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Another successful summer for the Water Project

by Lauren Rehbein

11th grade student

Ely Memorial High School

The Water Project operated by Ely Community Resource offers Ely students the opportunity to connect to the area’s surrounding water bodies and their organisms. It fosters the next generation of water conservationists through a wide array of programs.

Two mornings a week, Jill Swanson from Ely Community Resource and I have the pleasure of taking a kevlar canoe out on the Burntside River. We tromp down the large, steep rocks on the edge of the water. Jill and I gently plop the canoe into the river– both of us hoping to lure the clawed critters out of their rocky hideaways.

This year, we were significantly more successful in trapping crayfish compared to 2022. It may have been due to the higher river level and flow as opposed to last year or just the natural ebb and flow of the crayfish population. It is such a unique and marvelous opportunity to observe how the river changes from week to week: such as the water lily blooms, varying levels of vegetation in the water, or the majestic blue herons that swoop over us.

The Water Project began in 2016 trapping and monitoring rusty crayfish along the Burntside River, and I’ve been part of the project since the summer of 2021. I also get the chance to help out with early detection of other aquatic invasive species. Alongside Liz Anderson of Lake County Water and Soil Conservation District, Jill Swanson, and my classmate, Sylvia Shock, we canoe on various Lake County Lakes to inspect the arrival of harmful plant and animal species to the lakes.

We also participated in a two day crayfish expansion project along the South Kawishiwi River where we paddled and set traps to see if rusty crayfish had moved in.

At the beginning of each month, we traveled to five different locations in the White Iron Chain of Lakes with Dave Setterholm of the White Iron Chain of Lakes Association (WICOLA). We monitored water temperature, water clarity as well as levels of dissolved oxygen, PH, conductivity, presence of sulfates and we tested the water column for spiny waterfleas. The hands-on experience helps to give students like myself and Sylvia the opportunity to help with WICOLA’s sample collection that results in data maintained on the MPCA’s (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) database and used for reports related to our lakes’ water quality.

In 2022, ECR was awarded the Community Conservationist Award by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD). The award nomination noted the group’s enriching opportunities for participating students in Ely and their real contribution to data collection.

After receiving such an award, ECR was contacted by the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC) to volunteer with their Environmental DNA (eDNA) Phase II study on Shagawa Lake.

This past July, Jill Swanson and five Ely Memorial students, including Sylvia and myself, took samples at six different locations on Shagawa Lake. eDNA, genetic material collected from the environment, is a powerful tool that can be used to indicate the presence and abundance of organisms. Diffusion of eDNA should allow for detection of AIS with small samples of water collected anywhere within the lake.

Ely Community Resource’s Water Project took on one more opportunity this past summer with help from the MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Association). Twice a month Jill and five middle schoolers were assigned six different locations along the Shagawa and South Kawishiwi River to monitor the following: stream appearance, recreational suitability, water clarity, stream temperature and stream stage. The students learned interesting details about characteristics important to the health of the watershed as well as the importance of data collection.

The Water Project keeps me delightfully busy during the summer, and gives me a sense of fulfillment that I can do my part to help conserve the precious lakes and rivers of Northern Minnesota.

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