Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Nov. 6, 2000

Howard Lake native works in stream monitoring

By Carrie Resch, Minn. Pollution Control Agency

Although she has only been doing her current job at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for a year and a half, Beth Endersbe, originally from Howard Lake, Environmental Outcomes/Environ-mental Monitoring, has one of the oldest jobs in the agency.

In fact, her stream monitoring job predates the agency. The Water Pollution Control Commission was monitoring the water in Minnesota's streams as far back as 1953, that's 14 years before the creation of the MPCA.

Now, the job belongs to Endersbe and her "job share" counterpart, Sandy Bissonnette, who has been doing water monitoring for the MPCA for about 10 years. Each of them takes 20 hours of the week and visits sites to gather water samples.

The sites are all over the state, so the job means each of them spends a lot of time on the road. However, Endersbe said, that's the best part of the job. "I like being outside and traveling around. You get to see a lot."

She often sees a lot of wildlife, like eagles, osprey, herons on her travels. . . and some rain. "Last month, I was wet for two days straight, but that still beats sitting at my desk all day," said Endersbe. Unlike most of the agency's field work, this job is a year-round job, so both women have found themselves standing on ice in northern Minnesota, drilling holes for water samples.

The stream sites they visit change each year, so they get some variety in their trips. Between Endersbe and Bissonnette, they test each of Minnesota's 10 basins twice in a 5 year period. Testing each basin means sampling at particular sites, monthly, for one year.

The intention of the program is not to find specific sources of pollution, but to provide data that goes into a long-range analysis of each stream, giving the MPCA and its partners a better idea of trends in the streams' health.

At each site, they check the water for turbidity (clearness of the water); conductivity (electrical current flow); nitrogen (a nutrient required for the growth of plants); pH levels (the acidity); temperature; and dissolved oxygen.

Sometimes, if the MPCA is doing a study on other characteristics of the water, they will get a sample to test for fecal coliform, chlorophyll, phosphorus or other substances.

After gathering the stream water, Endersbe puts her equipment back in the van and settles down for some chemistry. "It's a simple Winkler method," she explains as she mixes chemicals and they turn from blue to transparent. (That's the test for dissolved oxygen.) It might be her bachelor's degrees in biotechnology and environmental science, with minors in chemistry and math, that make it all look so easy.

"I'm really surprised that people rarely stop and ask what I'm doing back here," she said as she poured orange liquid from a bulb-shaped container into a cylinder. With a box full of multi-colored chemical vials, crates full of sample bottles, ropes, a cooler and other equipment, it is a peculiar sight to see.

Back at the office, the information goes into a national database kept by the Environmental Protection Agency and used by researchers, professors, students, water planners and other environmental agencies all over the country.

Then, Dave Christopherson, environmental outcomes/environmental information and reporting, compiles the information into a trend analysis.

The agency's 305(b) program, which defines the swimmability and fishability of Minnesota's bodies of water, also uses the findings. In addition, the MPCA is using the data to find the state's problem areas and focus the agency's resources.

What the MPCA tests for on a regular basis:

­ Turbidity: matter in water causes turbidity, which disturbs the clearness of water and reduces the ability of light to pass through. Microorganisms, minerals, clay, industrial or municipal waste, natural erosion processes or other things may cause turbidity. High turbidity makes water look unpleasant and interferes with processes such as laundering, beverage bottling, brewing, and textile and paper production. It also is, at very high concentrations, lethal to fish and hinders biological productivity.

­ Conductivity: conductivity is the measurement of electrical current flow. Pure water has very low conductivity because it has few contaminants to conduct an electrical current flow. When water is contaminated, the foreign materials in water create positively and negatively charged ions. These charged ions conduct electricity and therefore increase the conductivity of the water. So, conductivity is an indirect measure of the level of contamination in the water.

­ Nitrogen: nitrogen is a nutrient required for the growth of land and water plants. Ammonia-nitrogen is an inorganic form of nitrogen that is contained in fertilizers, septic system effluent and animal wastes. Nitrates and nitrites also are inorganic forms of nitrogen present in the environment. The greatest pollution concern is high nitrate concentrations in drinking water, which can result in methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby syndrome."

­ Temperature: water temperature affects aquatic productivity and water chemistry. Temperature extremes are especially important in determining productivity of aquatic life from algae to fish.

­ pH level: pH is a term used to express the intensity of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The types and concentrations of acids and bases in the water impact pH. It affects the toxicity, reactivity and solubility of many chemical compounds, and thus has a wide impact on the relative health of the water. Various environmental factors, including changes in production and respiration rates of aquatic plants and animals, type of water body, and physical watershed characteristics, affect pH.

­ Dissolved oxygen: dissolved oxygen (DO) is important for the growth and reproduction of fish and other aquatic life. Reduced DO concentrations can lead to taste and odor problems in water.

You can find more information about the MPCA's stream monitoring program at the MPCA'a Web site, www.pca.state.mn.us.


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