BVU Professor Uses Lakeshore Laboratory to Make Students Stewards of the Environment

Dr. Benjamin Maas, assistant professor of environmental science and geology, takes regular water samples for City of Storm Lake. The work is part of his quest to improve the lake's health and clarity.

Dr. Benjamin Maas grew up in Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

Seems fitting he’s found a home away from home at Buena Vista University, founded on the shores of Storm Lake.

Maas makes the most of his 3,200-acre lakeshore lab, often taking students to the lake for studies on turbidity, nitrate, chloride, and sediment loads.

He’s keenly aware of the lake’s health and what it means to the environment, his campus, and his adopted hometown, which is named for the lake.

“The lake is our key selling point,” says Maas, who is about to begin his sixth year as assistant professor of environmental science and geology at BVU.

To do his part in guarding the community’s most vital asset, Maas aids the City of Storm Lake by taking regular samples, spending a portion of his summer standing over a Secchi disk he lowers into the water to measure the lake’s water clarity.

"The goal is to protect the watershed and the lake, preserving it for generations to come."

Dr. Benjamin Maas

“It basically tells you sediment levels floating in the lake,” he explains, noting how higher sediment amounts can limit photosynthesis, which might then limit oxygen in the water, adversely affecting fish.

The decade-plus dredging effort on Storm Lake improved lake clarity, but so has the recent invasion of zebra mussels in these waters. The invasive species could make the lake susceptible to algal blooms, a worrisome topic Maas says his students will study in the upcoming academic year.

In addition to his frequent measurements on Storm Lake, Maas collects data on Powell Creek, Little Storm Lake, West Creek, a stream informally called South 110, and Outlet Creek, which flow south from Storm Lake into the Raccoon River.

“I share these sample data and measurements with the City of Storm Lake so we have a better idea of things coming into the lake that might be affecting the lake,” says Maas, who serves as the chair of the city’s stormwater board, which reports to Keri Navratil, the city manager; Scott Bonebrake, the city public service supervisor; and Scott Olesen, the city building official.

“Okoboji is a good example of how people have gotten together, collected data throughout 20 years, and have used that data in order to work towards improving the lakes through conservation practices,” says Maas, citing Storm Lake’s neighbor to the north. “I’m hoping that by working with the DNR, the City of Storm Lake, the Lake Preservation Association, and others, that we can achieve and document similar success.”

A professor measures water clarity
A rainy and windy day wasn't enough to keep Dr. Maas from measuring water clarity, using a Secchi disk.

The goal is to protect the watershed and the lake, preserving it for generations to come.

“The lake was a draw in coming here,” he says. “I found out what Storm Lake (the city) was doing after two larger floods in 2013 and 2014, and I learned about the stormwater practices they adopted in response to the floods. These stormwater practices have resulted in less flooding in the city.”

Maas pledges to continue his efforts for the health of the water and this community. Exposing young people to this important work remains a priority in his quest to help develop graduates who go from students to stewards.