When Sherry Mitchell-Bruker organized the first meeting of new environmentalist group Friends of Lake Monroe last November, only a few people came. Now the group’s membership has expanded to about 40 people.
Mitchell-Bruker, a hydrologist by training with a doctoral degree from IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, had become concerned with the quality of the lake during a kayaking trip. She also noticed that piles of trash followed the shoreline.
“I was really shocked to find out there was no watershed group to act as an advocate for the lake,” Mitchell-Bruker said. “There are multiple agencies that have responsibilities for water quality, or for the shoreline, but there was no one entity that said, ‘This lake is what’s most important.’”
Friends of Lake Monroe was established to serve as a watershed group with the intention of protecting the lake for current and future generations. Lake Monroe is Bloomington’s only source of water, so Mitchell-Bruker said it is vital to ensure this water remains safe.
Bloomington tests the quality of the lake water monthly to make sure it matches standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The tests look for disinfectant byproducts that occur as a result of having to chemically treat the lake’s water.
“Over the years we have seen problems with disinfection byproducts and what happens when you combine things like chlorine with lake water,” Mitchell-Bruker said. “If you have lake water that has a lot of sediments and natural algae and those type of things, those toxic byproducts are more likely to form.”
Mitchell-Bruker also mentioned an increase in the amount of toxic algal blooms in the lake. If swimmers come into contact with the blue-green algae, they may experience skin rashes or an allergic reaction. The blooms can also harm fish and other lake organisms.
“We’re looking to be proactive first,” Mitchell-Bruker said. “We don’t need a crisis.”
Currently, there are no known health risks from drinking the lake’s water. Mitchell-Bruker said the increasing level of toxic byproducts could raise flags for EPA standards, but that had happened in the past and the city responded accordingly. Her biggest concern is expanding the group so more people in Bloomington are aware of the issue.
“One thing that we would really like is to get more students involved,” Mitchell-Bruker said. “They bring a lot of ideas and energy to the group.”
Dave Simcox, one of several retirees in the group, said what gets him the most excited about Friends of Lake Monroe is its activism role.
“The message is whether you’re a student or a scientist or an activist or a landowner, there is a spot for you to work in an effort like this,” Simcox said. “There’s only one water source. If we don’t pay attention, no one will.”
Simcox said being part of the group means an understanding that the work will be long and involved but meaningful, too.
“The final thing is that we have to protect the water quality,” Simcox said. “We’re all in this — maybe a couple generations down the road it could be a very expensive fix if it’s not done right.”
Mitchell-Bruker said she hopes to see more leadership positions created and filled within the group, improved fundraising and the continuance of sponsoring trips to conferences and leadership training for those involved.
“By this time next year, hopefully we will have hired a grant writer and will hopefully be submitting grant proposals to the state,” Mitchell-Bruker said.