It is strange to think that individual Minnesotans can cut through the red tape of bureaucracy simply by volunteering one of their lazy Sunday afternoons and taking a rod, or maybe some hiking boots, out and spending some time exploring northern Minnesota. However, the Kiwishiwi Watershed Protection Project (KWPP) strives to do just that. Volunteering is an integral part of the program’s ability to keep costs down.
The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment provides funding for many large data collection programs that are paramount to protecting our waters and outdoor habitats. These projects take place over such vast areas that many hours would be required for paid government employees to collect the data they need. However, the KWPP has found a way to efficiently use Clean Water Funds to collect data on the massive 1,300 square miles of the Kiwishiwi Watershed for only a surprising $225,000. Smaller water monitoring programs for the Minnesota River (332 miles) and the Red River (395 miles) cost about $100,000 more, and a similar project along the St. Croix River (164 miles) costs nearly double those of the Kiwishiwi watershed.
The Kiwishiwi watershed is in northern Minnesota, and because of the rivers it shares with the boundary waters, protecting it is key to keeping the BWCA safe. Derrick Passe is the only government paid employee working on the program. He believes that it is important to keep the line of dialogue open with the public. He does not want people to just be handed instructions, but instead guided through the process and allowed to give feedback. Organizing trips of Boy Scout troops and other volunteer groups to try out water testing has yielded feedback to allow Derrick to streamline the program to make it approachable and non-intrusive. Derrick, unlike other volunteer water testing organizers, allows people to bring a fishing rod with them when they go out. Thus volunteering for the program is less of a chore and more of an accompaniment for the activities people already love to do.
If conservation means being efficient with our limited resources then using Minnesotans to collect water samples as they make their trek up north for a weekend of outdoor fun is a no brainer. Why spend limited agency money to take a canoe out when people love to do that for free? All it takes is stopping at area outdoor recreational stores to grab a small field kit and easy-to-follow instructions to take with you for a calming afternoon of fun. Waiting for the fish to bite? Collect some data. Need to rest from a long hike in the north woods? Cool off by a local stream and grab a water sample. Invasive species are also an important part of monitoring water in the area and can be easily studied whilst strolling along the many hiking trails.
The easiest way to get a better understanding of how you can help is to contact Derrick himself (cell phone 763 286 0570, email Derrick.Passe@co.lake.mn.us) and he will be happy to get you started. I urge everyone who is seeking a trip to the north woods that we all enjoy to take the time to look for opportunities to protect them as well.