Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program

Lake sampling training workshop at Herrington Marina (photo by Robin Hart)

Kentucky Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program

Kentucky has approximately 440,000 acres of lakes within its borders, containing more than one hundred billion gallons of water.  Lakes are an integral part of our daily lives and provide wildlife habitat, drinking water supplies, and recreational opportunities.  Lakes contribute significantly to the economy of individual communities and the Commonwealth.  Adequately evaluating and protecting this resource is a major undertaking that can be greatly improved through volunteer monitoring efforts.

The purpose of Kentucky's Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program is to involve citizen scientists in expanding water resource monitoring in Kentucky.  This will provide a means to address data gaps and improve upon characterization of water quality in the lakes of Kentucky.  The scope is statewide, with emphasis on the nexus of identified monitoring needs and the locations of interest to volunteer participants.

Collection, observation and reporting procedures are designed to be low cost, quickly and easily performed, and provide hands-on experience for volunteers.  By conducting field measurements and observations, participants will:

  • Develop proficiency in data collection, field observations and reporting.
  • Develop a greater sensitivity to the lakes being evaluated.
  • Gain further understanding of the importance of Kentucky’s water resources.
  • Become part of the growing number of citizens who are concerned with, and dedicated to, the fate of our natural resources.
  • Supplement local, state and federal agencies in their efforts to protect and preserve the quality of Kentucky’s lakes and reservoirs.

Kentucky's Volunteer Lake Sampling Program SOP Document is available by clicking here.

Pilot Lake Sampling Program On Herrington Lake

In 2017, Watershed Watch of Kentucky and KDOW partnered to initiate a pilot program for citizen volunteers to assist with lake monitoring.  A primary purpose of this program was to create a network of people who can assist with the detection of harmful algal blooms.  This pilot effort was introduced at three lakes, Herrington Lake in central Kentucky and Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in western Kentucky.  During the Herrington Lake pilot season (June through October 2017), 10 citizen samplers collected 42 lake observations at locations throughout the lake.











Lake observations currently include various general observations (weather, rainfall, lake appearance) and a Secchi disk depth measurement.  It is hoped that additional measurements can be made that will expand understanding of lake quality.  Proposed criteria for the future are chlorophyll-a, nitrogen, phosphorus and E. coli.


To obtain the Secchi disk measurement, a black and white disk is lowered into the lake on a rope until it disappears, then raised until it reappears. 
The average of these two depths produces the actual measurement and serves as an indicator of the amount of suspended material in the lake--which can include algae, eroded soil and sediment from land, resuspended lake sediment or other material. 
The more suspended material, the lower the water clarity and the shallow the Secchi disk measurements. 
This generalized measurement helps lake specialists better understand lake productivity and its photic zone, or the depth to which light penetrates enough for photosynthesis to occur.



Again, in 2018, sampling dates will correspond with the satellite flyover dates for the NASA-USGS Landsat Program.  This coordination allows the Kentucky Division of Water to better create modeling programs that can track lake quality issues and trends, especially with regard to the potential for harmful algal blooms (HABs).  Harmful algal blooms happen when naturally occuring blue-green algae grow out of control.  They can produce toxins that make people and pets sick, as well as cause taste and odor problems in drinking water and disrupt lake ecology by reducing dissolved oxygen levels.  What to look for?

To help track HABs, look for surface algae that appears as:USEPA algae sign

  • Grainy up close, like sawdust
  • Bright green or greenish blue, paint-likeUSGS photo
  • Red or brown slicks

If a HAB is suspected, avoid swimming in or near algal blooms, don't drink untreated water and rinse fish fillets, and seek medical attention if you become ill.

A new ArcGIS data portal website was developed by the Kentucky Geological Survey to enable volunteers to view all sampling results.  This website will continue to be updated as samplers enter their findings through a related computer/phone.