SALT LAKE CITY — If you're facing a list of honey-dos this summer and need an excuse to get out on the boat instead, Utah State University's Water Quality Extension is ready to provide the perfect excuse.

Volunteer monitors are being recruited by the university to measure the clarity levels in any of Utah's lakes this summer, preferably using a motorized boat, kayak or canoe.

USU only asks that you do it as much as possible beginning in May and through September after being trained to use a Secchi disk, which is lowered into the water. The point at which the disc is no longer visible is then documented on a measuring tape attached to the disk.

"It is a pretty easy and quick measurement for people out on a boat," said Laura Hines, USU water quality extension program manager.

The clarity levels in a lake can change from month to month, depending on the level of recreational activity or nutrient load in the waters. More nutrients boost the amount of algae, which then decreases water clarity.

"It indicates to some degree the health of the lake," Hines said.

"If the data is collected throughout the summer, we get a picture of how the clarity is changing throughout the season," she added. "If we do it year by year, we get an idea of what is happening over time."

Now in its eighth year, the volunteer survey turns over the data to the Utah Division of Water Quality, which can use that information as an indicator if additional water quality studies are needed for a particular lake.

A pilot program launched last year also relied on volunteers to collect water samples and monitor for E. coli bacteria, which indicate fecal contamination.

"We were able to prove to them (water quality and health officials) that citizen monitors could take data accurately and successfully," Hines said.

Last year's experimental sampling has expanded into a more ambitious undertaking this summer, with 33 high-priority lakes designated for E. coli monitoring because of robust recreational use.

The E. coli sampling, which requires additional training, should be done at least five times over the summer — at least once a month but ideally at least twice a month.

Hines said that effort is being led by the water quality division in collaboration with the state health department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USU's water quality extension program.

For more information about becoming a volunteer monitor, call Hines at 435-797-2580 or e-mail laura.hines@usu.edu.

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com