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Product at a Glance - Product ID#6TPFD4D2

Title: Tool-kit for implementing a Citizen-Led Environmental Observatory (CLEO) on your lake

Abstract: This product is a tool-kit for implementing a volunteer water quality monitoring program for use by community-based organizations in partnership with local public health departments, local non-profit environmental organizations, or academic institutions. The CLEO (Citizen-Led Environmental Observatory) protocol was developed to monitor algal blooms in Lake Lillinonah in Connecticut but could be readily adapted for use in other systems. Algal blooms are a growing public health concern because exposure to toxins produced by certain algal species can cause acute and chronic health problems. The product includes powerpoint slides designed to be used at a yearly training session for volunteers and the protocol used by volunteers while they collect data independently. The product details methods for measuring the presence of algal blooms (e.g., water clarity and water color) as well as variables that contribute to algal growth (e.g., water temperature, nutrient concentration).

Type of Product: PDF document

Year Created: 2015

Date Published: 2/26/2017

Author Information

Corresponding Author
Jennifer Klug
Fairfield University
Biology Department
Fairfield, CT
United States
p: 2032544000

Authors (listed in order of authorship):
Jennifer Klug
Fairfield University

Greg Bollard
Friends of the Lake

Rebekah White
Friends of the Lake

Product Description and Application Narrative Submitted by Corresponding Author

What general topics does your product address?

Biological Sciences

What specific topics does your product address?

Community engagement, Education, Environmental health

Does your product focus on a specific population(s)?


What methodological approaches were used in the development of your product, or are discussed in your product?

Community-academic partnership

What resource type(s) best describe(s) your product?

Training material, Toolkit

Application Narrative

1. Please provide a 1600 character abstract describing your product, its intended use and the audiences for which it would be appropriate.*

This product is a tool-kit for implementing a volunteer water quality monitoring program for use by community-based organizations in partnership with local public health departments, local non-profit environmental organizations, or academic institutions. The CLEO (Citizen-Led Environmental Observatory) protocol was developed to monitor algal blooms in Lake Lillinonah in Connecticut but could be readily adapted for use in other systems. Algal blooms are a growing public health concern because exposure to toxins produced by certain algal species can cause acute and chronic health problems. The product includes powerpoint slides designed to be used at a yearly training session for volunteers and the protocol used by volunteers while they collect data independently. The product details methods for measuring the presence of algal blooms (e.g., water clarity and water color) as well as variables that contribute to algal growth (e.g., water temperature, nutrient concentration).

2. What are the goals of the product?

The goals of the CLEO tool-kit are to enable community-based organizations such as lake associations to use volunteer members to effectively monitor water quality. The program is designed to meet 3 goals: 1) to provide credible information on water quality conditions to the public and state and local agencies, 2) to educate the public on water quality issues, and 3) to build a constituency of involved “citizen scientists”. CLEO data can be used by the community to document water quality problems and advocate for policies that will improve conditions. Through participation, volunteers learn about the causes and consequences of poor water quality and are empowered to work towards solutions. Volunteers in this project are well-positioned to make positive change by sharing the knowledge they’ve gained with their communities.

3. Who are the intended audiences or expected users of the product?

The product is designed to be used by community-based organizations (typically lake associations) in partnership with another group with resources and expertise to analyze the data collected (such as local public health departments, local environmental organizations, or academic institutions). In some cases, data analysis and scientific expertise may exist within the lake association. In other cases, partnership with other organizations or academic institutions may be necessary. The data collected as part of the program is intended to be used by the lake association, public health departments, academic institutions and lake management agencies for setting and assessing management goals as well as public outreach and education (elementary, secondary, and post-secondary).

4. Please provide any special instructions for successful use of the product, if necessary. If your product has been previously published, please provide the appropriate citation below.

Ideally, the person doing the yearly training session should be someone who has some experience with water quality sampling. This may be an experienced volunteer, someone from a local health department or management agency, or an academic partner. The tool-kit is published as one pdf file. Interested users can download the file and decide whether CLEO is appropriate for their site. In order to be successfully implemented at other sites, some materials (e.g., the training slides) must be modified with specific site information. Individual files in modifiable format (e.g., Powerpoint and Word) are available upon request from Jen Klug (jklug@fairfield.edu).

5. Please describe how your product or the project that resulted in the product builds on a relevant field, discipline or prior work. You may cite the literature and provide a bibliography in the next question if appropriate.

Volunteer water quality monitoring has a long history in the United States with some programs dating back to the 1930’s (1). In some states, volunteer water quality monitoring plays an important role in assessing and tracking water-quality. For example, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources coordinates a Citizen Lake Monitoring Network (http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/clmn/). Other states (including Connecticut, where CLEO-Lillinonah is located) do not have state-sponsored volunteer lake programs and recent budget cuts (both state and federal) have led to less funding for monitoring individual lakes. Without data documenting water quality problems, it is difficult for stakeholders to lobby local and state officials for changes that could lead to improvements in water quality. Studies have shown that with training and appropriate protocol, volunteer collected data is reliable and accurate (2,3).
CLEO-Lillinonah focuses specifically on monitoring algal blooms and the factors that contribute to them. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from human activities contribute to high concentrations of certain algal species (called blooms) which lead to lethal oxygen conditions for aquatic organisms, impair recreation, and produce toxins that are harmful to people, pets, and wildlife (4,5). There is increased concern for the public health implications of exposure (both in drinking water and through recreational contact) to algal toxins (5,6). By monitoring the frequency of algal blooms as well as the variables that contribute to their development, we can work towards reducing the incidence of algal blooms and therefore public exposure to them.
CLEO was designed for use in Lake Lillinonah which experiences severe algal blooms each summer (7). Lillinonah is the second largest lake in Connecticut and is popular with anglers and recreational boaters. Lillinonah is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as an “impaired water body” due to high nutrient concentrations and algal blooms (8). Previous work has shown that surface scums of algae contain high concentrations of algal toxins which should be of concern to recreational users (9).
In order to capture the dynamics of algal blooms, we designed CLEO to capture the patchy nature of the water quality problems in Lake Lillinonah by sampling at sites throughout the lake every few days. Over the course of Lillinonah’s history, most water quality sampling was done biweekly or monthly (7). Algal blooms on the lake are patchy in space and time and low-frequency sampling, while valuable for capturing average water quality conditions, often missed the dynamic nature of the blooms. The high-frequency sampling is one of the unique features of CLEO.

6. Please provide a bibliography for work cited above or in other parts of this application. Provide full references, in the order sited in the text (i.e. according to number order). .

1. Lotting, N.R., T. Wagner, E.N. Henry, K. S. Cheruvelil, K.E. Webster, J.A. Downing, and C.A. Stow. 2014. Long-term citizen-collected data reveal geographical patterns and temporal trends in lake water clarity. PLOS One. 9(4): 1-8.

2. Obrecht, D.V., M. Milanick, B.D. Perkins, D. Ready, and J.R. Jones. 1998. Evaluation of data generate from lake samples collected by volunteers. Lake and Reservoir Management. 14: 21-27.

3. Canfield, D.E. Jr., C.D. Brown, R.W. Bachmann, and M.V. Hoyer. 2002. Volunteer lake monitoring: testing the reliability of data collected by the Florida LAKEWATCH program. Lake and Reservoir Management. 18:1-9.

4. Dodds, W.K. and M.R. Whiles. 2010. Freshwater Ecology, 2nd edition. Academic Press. 829 pages.

5. Chorus, I., Bartram, J., 1999. Toxic Cyanobacteria in Water: A Guide to Their Public Health Consequences, Monitoring and Management. CRC Press. 440 pages.

6. CTDPH and CTDEEP 2013. Guidance to Local Health Departments for Blue- Green Algae Blooms in Recreation Freshwaters. Connecticut Department of Health and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

7. Klug, J.L. and K. Whitney. 2015. Long-term Trends in Water Quality in a New England Hydroelectric Impoundment. Northeastern Naturalist 22(2):273-286.

8. Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP). 2012. Integrated water quality report. Prepared in conformance with sections 305(b) and 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act, Hartford, CT.

9. Klug, J.L. 2013. Summary of Microcystin-LR concentrations in samples from Lake Lillinonah., CT-DPH and local health districts
10. Johnson, A. and J.L.Klug. 2015. Citizen-Led Environmental Observatory (CLEO) at Lake Lillinonah. Annual Report.

11. Klug, J.L. and G.L. Bollard. 2014. Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring: Insights from Lake Lillinonah. New England Chapter of the North American Lake Management Society Annual Conference, Storrs, CT. Oral Presentation.

12. Klug, J.L. 2011. The Lake Lillinonah Partnership: A Case Study of a Collaboration between a Limnologist and a Local Non-profit Organization. American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Oral Presentation.

13. Bollard, G.L., R.White, and J.L. Klug. 2014. Lake Lillinonah Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program. Connecticut Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Conference, East Hartford, CT. Poster Presentation.

14. Galluzzo, M., A. Johnson, J. Noyes, and J.L.Klug. 2015. Ongoing research at Lake Lillinonah. Northeast Regional Meeting of the Global Lakes Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON). Millbrook, NY. Oral Presentation

15. Johnson, A. and J.L. Klug. 2015. Maintaining Lake Lillinonah as a Viable Recreational Source. Fairfield University Chapter of Sigma Xi Annual Poster Session. Fairfield, CT. Poster Presentation

16. Carty, C. and J.L. Klug. 2014. Lake Lillinonah: Comparison of 2012 and 2013 Lake Quality Conditions. Fairfield University Chapter of Sigma Xi Annual Poster Session. Fairfield, CT. Poster Presentation.

17. Carty, C. and J.L. Klug. 2013. Lake Lillinonah: Comparison of Trophic Status Classification Schemes. Fairfield University Chapter of Sigma Xi Annual Poster Session. Fairfield, CT. Poster Presentation.

18. Klug, J.L., D.C. Richardson, H.A. Ewing, B.R.Hargreaves, N. R. Samal, D. Vachon, D.C. Pierson, A. E. Lindsey, D. O'Donnell, S.W. Effler and K.C. Weathers. 2012. Ecosystem effects of a tropical cyclone on a network of lakes in northeastern North America. Environmental Science and Technology 46(21): 11693–11701.

7. Please describe the project or body of work from which the submitted product developed. Describe the ways that community and academic/institutional expertise contributed to the project. Pay particular attention to demonstrating the quality or rigor of the work:

  • For research-related work, describe (if relevant) study aims, design, sample, measurement instruments, and analysis and interpretation. Discuss how you verified the accuracy of your data.
  • For education-related work, describe (if relevant) any needs assessment conducted, learning objectives, educational strategies incorporated, and evaluation of learning.
  • For other types of work, discuss how the project was developed and reasons for the methodological choices made.

This tool-kit was developed from the Citizen-Led Environmental Observatory (CLEO), a volunteer water quality monitoring program at Lake Lillinonah. Lillinonah is an important recreational and hydroelectric resource in Connecticut. CLEO-Lillinonah is jointly managed by Friends of the Lake (FOTL, friendsofthelake.org), a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to improving the water quality of Lillinonah and Fairfield University faculty and students. CLEO was initiated by FOTL members who were concerned about the frequency of severe algal blooms on Lillinonah (see part 5 for background information on algal blooms and public health concerns). They recognized that documenting the poor water quality they witnessed would allow them to more effectively advocate for changes in regulations that would lead to improved water quality. Details related to the process of developing and expanding the project are provided in part 8.
The goals of CLEO-Lillinonah are articulated in part 2. Volunteers collect data on variables such as water clarity, water temperature, and presence/absence of algal blooms several times a week at dock sites around the lake giving us good spatial and temporal resolution throughout the summer. Most of the variables are also used in other monitoring programs giving us a basis for comparison with other systems. For example, our measure of water clarity, Secchi disk depth, is inexpensive and widely used in citizen-based water quality monitoring programs around the world (1). Information on the variables is provided in the tool-kit.
A combination of community and academic expertise was vital in establishing this project. Currently, the program is jointly managed by the community and academic partners. Experienced CLEO monitors organize volunteers and run the training sessions. Volunteer monitors collect data and return the data sheets to Fairfield University students who analyze the data and prepare an annual report (10). The 2015 annual report is available at http://www.friendsofthelake.org/tools/library. FOTL communicates the results to local and state managers and uses the report to advocate for management decisions which may help improve water quality in Lillinonah. In addition, we have presented our work at regional and international conferences (11-17).
CLEO is flexible and adaptive, giving users the ability to add variables as needs change. For example, in 2011, state and federal budget cuts necessitated termination of existing nutrient sampling programs on Lillinonah. We added nutrient sampling to CLEO to make up for this loss and the volunteer collected data was crucial in understanding the impact of Hurricane Irene on the lake (18). Similarly, when the invasive, non-native zebra mussel was detected in the lake in late 2010, we used our existing network to monitor and document the spread of the invasion. Users of the CLEO tool-kit can choose the variables that are relevant to their own particular system. For example, groups that are concerned about bacterial contamination can modify the CLEO protocol to be used with inexpensive kits that measure E.coli.
Our experience has shown that the program is most successful in years in which there is a dedicated volunteer coordinator who regularly emails volunteers to remind them of scheduled activities (such as water sampling days) and who is willing to hold multiple training sessions to meet all scheduling needs. At the training sessions, we test all participants to make sure that they understand how to record data accurately but because they are not supervised during regular data collection there is opportunity for mistakes to be made. We detected a few mistakes in the past 6 years of monitoring (e.g., placing the thermometer at the wrong depth). We recommend that the volunteer coordinator make site visits to try to catch these types of issues. Some of the more common, preventable causes of data loss (e.g., poor handwriting) are discussed in the training slides.

8. Please describe the process of developing the product, including the ways that community and academic/institutional expertise were integrated in the development of this product.

The product (the CLEO tool-kit) was developed over the course of several years in collaboration between Fairfield University and Friends of the Lake (FOTL). The community partner (FOTL) provided the volunteer support and organization as well as the initiative and drive that has sustained the project. The academic partner (Fairfield University) provided scientific expertise and the initial training. Both partners worked on the protocol to make sure it was understandable and repeatable. Because volunteers are working unsupervised, it is imperative that the protocol and training materials are detailed and complete. The materials were written by Jen Klug with extensive feedback from Greg Bollard, Rebekah White and other CLEO volunteers. We began by reading and discussing volunteer protocols from other volunteer water quality monitoring programs to decide which variables to include. The academic partner identified potential variables and the community partners decided whether they felt they would be of use to FOTL. Some variables, such as secchi disk depth and water temperature are standard across the world. Others, such as recreation potential are less common. In some cases we used materials developed for other programs. For example, we received permission from the Colorado Lake Monitoring Program to use and publish the color chart they use to identify and record water color. In other cases, we modified existing variables. For example, we modified the wording for the 1 to 4 scale for recreation potential in response from volunteer feedback. In still other cases, we developed our own variables. For example, hazardous floating debris is a long-standing issue on Lake Lillinonah but is not something typically monitored by volunteer water quality monitoring programs in other lakes so we developed our own rating system to monitor floating debris.
We piloted CLEO (then called the Lake Lillinonah Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program) in 2006 with a few volunteers. In the first few years, we had fewer sites and they were clustered near the central part of the lake. Many of these early volunteers did not participate for more than 1 or 2 years. From 2006 to 2009 we modified training materials and protocol based on volunteer feedback. By 2010, we had recruited volunteers from other parts of the lake and volunteer retention over the past 4-5 years has been exceptionally high (nearly 100%) making training and quality control much smoother. We survey volunteers yearly to assess their experience as a CLEO monitor and solicit feedback which can be used for program development.
The materials have been revised over the course of the project based on CLEO volunteer feedback. We gather volunteer feedback at the yearly training sessions and during quarterly meetings of the Friends of the Lake water quality committee. For example, after the first few years, volunteers requested that the training slides include graphs of each variable as well as instructions for how to collect data. In this way, new volunteers can see what the data they collect will look like and the trainer can use the graph to highlight the importance of sticking to the monitoring schedule. Similarly, the wording on the instructions for scoring recreation potential was modified after volunteers identified potential confusion. In preparation for creating this product (the CLEO tool-kit) the volunteer protocol and training slides were expanded and combined with a cover sheet to facilitate use by other groups. More discussion of the collaborative nature of the development of the project (CLEO) that led to the product (the tool-kit) is provided in part 12.

9. Please discuss the significance and impact of your product. In your response, discuss ways your product has added to existing knowledge and benefited the community; ways others may have utilized your product; and any relevant evaluation data about impact, if available. If the impact of the product is not yet known, discuss its potential significance.

Friends of the Lake (FOTL) was founded because members observed water quality problems in Lillinonah and were dissatisfied with the response by local and state management agencies. Data from CLEO grounds their original observations in rigorous scientific inquiry and gives them the skills and confidence to discuss the science of the problem in the often contentious landscape of environmental policy making. FOTL board members note that CLEO has given FOTL increased credibility with local, state and federal authorities and other organizations. Indeed, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) staff members frequently forward volunteer monitoring inquiries from other lake associations to the CLEO leadership team.
The product (the CLEO tool-kit) allows us to train monitors and collect data in a standardized manner. Data collected by the monitors can be used to track changes in water quality over time. From an applied perspective, FOTL has successfully used CLEO data to document the magnitude of the water quality problem when lobbying the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for changes in management practices. Their efforts have resulted in permit revisions for one of the largest point sources of nutrients and increased attention from regulators. The state is currently in the process of revising the way it measures and regulates phosphorus (a key contributor to algal blooms) and FOTL members are playing an active role in the process.
In addition, use of the product has made significant contributions to public outreach and education. Educators, research scientists, and funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation understand the importance of engaging non-scientists in the scientific process. Science literacy is an important part of global citizenship and informal education plays a key role in broadening the impact of scientific information. Volunteers in this project are well-positioned to make positive change by sharing the knowledge they’ve gained with their communities. On a recent assessment, 100% of survey repondents reported that they have learned more about water quality by participating in the program. Furthermore, all respondents reported that after participating in the program, they were more likely to talk to their friends and neighbors about water quality issues suggesting that the influence of CLEO extends beyond the program participants.

10. Please describe why you chose the presentation format you did.

CLEO has had a major impact on the Lake Lillinonah community and Friends of the Lake. We intend to extend that impact to other communities by publishing the CLEO toolkit and encouraging its use elsewhere. We chose to present the project as a tool-kit to encourage and support other groups who wish to develop a Citizen-Led Environmental Observatory (CLEO). We currently receive several inquiries each year from other lake groups requesting advice and materials. Publishing our training materials and protocol as a kit will make that transfer of information more efficient and allow us to reach a broader audience.

11. Please reflect on the strengths and limitations of your product. In what ways did community and academic/institutional collaborators provide feedback and how was such feedback used? Include relevant evaluation data about strengths and limitations if available.

The strengths and limitations of the product (the CLEO tool-kit) are similar to the strengths and limitations of the project (CLEO). Use of the product in Lillinonah has created a core group of engaged volunteers ready and willing to work towards improving the water quality of this important resource. The tool-kit is designed to help other groups create a similar community at other sites. CLEO provides easy to collect water quality data sampled with high spatial and temporal resolution. The program is flexible and variables can be tailored based on community needs. Other positive outcomes of using the product at Lillinonah are described in part 9.
One limitation is that using paper data sheets and manual data entry slows dissemination of the data. Our goal is to eventually implement a web-based system for entering and displaying CLEO data. For example, see the portal provided by the Wisconsin Citizen Lake Monitoring Network (http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/clmn/). A web-based system would allow CLEO monitors to immediately share their data with other volunteers and the public. We have not implemented an on-line system due to funding constraints.
In addition, there are a few limitations which would restrict use of this product in lakes with different characteristics than Lillinonah. In clear lakes, it is likely that dock sites would be too shallow to measure water clarity, however, this program could be modified for use in deeper sites accessed by boat rather than by shore. Similarly, it may be difficult to train volunteers to monitor lakes with water quality concerns requiring more specialized sampling (for example, heavy metals). Community feedback on the development of the product is described in part 8.

12. Please describe ways that the project resulting in the product involved collaboration that embodied principles of mutual respect, shared work and shared credit. If different, describe ways that the product itself involved collaboration that embodied principles of mutual respect, shared work and shared credit. Have all collaborators on the product been notified of and approved submission of the product to CES4Health.info? If not, why not? Please indicate whether the project resulting in the product was approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) and/or community-based review mechanism, if applicable, and provide the name(s) of the IRB/mechanism.

We (the leadership team of JK, GB, RW) believe that our collaboration has been successful because we share the goal of understanding the factors that regulate water quality in Lillinonah. In addition, we deeply respect each other and the volunteer monitors. Much of the early development of the Citizen-Led Environmental Observatory (CLEO) centered on creating a data collection protocol that would work for potential monitors. Most of our volunteer monitors work outside the home or are students. We knew that the program would fail if data collection was too time-consuming, confusing or inconvenient. But we also knew that to capture the highly variable algal blooms, we needed data collected frequently and at multiple locations on the lake. Given these constraints, we developed our initial protocol in 2006 using FOTL’s knowledge of its membership. The resulting protocol was more ambitious than the academic partner (JK) would have suggested but the community partner (GB) insisted that he could find monitors if we showed them the value of the data. He was right and we now have a core group of over a dozen volunteers collecting data 3 times a week at 5 locations! Recently, additional variables (e.g., algal toxin concentration) and locations were added to the protocol based on concerns expressed by CLEO monitors. These additional variables effectively increased their workload. The increase was not a burden because adding additional variables validated their observations and concerns. Volunteers clearly share in the work and we work hard to make sure they share the credit. We acknowledge volunteers by name in all publications and presentations and recognize them at FOTL meetings and public forums. In a recent volunteer survey, 100% of respondents said that they feel like their contributions are valued. These results, plus our nearly 100% volunteer retention rate, suggest that CLEO volunteers recognize the respect and appreciation felt by the leadership team. Description of the collaboration that resulted in the product is provided in part 8. All of the collaborators on this product have been notified and have approved the submission of this product to CES4Health.info. IRB review is not applicable.