Volunteer monitors sought to help track Utah's water quality
Volunteerism • Symposium focuses on keeping water clean.
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West Valley City • For people who care about the clear blue waters of Bear Lake, there was quite a bit of concern last year when those waters became cloudy.

Their fears were alleviated this year thanks to data collected by volunteer Scott Tolentino. Water-quality measurements he accumulated this year revealed Bear Lake's clarity was its best ever.

Tolentino's records clearly told worried Bear Lake watchers "don't worry. The lake goes through natural cycles," in this case becoming more turbid after a big-snow winter then becoming more clear when a low-snow winter produced less in-stream flow filled with eroded soils.

See, volunteers can make a difference, said Brian Greene, of the Utah State University Extension Service, in promoting Utah Water Watch at a morning session of Salt Lake County's sixth annual Watershed Symposium. It began Wednesday at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center and will continue through Friday.

"This allows a formal way for people interested in protecting our waters to participate in monitoring them," Greene said of Utah Water Watch, a joint effort of USU and the Utah Division of Water Quality.

About 100 volunteers are already in the program, he said, but more are needed. Utah may be a semi-arid state, but it still has 14,750 miles of permanently flowing streams, an additional 75,000 miles of intermittent streams and 2,085 lakes — waters used for drinking, irrigating and recreating.

"We depend on this water to be clean so it meets all of our uses. So where we don't have a lot of quantity, quality matters," Greene said. "If we don't monitor, we don't know. If we all depend on it, we all have a role in making sure our rivers and lakes are monitored."

Volunteers generally are allowed to pick their monitoring sites. They are asked to make checks at least monthly between April and October and to submit reports to Utah Water Watch, which will post results on its website and forward pertinent information to regulatory agencies, such as the Division of Water Quality.

Greene said Utah Water Watch will train and equip volunteers to track temperature, turbidity, bacteria, pH and dissolved oxygen levels.

"We share all of this with watershed coordinators and the state so they can better manage our resources here in Utah," he said, adding, "Most volunteers do it because they like being outside."

mikeg@sltrib.com

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Utah Water Watch

To check out the organization, go to http://bit.ly/Le3qGD.