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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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May 19, 2019

5/11/2019 7:30:00 AM
The Lake Where You Live
The Secchi Dip-In
Ted Rulseh

What's the first thing you notice when you visit a lake, step out onto a pier, and look into the water? Chances are it's the clarity of the water.

We tend to associate water clarity with water quality. In reality, clarity is only one measure of a lake's health, but it's an important one, even if mainly from the viewpoint of aesthetics.

Perhaps that is why the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) created the annual Secchi Dip-In. It doesn't happen until July, but I mention it now so that your lake group can plan to take part if you wish.

The Dip-In is named for a standard tool for measuring water clarity. Called the Secchi disc, it's an 8-inch disc with alternating black and white quadrants. You lower it into the water on a rope until you can no longer see it. The Secchi reading is measured in feet or meters and indicates how deep into the water sunlight can penetrate.

The Secchi Dip-In demonstrates how volunteer monitors can gather important information about our lakes and rivers. It's a simple concept: A volunteer on each lake takes a Secchi reading on one day during July and reports it on the Dip-In website.

One of the event's aims is to engage more volunteers in monitoring lake quality and in environmental monitoring more broadly. Data about water quality is essential to monitoring the health of lakes so that sound policies can be developed to manage lakes effectively. There aren't enough scientists, and there isn't enough money, to monitor many thousands of lake professionally. That's why data gathering by volunteers is critical.

The Dip-In also gives volunteers a national and global perspective on the importance of monitoring. It provides a comprehensive glimpse of water clarity at sites all across North America and the world. By looking at the data, scientists and volunteers alike can envision how water clarity varies with lake types, local geology, and land use patterns.

There's a good chance your lake already has someone who takes regular Secchi readings. Members of the Citizens Lake Monitoring Network monitor numerous lakes in Wisconsin (I am the volunteer monitor for Birch Lake here in Oneida County). So perhaps your lake volunteer is already a Dip-In contributor.

You don't have to be an official lake monitoring volunteer to take part in the Dip-In, but the event organizers do require participants to be trained. Fortunately, the Secchi disc process in quite simple and requires just a brief demonstration.

The Secchi Dip-In is a great way to form a connection with citizen volunteers from around the world. It's also a great way to celebrate NALMS' Lakes Appreciation Month - which is July. If your lake organization would like to join the Dip-In, you can enroll on the website. Some lake groups actually hold events surrounding the Dip-In to engage their members in lake monitoring and even to attract media attention.

All the information you need to take part is at

Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, "A Lakeside Companion," published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at

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