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Blue ThumbSeptember 23, 2014 – Volunteers from central and western Oklahoma converged on Blue Thumb Conference at Arcadia Lake on Sept. 19-20 to celebrate 20 years of water quality monitoring and education through Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s (OCC) Blue Thumb Program.

Conference attendees met with field leaders in water and soil science, learned about the latest technologies in urban and rural natural resource management and enjoyed kayaking and nature walks. Awards were also presented to exceptional Blue Thumb volunteers and a group of middle school students who published a children’s book on water quality.

“These volunteers are collecting real, credible water quality data. The work of everyday citizens has the potential to change the landscape of water resource management,” said Mike Bira, US EPA Oklahoma Nonpoint Source Program manager.

Founded in 1992, Blue Thumb provides free training and equipment to more than 200 volunteers who monitor the health of more than 100 Oklahoma streams. The program also provides teaching tools for educational outreach at community events and schools.

“Professional water quality monitors review every piece of data collected by our volunteers to insure accuracy and quality,” said Jeri Fleming, OCC environmental programs manager. “Our volunteer data collection goes beyond being a valuable educational exercise—it’s a decision making tool for policy makers.”

Blue Thumb volunteers come from all walks of life and often have little to no professional scientific background. By supplying tools such as rapid habitat assessment and macroinvertebrate identification sheets, Blue Thumb is able to turn any concerned citizen into a scientist during one of its weekend trainings held throughout the year.

“Anyone can volunteer, anyone can make a difference. Our volunteers are teachers and students, military personnel and farmers—you name it. They have different backgrounds, but they’re scientists at heart, and they care, they really care about Oklahoma and our environment,” said Cheryl Cheadle, OCC Blue Thumb coordinator and founder.

Blue Thumb’s next training event is scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11 in Tulsa. Learn more at www.bluethumbok.com.