Janice Redford on being a water monitor

Apr 4, 2023 | Aquatic Invasive Species, Citizen Advocacy, Local Groups

On April 20, Janice Redford will be among the volunteers honored by Water Action Volunteers at the Wisconsin Lakes and Rivers Convention in Stevens Point. Janice has been volunteering as a water monitor for her local creek for over two decades.

We talked to Janice about what motivates her to fulfill such a deep commitment to water protection. For her, it all starts with observing Koshkonong Creek as it flows through CamRock County Park, noting its changes, and using that information to advocate for cleaner water and more community stewardship of the land. 

What Monitors like Janice look for in local rivers and lakes

Janice Redford works with water monitoring equipment near Koshkonong Creek.It’s going to be the 24th summer of water monitoring for Janice Redford. Retired from a 40-year teaching career in Spanish, English as a second language, and computer science, Janice is one of the steadfast volunteers who monitor Koshkonong Creek as it flows through CamRock County Park in Dane County.

Since 2000 the Friends of CamRock Park test creek water for phosphorus by sending samples to the state hygiene lab, studied the biotic index to count critters below the water’s surface, and have filed hundreds of data sheets on water clarity (called turbidity), temperature, and creek levels. They have documented floods and sewerage plant failures, counted the presence of invasive rusty crayfish, and partnered with the Department of Natural Resources to encourage a healthy, native freshwater mussel population.

“People think we are crazy for doing this, but we are curious people,” Janice says about the Friends group. “We like to see how the creek changes over time, from May through October, and each year to see if we can find a difference. It’s a valuable water source and it’s fascinating to watch over it.”

How volunteer monitors like Janice are on the front lines of water protection

For Janice, watching the creek is a way to take action for the health of the water. She takes the approach that water protection starts with tracking whether the water is getting better or worse over time.

It all started with the removal of an 1840s-era mill dam on Koshkonong Creek near the Village of Rockdale in September 2000.

Koshkonong Creek

“Some people thought it was great to remove the dam,” said Janice. “Others thought it would change the feeling of the village. I still miss the mill pond. But it was important for us to form the Friends of CamRock Park and donate our time as volunteers to watch over the water since the dam was removed. The creek changed its flow and formed new channels after the dam was removed. The build up of soil behind the dam flowed down to Lake Koshkonong. Now the creek has natural springs that feed healthy water to the lake, which needs it.”

As a local water protection organization, the Friends group can write grant proposals to get funding to do the hands-on water monitoring work. In their first summer in 2000, they bought their own pond water kits, but since then they have raised around $50,000 for the park to support the costs of their volunteerism, from water monitoring to chainsaw crews to remove dead trees, and prairie seed collection and planting.

Don Nettum in Koshkonong Creek monitoring Biotic IndexOver time, they became more involved with Water Action Volunteers, a statewide network of monitors like Janice who have access to support and ongoing education on water quality trends. They are also involved with the Rock River Coalition, a regional water protection organization that hosts trainings and an annual conference to inspire and educate water protection volunteers like Janice.

“Working with other water monitors in our region is good,” said Janice. “They pull us along.”

“You have to start somewhere.”

Her love of water began where she grew up north of Madison on a family gladiola farm that overlooked the wetlands and waters of Lake Mendota. She remembers the clear lake that she swam in as a child where she remembers the lake as her playground. Since watching the changes in Dane County’s lakes and streams since the 1940s, she’s concerned that people take the quality of our water for granted.

“I’m optimistic for the future of our water, but I wish we would do more to clean it up better,” said Janice. “I’m an advocate for nature and I have a hard time watching what’s happening with everything changing so rapidly. We can see how phosphorus is a problem. People are putting too many chemicals on land that’s close to water, including road salt. Our lakes have taken the brunt and a lot of things haven’t been built with water quality in mind. But it’s good that groups like the Rock River Coalition are training people all around the area and there are hundreds of water monitors all over the state. You have to start somewhere.”

Water monitoring season is coming soon

Janice is staying active in retirement as she works as a translator and writes articles for the Edgerton Reporter. Now that water monitoring season is coming soon, she is looking forward to reconnecting with her friends and fellow volunteers. The COVID crisis impacted the group’s ability to gather and have social events. Some of the original volunteers from the group’s formation have died or moved away. But Janice fondly calls the remaining members “lifers” who watch the creek as steadily as it flows. 

“We are looking forward to keeping our equipment up to date, getting out and monitoring this year,” she said. “I hope we can watch over the water for many more years.”

To join Janice and the other “lifers” who provide volunteer water monitoring and prairie restoration for the Friends of CamRock County Park, you can contact her by email or send a message to the Friends page on Facebook. You can also find a water protection group in your area by visiting our interactive watershed map on our Local Groups page.

– Stacy Harbaugh, Communications Director


Bridge over Koshkonong Creek at CamRock County Park


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