Eli Kersh is on a quest to put better data into the hands of lake managers so they can implement effective and efficient lake management plans to improve and preserve lake health. His company, LakeTech, has developed a unique data management platform and consultancy to support citizen scientists, professional lake managers and municipalities.
LakeTech works with clients to provide affordable deployed water monitoring solutions, easy access to continuous data, and consultation on management and remediation strategies. Demo their platform at my.laketech.com.
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Empowerment is a word we hear a lot these days, especially as it relates to technology, big data, the internet of things, I all have the potential to empower us to achieve more with greater ease and efficiency when it comes to management, empowerment is Eli Kirk's mission. His company, lake tech, provides a wide range of services, tools and products to help lake managers improve and maintain lake health. The company also offers the lake tech platform, a software program designed to streamline monitoring, track operations and maintenance activities and simplify evaluation and reporting. In short, like tech, co-founder and President Eli Kirsch is on a quest to empower anyone from municipal resource overseers to professional lake managers, to novice citizen scientists to develop a sustainable lake management program that turns data into action. Hi, everyone, welcome to aqua pod, where we share water monitoring stories from the field, I'm Helen Taylor, content manager with in situ. I'm Terry kaslow, Institute's application development manager for surface water. And our guest today is Eli Kirsch, president of Lake tech, a California based company that has developed one of a kind platform to support citizen scientists, professional lake managers and municipal entities charged with maintaining the health of private and public lakes and reservoirs. The company also helps clients develop lake management plans and the continuous monitoring solutions needed to achieve their goals. Eli, welcome to aqua pod, the somuch. I'm so excited to be here. Yeah, it's great to have you. So let's dive right in. Please tell us about Lake tech, both the business and the platform. Sure I created Lake tech in 2016 it was actually called e! Limnology back then, but no one could ever spell that. So I changed the name just recently to Lake tech, and I feel like it actually gets the point across a little better about what we do. Sure so I'm a I'm a lake manager, mostly dealing with addressing aquatic vegetation and algae overgrowth, and my background has been in this work, working with basically contractors that specialize in remediating lakes. And in 2016 I created a consulting firm that evolved into what we are today, which is kind of a hybrid. So we do consulting, but we also get very hands on with our clients, and we've developed a platform which takes the data that we collect, but tries to put that in a form that's more easily usable by the general public, where they can truly use the data to evaluate what they're doing to manage those lakes, as well as to evaluate any products and technology that they're purchasing to use and really make sure that what they're buying is working. So, Eli, it sounds like that platform is really meeting a need for people who need more than just the data. Can you give us a little bit more detail on how it works? Yeah, the way we created Lake tech is it relies heavily on the real time data that we collect or lab data that we collect. But we've developed a platform that allows us to overlay the other real world activities and geospatial information so that we can look at the data directly in relation to when different equipment was turned on or off, when different types of maintenance activities may have been performed. And it allows you to then visualize a bigger picture of the data and really look at that one graph and see very clearly what was the response to the activity that we've taken. And we've done that with chemical applications to control algae, aeration systems, fountains, erosion, restoration work, and you can start to see how those parameters have changed. And we've seen lots of situations where you can turn on an aerator and determine very quickly that it's either undersized or the equipment doesn't do what the manufacturer had intended. And that may be an installation issue or just that. That piece of equipment is not the right fit for that water body, but it makes it much easier for general public citizen scientists municipalities where they don't necessarily have biologists on staff or lake experts on staff, and to more clearly visualize the data without having to download a bunch of extra data sets and find out how to use, Excel and export data from this platform to that platform. So lake tech, it's really designed to help the general public streamline all those additional bits and pieces that are usually an obstacle to doing good evaluation work. So really, it sounds like you're using these pieces of monitoring equipment to really define success or failure of a system and then kind of alter the program as you see fit. That's exactly right, you know, in one of the hardest problems that I think I have in this industry is explaining what lake management is. Management is it's a verb and it's not lake fixing. And so a lot of people expect that they're I'm going to show up and just tell them that one thing they have to do. Here's the silver bullet. The secret, I know. And so lake tech is really a great tool that demonstrates that this is what management is about vigilance, persistence, patience, sometimes guessing and testing, you know, right? Doing science. This tool ultimately is designed so that a customer in a lake setting can implement what we call an integrated pest management approach, IPM, which is we identify the past. We figure out why is this pest thriving in this environment? Then we think about how we can maybe manipulate that environment or manipulate that pest. And there's different tactics. We can do physical controls. We we can introduce other biological organisms, we can do cultural controls, we can shade the water with dive, we can use chemicals. So there's all these things we can do. But those are just like pest control. They're not integrated pest management. And that integrated pest management is a systematic process where you identify the pest, you choose a control strategy, you monitor and then you evaluate. And too often we've seen in Lake management that people say they're doing an IPM, but there's no monitoring. And there's no evaluation. And I think people miss that IPM is not. I'm doing lots of different things to control. The pest IPM is an adaptive approach to monitor and evaluate. And so Logitech is that tool that allows us to more clearly evaluate and monitor and be adaptive and adjust as we need to. Like we said, is it the right product? Am I using enough of that product? Too little, too much and then continually make improvement because management is a dynamic and ongoing adaptive process? So when you say pest, what are some of these tests that you're talking about? Because I think the bugs? Yeah, me too. Yeah, my brother, the pests in lakes. You know, I think most people would agree. The pest is algae and primarily harmful algae blooms cyanobacteria. But really, I mean, the official definition of a pest is any organism that's a place you don't want it to be. So some man's pest is another man's native plant. But we, you know, sometimes even native plants can get out of control over grow. We see a lot of that in California. These native fern plants called Izola mosquito fern and in high nutrient areas, and especially with the way that climate has been changing with mild winters, these plants just grow year round and they will smother lakes. And so that's a major pest we deal with here. Primarily, though algae, I think, is what most people think of or invasive plants. So this isn't just purely aesthetic, right? I mean, there's real damage that can be done. Yeah, there is real damage that can be done when we manage lakes. You know, we talk about the function in the form of a lake. So like, when we're developing an IPM program with a client? There's a threshold where we start to have a certain pest. Once it reaches a certain amount, then we take action. And that's part of our plan. Part of our rapid response plan. And that's directly related to what's the function, what's the form of that pond? If a winery calls me and they have a tasting room, that threshold is pretty low. But if it's an irrigation pond on an orchard, they just need to make sure that their pumps don't get clogged and they can irrigate their crop. And so it's a very different approach to management and. A very different set of tools that we implement in Lake tech to visualize those results in that monitoring data so that they know when it is, they need to start implementing the tactics and strategies for management that we've set out for them. Where where the program has really evolved into now is a great tool for municipalities again, that they don't. A lot of them don't have biologists on staff or especially lake experts. And so what we have found is that we can be those lake experts and outsourced lake expert and train the staff on how to do different management and then provide them this tool to keep them on track and keep them organized. And help them do the evaluation and the monitoring. And then essentially, we're able to assist those municipalities because we're kind of almost like an external supervisor. I can see all the field logs I can help them make determinations on. Did they use the right product? Did they use it at the right time? Did they use enough? Not enough. And we can help them by seeing all of the data on the back end and being that kind of consultant, that lake management consultant training them on how to implement an IPM management program. So it sounds like you cover really a lot of different groups, a lot of different categories there. Is there a typical sensor deployment or does it really vary across each of these different groups? What are you seeing with that? Yeah, it definitely varies. I think with the homeowner kind of. I call them homeowners, but they're really just privately one of, you know, a person who's managing one leg. Those folks tend to do pretty low cost monitoring. And that's mostly because they don't need much a lot of times it's simple, a simple setup. It's very affordable to do two audio blues, which would be temperature and oxygen at the surface and at the bottom. And we find the deepest place in their lake where it's suitable to put a small sensor like that. And most people see a lot of value in understanding that can tell you a little bit about stratification of a lake mixing of a lake. Again, you can evaluate, is your irrigation system efficient? And that's a really simple, easy way to get involved municipalities. We typically have a regulatory component, so it's necessary to have a multi parameter probe where we're going to be looking at. We're going to be looking at electrical conductivity. And then we often do a multi depth deployment in those situations. So once you start doing a multi depth deployment, then it gets actually, that's where the fun starts. You can start putting in algae, sensors and other types of sensors throughout the water column and really start building a bigger picture of the seasonality of that lake and the different phenomena that are occurring with different weather patterns. And so I think algae is becoming a more and more interest with algae sensors becoming more widely adopted. Understanding what those results mean and interpreting those RF use in. Finding ways to. You don't necessarily have to report algae sensors as like equivalent to a lab result. And people are starting to see now that those RFU numbers are really helpful just relative to themselves. Is that number going up or down? And how does that number fluctuate throughout the day throughout the season? And I think at first, algae sensors were a lot of people brushed them off as not accurate or not, and therefore not useful. And I think people are starting to finally see that in and of itself. It's a really valuable monitoring device. So the data you're collecting is useful both for trend analysis, but also being able to respond in real time to what's happening in the lake. Yeah, absolutely. As I mentioned with an IPM program of the steps, there's identifying the past, monitoring the pest and then an assessment which is, you know, have we reached that concentration or abundance that warrants us performing a given action and having that sensor with a pest like algae that can explode in 24 hours? If you know that that's a potentially harmful or toxic algae being able to see that in real time and then implement a predetermined rapid response plan. The very next day or in two days, that's going to really make a big difference than if you had to wait a week or two weeks and then the problem can be vastly more difficult to get control of. So you also mentioned, too, that you have a lot of deployments where you have a monitor at the top of a water column. And then also at the bottom, and I know a lot of people probably thinking of algae as just being at the surface. So why is it important to monitor at a few different levels through your water body? Yeah, that's exactly right. I think understanding some fundamentals of lakes is key and monitoring the bottom of the lake. It's really kind of where all the problems begin, and there are certain types of algae that grow on the bottom and break loose and rise up. Or cyanobacteria can actually buoyancy, regulate and move up and down in the water column. So if you are monitoring without sensors, that can be really helpful. But you know, lakes, a lot of lakes we deal with have depleted oxygen at the bottom anoxic or hypoxia, which is low dissolved oxygen levels. And when those conditions arise, different chemical reactions occur in the sediments in the soils, and they release nutrients, which ultimately fuel algae growth. So, you know, having even just the simple oxygen sensor at the top and the bottom can inform what's taking place there. What other? What other phenomena might be occurring? Are we having release of phosphorus into the water column? But also, as we discussed, you know, is that a result of an irrigation system not being in the right place, not being the right size? So there's a number of ways you can use the same sensor to glean a lot of different information about a lake. So going along with your samples, I know you've mentioned before that you collect a lot of grab samples, are you doing correlation between your real time data and those grab samples? Not at the moment. It is actually. It's on our list. We we would like to have a little calculator actually where you can put in. In fact, I'm sending an algae sample out today for the sensor I deployed yesterday, and our plan is to basically attempt to correlate the micrograms per liter of the algae in the sensor readings. So yesterday's reading was 500 refugees, which I think is the highest I've ever seen. It was pretty bad out there. I'll just say, you know, people always say like, oh, Eli, you have such a cool job and got all these boys and boats. It's like, yeah, it's true. Nobody calls me to go and hang out at a beautiful, nice lake colony because it smells or it's, you know, their dog is in the hospital. Mean, it's always. It's always bad. So you're there to fix it. This leg. Definitely took the cake yesterday, and it was not. It was not pleasant. So with a deployment like the one that you just installed yesterday, what is the typical deployment look like for you? Or are you using a bunch of booties or using like a fixed Mount deployment type? What does that look like? Yeah, know, there was a lot of experimentation with boys, but we found a really simple setup now where our primary, our most common deployment is a very simple. It's a mooring buoy. It happens to have a 2 inch hole that goes right through it, which is perfect for review link. We don't want to give away all my secrets, right? But the viewing can go right through there. A hose clamp keeps it from falling straight through the boy. I've learned that to use the hose clamp because diving into a lake and getting a few leaks from the bottom of the lake, is it fun? I've done that, too. But then we, you know, we have an anchor on the boy. And what we've found was Thanks to Brock actually in chatting with you and Brock that one time we now use mid-water floats, which we have a number of different types of floats that we use small, smaller buoys that we attach to the anchor line at specific depths under the water. And then if I attach my sensors to those boys, I know that sensor is always at the same depth, regardless of the surface elevation of the water. So my antenna on my buoy can go up and down in the water. But my sensors always stay in the same place. And so a common one we've seen is with wineries. They have a multi parameter probe at top because they have to comply with certain regulatory requirements. And then we have a splitter that runs down to a level sensor, which we have in a fixed depth at the bottom of the lake. And that's because they have to report on water usage, especially if they're diverting water from any sort of a Creek or surface water setting. And so our platform then one of the great things about our platform and using that to set up with the level sensor, we're one of the only folks out there, I believe, who convert level to volume. And we do that by doing a simple, low cost map of the lake. And we create what's called a hipster graphic curve, which is essentially a storage capacity of the elevation versus volume. And then we can, in Lake tech, report pressure from that sensor as depth and cross-reference that with volume on a graph. And so we can actually report how many gallons of water do you have in your lake at any given day? So that's a pretty common deployment for us. So for those who aren't familiar, what does view link and how does that help with your deployments? Viewing has changed my life. I mean, like, I know I'm going to sound like I work for four Institute here. But when I started down that way for just a second, yeah, go ahead of you link. Is it telemetry device? So telemetry is an antenna. Telemetry is a fancy word, which just means a cell phone antenna, and it is so simple to use and affordable that like honestly, when I tell customers about buying sensors basically, like forced them to buy it, I mean, it's to not use it and pay almost the same amount of money to have a Bluetooth thing that you can walk up. You can connect with your phone. I mean it it's really changed the game for us. When I started doing this type of work, I would have a giant outdoor box with some batteries in it and a modem and a solar panel and. You know, and then I'd have to like hand wire in sensors into a control board and it would cost an arm and a leg and you know, and attention to detail is not my strong suit. So I'd always have to go back and rewire things. This is literally just push button. You know, we do everything on our phones and this allows me to do everything on my phone. That's what actually, when I transfer to start using in-situ equipment was the smartphone, which was now an obsolete piece of equipment. But prior to the smartphone, I was in the field with a turbidity meter, a D0 probe, a pH pen, a salinity scope and a GPS device. And a friend of mine from the East Bay Regional parties district had bought a smartphone and told me about it, and I immediately bought one. And I've never gone back since to be able to have all of my parameters in one device. But more importantly, just like in my hand on my phone and upload that to Google drive, email it to a customer. And the viewing has taken that even one step further, which is now I don't even have to be there. I mean, you know, we often used to just get by with going out to a lake once a week, once a month, once a quarter and doing a depth profile and grabbing some grab samples. And that was expensive. That costs a lot of money to send a staff member all the way out to the lake to drive there, get in the boat. And it's I actually started installing these boys in the beginning, just free to demonstrate to people that for the same cost as having me come to your lake once a month, I can put this here and come quarterly to calibrate it or change the batteries once a year. The quality of the data is so much better. I mean, to be able to see those diurnal patterns from morning to night, how oxygen changes with algae and pH fluctuates throughout the day and temperatures changing. It's really changed the game. I mean, that really was what made lake tech. What it is today was to have that affordable tool and to be able to. I mean, I literally was on the phone this morning with a homeowner in San Luis obispo, and I, she kayaked out to her booth and I helped her change the battery and do a test upload, and she'd never seen one before and never used the app before. And within 20 minutes, we were done. She was back kayaking around for fun in the morning on her beautiful lake. That's great. Yeah but what other opportunities are you seeing out there right now for your products and your services? You know, well, the company, we're really glad we rebranded the company as Lake tech. Not only can people spell it, but it really gets at what we want to accomplish. I think that. The traditional way that our industry of Lake management has been is these contractors, which are specialized kind of landscaping kind of companies and contractors that do this management of lakes. But there's a really big appetite of people who are the desires. They want to do it themselves. And so we've seen not just the monitoring component as a way in the lake tech platform, as a way for people to. Take the power, take the control over themselves and be the guide for them to help them implement their own programs. So but we're actually looking at a lot of other technology and we're working with a couple other people where we will be able to have some autonomous equipment, some remote controlled equipment so things people can rent and get delivered and make maps, collect algae, scoop up algae, harvest aquatic plants and invasive species. So we're starting to kind of implement kind of a very complete package program where people can basically the lake tech van will show up one day and open the doors and you can pick your tools that you need, you know, and then continue driving on to the next lake. Our objective is not to be the manager, but to help teach them how to manage. And so we're always on the lookout for exciting new tools that can meet those needs of our customers. How did you get into this line of work? What tell us a little bit about your background? You know, well, I studied geography in undergraduate, and I ended up actually a crime analyst for the Oakland Police Department. Oh Wow. And I was making maps about. Crime and I can remember vividly sitting in my cubicle and I leaned back in my chair prior to that prior to being doing jazz. I was a kayaking guide and fishing guide. I used to work on the Channel Islands and Santa Barbara, and I just I lived in a life vest and flip-flops for most of college. I remember sitting in this cubicle making my maps, and I leaned back in my chair and I looked around and I just went. How did this happen? How did I wind up here? And I had a vision of being in a boat and collecting water samples. So I just found the nearest college that had a graduate program and a program that had an aquatic biology. Lakes, lakes studying program. I actually found a school here, CSU East bay, which used to be California State University Hayward. They had a couple limnology professors, but they didn't have a limnology program. So I did kind of make your own choose your own adventure program at the school. I finished the program and immediately just sent out a bunch of emails to Lake management companies. And one guy replied back and said, yeah, we'd be interested in like an environmental manager or a service manager. I still have good, good friends with that company and that boss. We still chat regularly. He called me the other day to ask if I would do some diving inspection for him. And yeah, so I got involved with. The company was called aquatic environments. It's since been bought out and they've become a different company. But yeah, I mean, I got involved there and was kind of the one who was not just doing some of the hands-on technical work. I mean, we would I drive an aquatic weed harvester? I got my pesticide application licenses, but I was also in charge of writing permits or doing permit compliance. So it was a really great opportunity. I mean, I got to kind of say like, start at the bottom and work your way up. And I got to really get my hands on all facets of Lake management, building aerators, fixing fountains, collecting water samples. The science part was always something I gravitated toward. I really enjoyed the monitoring and the problem solving, trying to determine the causes of these problems. And it's a great industry. There's a lot of great people to work with, a lot of great people to learn from. And so that's really where I started. And then I actually my business partner, worked for an engineering firm, and he used to have to audit aquatic environments, audit the work we would do. And that's when we came up. That's when we envisioned lake tech and that was five or six years or more than that seven or eight years ago when he would say, like, where is your data? And it's like, it's in this spreadsheet here, you know? Did you make a graph? I don't know. It didn't really graph well, you know, so the data was just terrible. And that was just in a lot of companies. Lake management are like that. It's, you know, you collect some lab data you copy and paste last month to this month, maybe you update the graphs or not. The problem is customers, customers never argument. I hear often is, well, my customers aren't going to pay for that. My customers don't want to pay for data, pay for monitoring. And what lake tech does is it takes all it takes all that additional cost out of it. I mean, even just having the lab data portion of Lake tech is drag and drop feature. We're even working on a situation now where the lab can email the data directly to Lake tech, and it will update all the graphs and overlay all the data together. And so that's hours of labor that these companies were saying, well, I can't do it because no one's going to pay me to do it. And so now we've taken that out of the equation. It goes from data collection to data analysis. That was really the impetus was my business partner, Greg, looking at me and saying your data is terrible. Let's fix that. So I know that I'm a super visual learner, visual person. So you've been describing a lot of these things that your company does as far as these graphing tools and whatnot, is there somewhere that. Folks like me could actually see a demo of what it is that you guys are doing. Absolutely yeah, what is today is April 20th, 2022 for the record and anybody listening in months from now. But next week we're releasing version 2 is coming out a new and improved LaTeX. And if you go to lake, that is our Customer Portal where you can log in and see a demo and we have data in there, you can make graphs, you can look at the real time weather and overlay some sense, some real time sensors that we have deployed. I actually have a property where there is a lake, and so we'll be installing sensors on that link just for the demonstration account. Of course, then I get sensors in my own lake, which is kind of cool. It's actually the lake that I wrote my master's thesis about. I wrote a management plan on this lake, and years later, one of the homeowners called me and basically did me a really great favor and sold me their A property there so I could also live on the lake myself. So I'm not only the president, I'm also a member. That's great. Regarding the algae, is it becoming more of a problem or are people just more aware of it or both? I think it's a little bit of both, honestly. I mean, it's definitely becoming more of a problem. I mean, just factually, we're having in the West where I live here in California. You know, we've had a lot of drought issues. We're having lots of developments still occurring in lots of places. And so I think there's a part of it, which is. People, people are paying attention to it more because they're hearing about it more in the news, and it might have been something they walked past the walked around the lake every day with their dog and ignored the scams or didn't really notice the scams. And now they're starting to notice, the more so I think there is a part of that. But you know, folks that as you guys know that work in the environmental industries, whether it's groundwater or surface water, we see climate change making an impact. I see it every year in terms of plants that used to not be growing in November or December. Plants that didn't use to survive the winter. Now, growing year round, you know, algae, algae season starting earlier and earlier. Every every winter. And we hear this working with our customers. I work with one of my customers, an irrigation district, and they use certain chemicals to treat the irrigation water. And just today, he called me and he said, I'm really worried. You know, I usually used to not have to start doing anything until June, and I've already started my program this year. And that's two months earlier, and that's going to really change their budget. It's going to really change their staffing and their schedules. And so that's the situation where we're starting to think about what are some alternative strategies, what are some other things that we need? Let's let's bring out the big guns. Let's be thinking about dredging jobs and other maintenance, repair, jobs and things that we can do in those canals because we're in a new world, a new management, what we used to do last year or five years ago or 10 years ago. It's just not going to cut it anymore. So slate tech only focused in California, or are you trying to expand? No, we. That's the beauty of it, is that, you know, I mean, I can put my sensors in a box and ship them anywhere. I literally shipped three sensors to Israel. Just recently, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin. We've got some pretty exciting really, really large projects coming up, and we're going to be really excited to get a bunch more boys out there. One of the things we really want to start working on is supply maps. So one of the things we've been developing right now is maps, where we have five or six sensors, all at different depths with algae sensors, so we can start tracking algae throughout the water column as it goes up and down and taking hourly measurements and putting that in a large graph where your y-axis is depth and x-axis is time, and you can really kind of start seeing that people do that a lot with temperature and oxygen. But we want to try to start experimenting with the data with algae sensors. So that's going to be something that I think is going to open up a lot more opportunities and places for places, for the equipment to start getting used in ways people can start using tech. Cool Eli, thank you so much for your time today. It's been really interesting to hear about Lake tech, about the Genesis of the company and where you're going with the platform and the types of customers you're working with and helping to solve pretty big problems. So thank you for sharing all of that, and we are really looking forward to staying in touch and hearing more about what the company does in the future. Yeah, thank you. I think it's been a great strategic partnership for us. You guys have been a lot of fun to work with, working with everyone that I've worked with across the state, and I think that there's so much more coming in the future in the next year. I mean, every day has been exciting and new for us. I really am excited to see the way it's changing, how people are thinking about sensors and thinking about management. Great stuff. Thanks Thank you. This is Aqua Pod brought to you by in-situ. You can find more episodes and subscribe to the podcast on our website, institu or wherever you get your podcasts. Please listen, share and help us spread the word. This episode was produced by Helen Taylor, Cary kaslow and Lauren Ryan with a big assist from Josiah homeland and versus studio in beautiful Colorado. We look forward to bringing you more water monitoring stories from the field. And until then, take care out there.