Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance Proves the Power of Citizen Science

At the crossroads of property values and natural resources stands citizen science, a place where people passionate about their homes gather together to preserve and protect. They are not widely known as first responders, and they certainly don’t wear badges. They do, however, respond when called, and they make a difference every day.

One citizen scientist making a difference is Donna Swall, Executive Director for Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance (LOWA). Swall became a property owner at the lake 38 years ago and, like so many others, moved here full-time after a long career. But, she wasn’t ready to retire; Soon after moving, she contacted Jeff Green with Ameren to volunteer for the Shoreline Cleanup. That conversation set her on a path that is making a difference for us all.

Swall revealed to Green she had experience with a watershed group in Kansas City. That revelation led to an invitation to attend Department of Natural Resources (DNR) meetings involving 18 local, state, and federal agencies and partners who had joined together to gauge interest in starting a citizen led watershed group for the Lake of the Ozarks. This was because watersheds all over the nation were facing an ever-growing crisis of pollution to watersheds, their native flora, fauna, and aquatic life as well as detrimental damage to the economic, social, and environmental health to these watersheds. LOWA’s creators were inspired to take a proactive approach to their watershed and its planning and LOWA was incorporated on August 3, 2006.

Jay Nixon and Donna Swall shaking hands

Former Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon and LOWA Executive Director, Donna Swall celebrate the largest ever funding for water quality testing at Lake of the Ozarks.

As LOWA was formed Donna Swall stepped forward as the leader of this new organization and has led it to be one of only two Missouri watershed plans approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

As LOWA was created it solicited input from residents of the lake and determined the top 6 priorities of concern. The 6 concerns became the 6 Elements of LOWA and included:

Each of these elements is a vital part of the LOWA mission, and each provide a combined effort of direction and assistance to the watershed and its stakeholders. LOWA works to correct actions of the past, maintain a healthy lake, and promote smart future growth for generations to come.

LOWA has worked tirelessly to promote their mission to keep their healthy lake healthy and has brought over $2 million in grant money to the Lake. The countless hours performed by volunteers and staff, as well as sponsorships and donations by individuals, businesses and community partners have all helped to make the LOWA mission possible.

LIL is the acronym used by LOWA.  It stands for “low impact landscaping”, a program through which homeowners can get up to $1,000 in grant funds to reduce storm water from entering the lake on their property. The purpose of these LILs is to minimize the damaging effect of water run-off into the Lake of the Ozarks by incorporating various techniques of landscaping.  Storm water runoff is widely considered to be a major contributor to lake pollution.

In 2021, the LOWA LIL program is teaming up with Missouri Extension’s Master Naturalist and the Master Gardeners to help homeowners develop beautiful, low maintenance landscaping or rain gardens. All the low impact measures are aimed at reducing the contaminating effects of storm water and other runoff.  LOWA encourages property owners to use LILs through a cost-share incentive program. With the help of a LOWA LIL, property owners can reduce the amount of runoff containing sediment and other contaminants from reaching the lake.  In this way, together, LOWA, its partners, and the community help to Keep Our Healthy Lake Healthy.

Donna Swall, The Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance

Headshot of Donna SwallDonna has also served the communities in which she lived through various volunteer capacities. She was a Special Events Coordinator for local community fair that was host to approximately 20,000 people over a 3 day weekend. She has served as a Girl Scout Leader, President of Council of PTA, PTSA for Eight Schools.   Prior to becoming Executive Director of LOWA, she held a similar position as the Special Events Coordinator/ Fundraiser for Blue River Watershed Assoc. wherein she worked with business to sponsor efforts to clean up the Blue River.  Donna has also organized events for approx 10,000 students in the Kansas City area over a 5 year period for the Kansas City Clean Streams Program and Water Celebrations. Donna is proud to have owned a lake home for 40 years and looks forward to making a positive difference in the Lake Area.

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