People love Minnesota lakes, but a recent study shows why they should also appreciate their local lake association.
A cross-disciplinary research project between psychology and biology has created new understanding of the value of lake associations in Minnesota. Dr. Mona Ibrahim, professor of psychology, and Dr. Michelle Marko, associate professor of biology, researched the role of lake associations in preserving Minnesota’s waters. Lake associations are organizations created by people living around lakes. They consist primarily of volunteers who are invested in preserving their lakes.
Ibrahim, who works extensively with psychological assessment, hired two student researchers, Matthew Zabel ’18 and Ben Bjertness ’18, to start the research process. Together they created a survey drawing on Ibrahim’s knowledge of survey technique and Marko’s background working with aquatic invasive species (AIS) and Minnesota lakes.
“After drafting our initial survey questions, we consulted experts in the field including other researchers,” Ibrahim said. “We used the feedback we received from those experts to expand and improve the survey.”
Zabel, an active lake-goer and fisherman, was excited to research in an area that is important to him. He says talking to people involved in lake associations was valuable for focusing the survey questions.
“We had the opportunity to sit in on lake association meetings. From that we observed how meetings are run, the types of people who make up lake associations, and some major concerns they had,” Zabel said.
The final survey was sent out to each leader of 453 lake associations. Ibrahim said the response rate, 55 percent, was tremendous and gave a large volume of data with which to work.
“The most exciting finding was how much time and money is donated to protecting the lakes,” Ibrahim said. “Lake associations are donating in the million of dollars and hours.”
Key areas the lake associations are working in are education about aquatic invasive species, boat inspections for AIS, agriculture and non-agricultural runoff, lake usage and water quality.
“Minnesotans love their lakes and it’s a goal of many people to keep them as healthy as possible so that generation after generation can use and enjoy them,” Zabel said. “Lake associations are the leaders in lake conservation.”
Many lake association leaders hope they can work more closely with government entities such as the Department of Natural Resources in the future.
“As we learn more about the time and effort lake associations are putting into making their lakes a better resource for all lake users, we hope that all stakeholders can feel their voices are being heard as we work to protect and preserve Minnesota waters,” Marko said.
The research, funded through grants from the Minnesota Lakes & Rivers Advocates and Concordia’s Office of Undergraduate Research, now gives solid data about lake associations. It also serves another function when it comes to valuing multiple voices around a topic.
“This study is a piece of a larger academic research picture that seeks to understand how citizens can be valued in decision-making processes,” Marko said. “Our research fits into helping us understand the importance of stakeholder participation.”
Ibrahim, Marko, and the student researchers completed the project in less than nine months and have been invited to share their findings at several conferences during this academic year.