, weather, and watershed conditions at the time of monitoring. Additionally, volunteers are asked to keep watch for several types of aquatic invasive species and to report potential sightings. Monitoring typically is done twice a month from May through October at three in-lake locations. Depending on available resources, a subset of volunteers also may have the opportunity to collect water samples that are analyzed at an Illinois EPA laboratory. Water chemistry data provides important information on suspended material in the lake (sediment, algae, etc.) as well as levels of nutrients (phosphorus, nitrogen) that can promote nuisance aquatic plant and algae growth. All monitoring equipment, data forms, instructional materials (including a comprehensive Training Manual), and other supplies are provided to the volunteers. Volunteers need only have a boat and anchor to participate.
VLMP data is used by Illinois EPA in its biennial assessment of the state's waters as required by the federal Clean Water Act, as well as by lake scientists, planners, consultants, and the volunteers themselves for a wide variety of purposes. A primary goal of the VLMP is to familiarize volunteers with lake processes and the cause and effect relationships that exist between their lake, its watershed, weather, and human activities. Through the VLMP's hands-on educational structure, the data and information gathered can more effectively assist in local lake and watershed management decision-making. VLMP Secchi transparency data can be viewed and downloaded from http://dataservices.epa.illinois.gov/waBowSurfaceWater/anonymous/data.aspx.
More information on the VLMP is available from CMAP's Environment & Natural Resources Group (312-454-0400), Illinois EPA's Lakes Unit (217-782-3362), and on the VLMP website (http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/conservation/vlmp).