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IU SPEA Students Harness Their Skills to Improve Minnesota Lakes

July 25, 2014
Bloomington, Indiana --

Burney FischerIn 2013, Burnell Fischer, clinical professor at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, led a graduate capstone course in assisting the Hubbard County, Minnesota, Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) with lake association management. The project will continue for a second capstone in the fall of 2014 looking at lake association lake-monitoring programs.

The 2013 class completed their semester by generating a report of lake association sustainability recommendations for lake associations and the COLA. The Hubbard County COLA Board and several lake association standing committees are implementing many of the report suggestions. A publication resulting from the capstone, “Analyzing and Improving Lake Association Sustainability,” was published in the 2014 summer issue of LakeLine Magazine of the North American Lake Management Association.

Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, feels that the students provided a great service to Minnesota lakes.

“There is so much great information here,” he says of the report. “[It is] a real affirmation of what many of us already knew at a gut level. Every lakeshore owner, and lake user for that matter, should see this.”

Hubbard County COLA President Dan Kittilson believes the project will have a variety of lasting contributions in Minnesota, including helping COLAs and lake associations become more sustainable and effective. He also believes the project will enhance the Hubbard County COLA’s public relations and communications efforts, increase volunteerism, and focus attention on the important role that COLAs and lake associations can play in protecting lakes and related ecosystems. Kittilson feels that COLA has developed a positive working relationship with Indiana University and its staff.

“The Hubbard COLA embraced and took ownership of the students’ report findings and recommendations,” says Fischer, who led the class. “The COLA is now moving forward on initiatives that reflect what they learned from the capstone as part of their direction forward, without needing to even give credit to the 2013 capstone. That’s powerful to observe.”

A significant obstacle for students, Fischer adds, was the distance—serving a client 900 miles away mandated creative communication, including the use of surveys to remotely collect data.

The fall 2014 course will bring new challenges. Students will evaluate lake monitoring programs across the 29 Hubbard COLA lake management associations by studying water quality and clarity, aquatic invasive species, shoreline rules compliance and more. They will also review lake monitoring programs across more than 20 Minnesota counties. Finally, to assess government interests, they will speak with Minnesota officials at the state and county level.

Collected data will be compiled in a final report to the Hubbard COLA that will include lake protection and restoration best management strategies and guidelines for enhanced lake monitoring.

Hubbard County COLA members look forward to the fall collaboration.“[They] are very interested in participating in the second upcoming capstone project on lake monitoring,” Kittilson says. More information will be available this fall from Professor Fischer, and can be found on the Hubbard County COLA website at

About Burnell Fischer:

Burnell Fischer is an expert on natural resource governance and policy. A clinical professor at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, he is also the co-director of the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. He earned his Ph.D. at Purdue University in 1974. He has been a member of the SPEA faculty since 2005.

story by Amanda Nurre