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Warriors for clean water

by MATTHEW STEPHENS
Staff Writer | March 5, 2024 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Volunteers working with the Idaho Conservation League were honored Monday for their efforts in water conservation.

The Idaho Nonprofit Center presented them with the Gov. Cecil D. Andrus "Volunteer of the Year" award Monday at the Human Rights Education Institute.

This award is presented annually on behalf of the Idaho Nonprofit Center and Serve Idaho — the Governor’s Commission on Service — to outstanding volunteers going above and beyond in their community.

The Conservation League's Karissa Huntsman said the group known as “water quality stewards” consists of 30 volunteers from the greater Sandpoint community.

Volunteers go out on Lake Pend Oreille once a month from May through September, Huntsman said. They collect water samples from 15 stations and send them to a lab for testing.

“The collected data can then be used to help determine water quality,” she added. 

Preston Andrews, a scientist during his career, has been a program volunteer for eight years.

“We go out and measure surface temperature, tepidity and temperature of our sampling depth,” Andrews said. “Then the samples are sent out to test certain mineral levels in the water.”

Jennifer Ekstrom, North Idaho director of the Conservation League, points to phosphorus levels, in particular, because it can enter the water multiple ways.

“What we have found, through years of testing, is that even though the water looks perfect and pristine, there are actually some water quality concerns," she said.

Ekstrom extolled the importance of data collected by the citizen scientists. Agencies can analyze collected data and take action to improve water quality.

“We see phosphorus in the lake because it gets in the water through wastewater treatment discharge, yard runoff and septic tanks,” she said. “We also check the nitrogen and oxygen levels, along with testing for e-coli.”

High levels of phosphorus can lead to an increase in invasive weed species, Ekstrom said, and it can stimulate toxic algae blooms.

“Recording this data will help our environmental and conservation groups create plans to help us better understand and manage what is happening with our water,” Ekstrom said. “And we owe our volunteers a lot of credit.”