Have you ever wondered how a state with over 800 public lakes and ponds and eight aquatic biologists can evaluate water quality? It would be impossible without the help of dedicated state-wide volunteers who offer their time to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES).
This network of volunteers is part of the DES Volunteer Lake Assessment Program (VLAP). Initiated in 1985, VLAP establishes a volunteer-driven lake sampling program to assist DES in evaluating lake water quality, and provides volunteer monitors and lake residents with reports on lake health. This cooperative effort allows biologists and lake associations to make educated decisions regarding the future of New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds.
Why is VLAP Important?
The Volunteer Lake Assessment Program serves a dual purpose by establishing a regular volunteer-driven water sampling program to assist DES in evaluating water quality throughout the state, and the program empowers volunteer monitors and lake residents with information about the health of their waterbody.
Regular gathering of water quality data from lakes and their tributaries establishes a strong set of baseline chemical and biological data. Such monitoring results in early detection of water quality changes, allowing DES to trace potential problems to their source. If the data gathered through VLAP reveals a significant water quality problem in a particular waterbody, the historical data can be used to justify implementation of a more intensive watershed study through the NH Clean Lakes Program, the Federal Clean Lakes Program, or the Non-Point Source Local Watershed Initiative Grants Program.
VLAP volunteer monitors are invaluable to the state of New Hampshire. Volunteer monitoring helps determine long-term water quality trends, and volunteers continually educate lake and watershed residents, business and their local government on best management practices to keep New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds clean. They have been, and will continue to be, a key element in protecting the integrity of New Hampshire’s lakes.
How Does VLAP Work?
The Volunteer Lake Assessment Program is a cooperative program between the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) and lake residents and lake associations.
Volunteer monitors are trained by DES to use lake monitoring equipment to collect lake water quality data, to survey the surrounding watershed, and to sample the streams and rivers that are tributaries to the lake. Sampling frequency is flexible, with most monitoring groups choosing to sample monthly throughout the summer (June through August). Each of the participating lakes must be sampled in the presence of a DES biologist at least once per summer. This meeting is an important annual event in which the volunteer monitors have an opportunity to express any watershed concerns. Also, the event allows DES biologists to evaluate the quality assurance of the volunteer sampling techniques.
The data gathered are reviewed for quality assurance and imported into the DES Environmental Monitoring Database (EMD). During the off-season, DES biologists interpret the water quality data, perform trend analyses, and compile the results into an annual report for each lake. Quality data gathered through VLAP also help DES to conduct statewide surface water quality assessments. Assessment results and methodology are published by DES every two years as a requirement of the Federal Clean Water Act.
Once the volunteer monitors receive the data and the annual report for their lake, DES encourages the volunteers to relay the information to their respective associations, organizations, businesses, and local government. Volunteers are also kept informed of the latest issues in lake management and water quality through the production of an annual newsletter, distribution of technical and educational materials, conducting regional workshops, and providing information on important legislation. In addition, DES biologists give presentations at lake association meetings, upon request. Educational initiatives, such as those mentioned above, allow volunteers to recognize potential water quality or shoreland violations around the lake and report their findings to DES. Volunteer monitors are dedicated, proactive lake stewards who are concerned for the well-being of their lakes.