Twenty years ago, I got a little black box filled with chemicals, test tubes and instructions. Then, I was a newly certified water monitor, having successfully completed the training program offered by Dr. Bill Deutsch through Auburn University’s Alabama Water Watch program.
We’d been living on the lake for two years, and for many more, I had been committed to environmental causes. Taking a short course and walking down to the lake once a month to test the water seemed like the least I could do to help the planet, and the Lake Watch of Lake Martin folks were delighted to welcome me into the fold as a water quality monitor. They quickly set me up with a test site: in my own backyard.
That’s how I became “Site 8” on the lake.
Dick and Mary Ann Bronson, Woodfin Martin, Virginia Pietrzykowski and a host of others began the Lake Watch Lake Martin organization as a response to serious issues – textile dye and other pollutants being discharged through an Alexander City wastewater treatment plant directly into the lake.
By the time I arrived, their determined activism had taken care of the most serious issues, but like them, I firmly believed that the citizen watchdog approach was the best way to preserve the quality of our lake and, more importantly, our drinking water. We truly need to keep a watch out for the next threat.
So once a month, I started testing the quality of the water from my dock in StillWaters. Over the years, I’ve had more than a few slack periods and skipped my testing due to lack of time or poor memory. But I’ve never waivered in my belief that the work done by Lake Watch water monitors is important and valuable.
Over the past three decades, we’ve collectively established chemical baselines that measure what healthy water should be, and we’ve built an incredible database of testing results for sites all over Lake Martin.
At one board meeting a long time ago, we discussed the cost and trouble of repeated testing that frequently yielded basically the same results. We’ve done it, some said. Shouldn’t that be enough?
The answer is no.
Who knows when some biohazard will shift the pH as the first indicator of serious trouble? What happens if, over time, we note small shifts in alkalinity or hardness? What can the dissolved oxygen content of sites tell scientists about the health of our lake?
My own turbidity measurements clearly showed the effect of developer activities on the lake. The results of decades of data is a solid foundation that is needed to identify – and to fight – threats to the health of the cleanest lake in Alabama and the state’s one and only Treasured Alabama Lake. Over the years, we’ve collected a mass of data that could be more valuable than gold come the next lawsuit.
And so, each month, we water monitors grab our little black boxes of chemicals and test tubes and collect samples.
It isn’t hard to do. The tests are simple and don’t take much time. In fact, through the years, in my most hectic moments when I have to squeeze my little trip to the dock into a packed schedule, I often reflect that some of the most peaceful moments I’ve had on the lake are the brief but intensely satisfying moments when I’m doing my testing.
It has become a ritual and a way to pay back the water for the beauty and pleasure it has provided to me and to so many others. When I dawdle and watch the sunlight dance on the water, I can spend an hour doing my testing. When I’m pressed for time and determined, a half hour will accomplish the same thing.
It takes less than 10 minutes to upload the data to the computer database maintained by Auburn University’s Water Watch professionals. My observations become part of a statewide peek into the health of our collective water system. Data may be seen through the Alabama Water Watch website at www.alabamawaterwatch.org/water-data/. Reports and other data on Lake Martin can be found at lakewatch.org.
Some of my Lake Watch peers are trained in bacteriological testing. They are pretty popular when E. coli outbreaks threaten, and the first line of defense is needed in cleaning up swimming and fishing holes.
Some of the most dedicated water monitors can also do biological assessments of streams, counting the snails, clams and the myriad water creatures scooped up from healthy streams and water bodies. They are also teachers, inspiring the next generation in stewardship and respect for the water.
Taken together, our efforts insure that Lake Martin will remain a Treasured Alabama Lake.
Clean water isn’t something to take for granted. In most of the world, clean water that won’t make you sick and that is plentiful enough for agriculture and recreation isn’t a given. We are fortunate at Lake Martin.
Tallapoosa County was recently named as the “most beautiful county” in Alabama, thanks largely to that fantastic amenity we simply call “the lake.”
Our lake is not only beautiful; it also is clean and safe to swim in, and you can eat the fish that you catch.
Please help keep it that way. Support the efforts of our local water quality monitors. Better yet, sign up and become an AWW monitor yourself. You’ll learn a great deal and have a lot of fun, and you’ll be doing something good for your environment at the same time.
Water monitoring is fun and easy! To find out how to become certified, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Lake Watch covers all costs for training and equipping volunteers. The value of your contribution: Priceless!
Kathryn Braund is president of Lake Watch Lake Martin. For information about Lake Watch, visit lakewatch.org.