Lake Norman water clarity, quality to be tested
by Staff Writer
DENVER – David Merryman says his job as Catawba Riverkeeper involves getting people out on Lake Norman and surrounding bodies of water to enjoy them.
In recent years, though, he says that’s become a much tougher task.
“We’ve got to start collecting information about the water so we can learn to make better decisions about it,” Merryman said.
Merryman said local bodies of water are polluted with sediments, nutrients and invasive species. So to start learning more about water quality, he’s gotten involved in the Secchi Dip-In project.
A group of professors at Kent State University started the project in 1994, which involves dipping a circular black and white disk on a rope into the water to check the clarity.
“It’s really an environmental citizen monitoring project in the Midwest and it exploded,” Merryman said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t explode into our region until now. We took the initiative to get our volunteers involved and get other citizens active with it.”
When the initiative started at Kent State, more than 800 volunteer citizens over six states in the Midwest participated, and Merryman hopes he can get the same result out of the Carolinas.
Merryman said the disk measures water clarity by how far below the water surface a person can see it, which, in turn, shows how much algae is in the water.
“That’s really important because that directly dictates what can live in the water and what kind of fish species we can have,” Merryman said. “For our area in particular, it shows how polluted the water is by nutrients and run off.”
Because it’s so easy to operate, Merryman said practically anyone can use it to collect valuable information.
The only things a volunteer might need, aside from the disk, are a measuring tape and something to show the location they’re measuring, such a a GPS.
Rusty Rozzelle, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services’ Water Quality Program Manager, said that Lake Norman has had some pollution problems in recent years, but is relatively clean considering its size.
“Lake Norman is very clear for a lake in the piedmont of the Carolinas and the Secchi dips are usually several meters deep, indicating very clear water,” Rozzelle said.
Merryman has two primary reasons for bringing the project to the Catawba River lakes. The first: citizen involvement and becoming more educated about the water.
“The second reason is so we can actually do some monitoring and look at the trends in our water quality to see what’s happening and how we compare to other parts of the state and other parts of the country,” he said.
Merryman said the water in the Catawba River lakes has always been polluted, but that level has increased significantly over recent years.
“The region has just grown so fast and put so much pressure on our river and its watershed,” Merryman said. “Furthermore, the need or the pressure to continue to use its (the river’s) water to create energy from the coal plants and the nuclear stations.”
Merryman says he’s always looking for more volunteers.
“I’ve got this large group of volunteers on all these lakes and this is just a great opportunity for them to collect data and add it to a larger, nationwide set of information,” Merryman said.
In the end, Rozzelle thinks the Secchi Dip-In project’s results will show the purity of Lake Norman’s waters.
“Lake Norman is a large body of water and sometimes acts as a sink,” Rozzelle said. “The water quality has degraded very minimally over time, though, and it’s one of the cleaner lakes in the Catawba River system.”
Those interested in volunteering can borrow an 8-inch Secchi disk by calling the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation at 704-679-9494.