Alaskan college senior returns from Minnesota expedition to test water quality

Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 9:19 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On June 28, 2022, two Alaskan siblings embarked on an expedition to test water quality in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest.

The two siblings have now returned from their 30-day journey and Chloe Steiner, the expedition lead, is using her data to help the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as well as the Forest Service to add to their management practices on user impacts to help water quality.

Steiner and her brother, Clay, canoed the longest continuous route in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota to collect water quality data. The route was the same one fur traders took hundreds of years ago. According to Steiner, this body of water is claimed to be some of the cleanest water in the world.

The reason Steiner’s 30-day journey was completed by canoe is that the Boundary Waters is a designated wilderness area, so there can be no motorized vehicles of any kind. When it was all said and done, the pair canoed across 250 miles and tested 35 lakes, all in the name of environmental preservation.

“We tested dissolved oxygen, turbidity, temperature, and then we rated the physical condition and recreational suitability of the lakes,” Steiner said.

Turbidity, Steiner explains, is a way to measure the relative clarity of a liquid. She starts by lowering a white disk into the water, then tests the depth of how far the disk can go under the water surface before disappearing from sight.

Sounds easy enough, she says, but conditions must be perfect.

“We weren’t able to test some of the lakes because it was a lot windier than expected,” Steiner said. “In order to test turbidity, you have to have perfect glass water. Even if it’s a little bit windy, you aren’t able to test.”

Before setting out, Steiner spent six months of extensive planning to make this trip happen. In that planning, Steiner put together a nearly 65-page report focusing on her project proposal and risk management.

That doesn’t mean she was able to eliminate all bumps in the road. Steiner recalled a night when she and Clay were forced to shelter from a storm.

“That was definitely what impacted our trip and my emotions the most, was weather and the storms we went through,” she said. “I realized that you never truly understand the comfort of your home until you’re squatting in the woods in the middle of the night in the hail.”

But through all the highs and lows, excitement and boredom, Steiner said she was happy to be able to share the experience with her brother.

“Getting to play a bunch of games and laugh a lot with my brother in the tent every night was something I would look forward to every day after 20 miles of paddling in the sun,” Steiner said.

Steiner said she is proud to say everything went according to plan and if she had to do one thing differently, she simply wished she had a lighter canoe.

Her full analysis won’t be completed until the fall semester, but she said she can’t wait to see how her findings will help to better manage boundary waters and be able to compare it to current practices.

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