Water monitoring helping predict watershed behaviour in a changing climate

Submitted by Chris HiebertNorth Kootenay Lake Water Monitoring Project

The North Kootenay Lake Water Monitoring Project (NKLWMP) is working to improve understanding and prediction of how small- and medium-sized watersheds are going to behave in a changing climate, especially in conditions of extreme high and low precipitation.

The project has established seven hydrometric stations, two high-elevation climate stations, one low-elevation climate station and two high-elevation snow course sites on the North end of Kootenay Lake.  Stations are monitored and maintained by a combination of professional and citizen scientists. By focusing on the monitoring of streamflow and related climate variables, the results from NKLWMP will provide key data for making a range of critical conservation decisions, especially with respect to climate change.

The NKLWMP recently partnered with Living Lakes Canada and is excited to be working with LLC to foster a deeper understanding of water, climate change and healthy communities in the West Kootenays. The project has recently been working on orientating new volunteers and repairing, maintaining, and winterizing hydrometric and climate stations.

NKLWMP also presented at the Friends of Kootenay Lake Summit in Kaslo. We are now gearing up for the 2019 snow course measurements at our two high elevation stations and are working on the preparation of the first NKLWMP report, which will be available soon!

To learn more about the NKLWMP, or to become involved as a volunteer, please contact us at nklwmp@gmail.com.

NKLWMP volunteers taking snow course measurements.
NKLWMP climate station
NKLWMP volunteer at Ben Hur Hydrometric station after completing repairs.

Living Lakes Canada co-hosts CBWM Roundtable in Ottawa

On November 27 and 28, 2018 Living Lakes Canada in partnership with The Gordon Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund-Canada co-hosted a Roundtable gathering in Ottawa, ON. The goal of the Roundtable was to bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members, academia, all levels of government, First Nations and industry that are involved or interested in community-based water monitoring (CBWN). The group was invited to take part in discussing recommendations and opportunities for elevating the profile and potential support for CBWN with the federal government.

CBWN is building momentum across Canada. A recent National scan conducted by LLC, SFU and U of Acadia, showed that CBWM has grown 3-fold within 10 years (see a summary of the report’s highlights here).

Citizens, scientists, academia, government and Indigenous communities are collaborating to build local water monitoring programs with a goal to understand the state of local watersheds. CBWN is a powerful way to achieve effective water management and stewardship practices that are tailored for local conditions and capable of keeping pace with rapid environmental change.

The growth of CWBN programs across Canada presents an opportunity for the Government of Canada to simultaneously advance a number of its core priorities. There are already significant investments across Canada including programming led by Environment and Climate Change Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. To make the most of these investments, efforts are needed to ensure programming across departments is well-coordinated, and effectively address community water stewardship needs.

Participants of the Roundtable gathered to review, edit and revamp the draft recommendations for the Government of Canada. Examples of successful CBWN were presented from government, Indigenous, academia and community-led initiatives and projects across Canada.

Host organizers of the event will be reviewing and  gathering the input provided to create the final recommendations to be put forward to the Government of Canada.

Living Lakes Canada (LLC) Executive Director Kat Hartwig speaks at the Community Based Water Monitoring Roundtable gathering in Ottawa that was co-hosted by LLC, The Gordon Foundation and WWF-Canada in November 2018.
Participants at the Community Based Water Monitoring Roundtable gathering in Ottawa co-hosted by LLC, The Gordon Foundation and WWF-Canada in November 2018.

Experts collaborate on Columbia Basin Water Data Hub initiative

On November 20, 2019 in Cranbrook, B.C., Living Lakes Canada hosted an inaugural in-person Steering Committee meeting. Over 20 people attended this full-day meeting to brainstorm and share content from their expert backgrounds to help develop the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework and Data Hub Initiative.

The next steps will be pulling together the important information gathered at this meeting to develop the first draft of the Framework Initiative. 

This initiative will coordinate a collaborative, systemic guiding framework for addressing water monitoring data collection and data storage needs in the Canadian Columbia Basin. With the participation of all levels of government, including First Nations, this initiative will build upon the backbone of water monitoring data from Federal and Provincial governments. It will address identified priority water data gaps and help to prioritize the expansion of water monitoring in the Basin, including support for community-based monitoring.

This initiative will also create a cost effective open-sourced data hub that is an accessible way to store and share local, traditional, and scientific water data. This will include communication considerations, such developing analysis tools needed for interpretation so that the water data can be used effectively by decision makers, academia, and interested public.

The guiding framework will support efforts necessary for watershed stewardship through engagement, education, capacity and partnership-building. This will include providing training, mentoring, and technical support as needed. It will also work as a central funding hub to coordinate grants from various sources and distribute them to water monitoring groups and researchers who may not have the capacity to do this fundraising themselves.

The outcome is for more informed collective decision-making in efforts towards increased ecosystem resiliency and community resiliency in the face of a changing climate and development pressures.

Living Lakes Canada Executive Director Kat Hartwig (centre) at the Stewardship Committee meeting in Cranbrook on November 20, 2019.
Attendees ponder a Water Monitoring Framework and Data Hub for the Columbia Basin at a Stewardship Committee meeting in Cranbrook, B.C., on November 20, 2019.

Meet the Wild River Guardians

WWF- Canada, Heather Crochetiere

The Liard River is one of Canada’s longest wild rivers, free flowing from headwaters in Yukon Territory through northern British Columbia all the way to its mouth at the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. It is home to Indigenous communities as well as grizzly bears, bull trout and woodland boreal caribou.

Despite its importance to people and wildlife, there’s so much we don’t know about this river – from the quality of the water to how fish and bugs (benthic invertebrates) are faring. And not knowing means it’s hard to make the best land-use decisions in the watershed.

The Liard River (c) Heather Crochetiere

To fill these gaps, the Dane Nan Yḗ Dāh Guardians of the Daylu Dena Council and Dease River First Nation, Living Lakes Canada and WWF-Canada worked together this fall to start a water monitoring program for the Guardian’s stewardship program. This involved identifying new monitoring spots and training in Environment Canada’s CABIN protocol, a standardized monitoring technique.

A good monitoring spot is one that is wadeable (not above the knee) with flowing water. We chose sites that aligned both with community interests and with national monitoring needs.

© Heather Crochetiere

Raegan Mallinson from Living Lakes Canada explained how to take a proper bug sample. We looked at which species were present, and which species were not, to determine if the river is healthy.

© Catherine Paquette/WWF-Canada.

Vanessa Law and Heather Crochetiere put the bug collection techniques to the test. To get a good sample, you twist and stomp your feet to send the sediment into the net.

© Raegan Mallinson/Living Lakes Canada.

Some species, like the caddisflies seen here, are sensitive to poor water quality. When you find them in a river, it’s usually a good sign that the river is in good condition. (We found a lot of caddisflies in the Liard River watershed!)

© Catherine Paquette/WWF-Canada

The CABIN protocol involves taking measurements of the site, including water quality, depth, velocity and rock size. Here Guardian James Malone takes measurements.

© Heather Crochetiere

One of the reasons so many areas are data-deficient for benthic invertebrates in Canada is that samples are expensive and time-consuming to analyze. A taxonomist must go through and identify each bug in the sample – and there can be a lot. That’s why we’re sending the samples we collected to a lab at the University of Guelph for analysis using eDNA technology. Researchers extract all the DNA from the sample and can tell us quickly and easily which species are there. This faster and simpler method allows for better decision-making in the watershed.

© Catherine Paquette/WWF-Canada

With CABIN certification in hand, local Guardians are equipped to build their own benthic monitoring program based on community priorities and needs, with standardized results that can then be compared with other monitoring sites in the watershed.

“The whole purpose of the Dane Nan Yḗ Dāh program is to monitor what’s going on in our traditional territory,” said Corrine Porter, executive director of the Dena Kayeh Institute, which manages the program. “Being certified on the CABIN protocol will allow us to contribute valuable data for the management of our water.”

Partnerships like these are essential as we work to create a national citizen-science program for benthic macroinvertebrates that will inform national conservation decisions. To learn about your watershed, go to watershedreports.wwf.ca.

Urgent changes needed to limit climate change, says IPCC

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, the IPCC said in a new report. With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said on Monday (October 8, 2018).

The report’s full name is Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Find the IPCC press release here. 

A direct link to the report can be accessed here. 

“The way we are fighting climate change now suggests that we are in for dire times with both water quality and water quantity in Canada as well.  People still seem to think that we will be better off than the USA, but in fact most of Canada’s water is in the north while most of the people live in the south,” says LLC advisor Dr. David Schindler.

The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C.

RELATED NEWS

 

Water Monitoring in British Columbia: Scanning the Data Landscape

In 2017, members of the BC Water Funders Collaborative’s Working Group on Water Monitoring commissioned a Water Monitoring Landscape Scan to inform discussions on a shared vision for water monitoring and reporting in British Columbia.

Living Lakes Canada, along with other members of the water monitoring working group, helped guide the project, which is captured in a new report authored by Carol Luttmer, BSc (Eng), MSc. Carol is also the Program Manager of Living Lakes Canada’s Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program.

The Scan, while not intended to be comprehensive, identified over 125 water monitoring initiatives that represent a range of types of monitoring that vary in scope from monitoring at a single site to province-wide networks. Over 40 diverse data hubs, portals or databases that are sharing and/or summarizing data were also identified. Because of different monitoring objectives and organizational capacities there is no one-size-fits-all approach to water monitoring and reporting.

Click on the image to download the report.

Living Lakes Canada assists with East Kootenay lake monitoring

From September 4 – 7, 2018, Living Lakes Canada (LLC) and the BC Lake Stewardship Society (BCLSS) enlisted the help of several volunteers and local residents to collect lake quality data for five East Kootenay lakes as part of the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC)’s ongoing provincial lake monitoring program.

Water quality data is collected annually by MOECC, in both spring and fall, from lakes throughout the province. This year, LLC and the BCLSS were asked to assist with sampling in the East Kootenay region, including Windermere, Columbia, Whiteswan, Premier and Moyie lakes.

MOECC staff taught volunteers the sampling protocol used for the fall sampling project. First, temperature and dissolved oxygen were measured in the lakes using a 100-metre sonde. This data was used to determine the different “layers” of water that would be sampled. Next, composite water samples were collected to be analyzed for chemistry, nutrients, chlorophyll a, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and mussel larvae. This process took the team of volunteers between 2-6 hours for each lake that they sampled.

Monitoring for all of these parameters helps summarize the current ecological productivity of a lake, which is important knowledge for water quality and fisheries management. By monitoring every year in spring and fall, the lake data will show if and how these lakes may be changing over time.

This project was a great example of collaboration between community and government, and demonstrated how community-based water monitoring groups can play a more active role in provincial water monitoring programs.

Thanks go out to Norm Zirnhelt with the BCLSS for training the LLC staff and directing the fall field sampling. Special thanks also to the volunteer boat drivers who committed their time and efforts for this lake sampling: Gavin Jacobs (Lake Windermere Ambassadors), Dave Rae (Columere Park Community), Tracy and Glenn Flynn (Columbia Lake Stewardship Society/East Kootenay Wildlife Association), and Mike Labrie (Eagles Nest RV Resort).

Living Lakes Canada delivers CABIN training in the Liard River Watershed

The Dene Nan Yedah Guardian Program celebrate graduating the 2-day CABIN field practicum in the Liard River Watershed hosted by Living Lakes Canada in partnership with WWF-Canada for the Den Kayeh Institute.

The Kaska Dena nation has lived along the Liard River for thousands of years. They currently have an Indigenous Guardian Program called the Dene Nan Yedah program, which monitors moose, caribou, grizzly bear, fish, and protects high cultural use areas. Guardians act as the eyes and ears on their land, collecting important environmental data and enforcing traditional laws. Up until recently, the Dene Nan Yedah program did not include a water monitoring component.

On September 24/25, Living Lakes Canada trained the Dene Nan Yedah Guardian Program in the Environment and Climate Change Canada CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network) protocol. The original training was scheduled to occur August 21/22, but was postponed due to the infringing fires, and the community was evacuated five days later. Community members were only able to return six days prior to the rescheduled training.

Although the area was severely affected, the Lower Post communities’ resilience pushed the course forward.  

After the two-day field practicum, the Guardians – in collaboration with Living Lakes Canada and WWF-Canada – set up five CABIN stream assessment sites along the Alaska Highway from Lower Post to Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park.

The Environmental DNA (eDNA) benthic samples that were collected will be sent to the University of Guelph for meta barcoding analysis, which uses gene sequencing linked to DNA/RNA barcode libraries to allow for a faster, more complete profile of biodiversity content from very small samples. This is a made-in-Canada technology that is now moving beyond proof of concept to real world applications.

With the support of Living Lakes Canada and WWF-Canada, the Dene Nan Yedah program has now expanded to include water quality and benthic invertebrate monitoring, and this monitoring will provide adequate baseline knowledge to help ensure that developments are done in a way that does not compromise the wild status of the Liard River.    

James Malone from Good Hope Lake Guardians checks out Caddisflies during the Liard River watershed CABIN course.

Traditional monitoring for benthic invertebrates is time consuming and costly, as it requires a taxonomist to analyze the samples – eDNA helps combat this issue. Living Lakes Canada is partnering with WWF- Canada and the University of Guelph to support a national network of community based monitoring programs and/or Guardians programs that utilize eDNA technology to improve the understanding of benthic invertebrate communities in Canada.

The Dene Nan Yedah water monitoring program is one of the first to be trained using this technology through this initiative. At this stage, sampling is done with eDNA technology and traditional sampling methods to ensure accuracy.

The Dene Nan Yedah program is being implemented by the Dena Kayeh Institute on behalf of Kaska Dena communities of Good Hope Lake, Lower Post and Kwadacha.

Living Lakes Canada will be hosting  their next CABIN field practicum training with the Environmental Stewardship Initiative in Smithers, B.C. on October 11/12. The course is now open to community members who are interested in becoming certified in the CABIN protocol. The course is running as a Field Assistant level – training in data collection only; online modules can be completed up to 2 years after. For further information or questions about CABIN field practicums, email raegan@livinglakescanada.ca.

Health of Pacific Coastal watershed revealed for first time

VICTORIA, Sept. 11, 2018 – Despite significant signs of stress in some southern sub-watersheds, the Pacific Coastal basin – stretching from Vancouver Island to Yukon Territory – has been found to be currently in good health overall based on new monitoring results from 33,074 monitoring sites reporting on water quality, water flow, fish and benthic invertebrates.

The finding provides an important baseline for a region ravaged by wildfires, and already enduring stress from pollution, climate change and, in some sub-watersheds, habitat fragmentation.

Until now, an overall health score for the Pacific Coastal watershed couldn’t be tabulated for World Wildlife Fund Canada’s Watershed Reports due to a lack of data for water quality and benthic invertebrates (including flies, beetles, aquatic worms, snails and leeches). While nearly two-thirds of Canada’s watersheds are data-deficient for health indicators, the lack of data in this region was especially worrisome since southern sub-watersheds in B.C. experience a high level of stress.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published new water quality data last year, and WWF-Canada worked in partnership with both Living Lakes Canada and ECCC, with the support of Loblaw Company Ltd., to collect benthic samples that were then analyzed and assessed alongside previously collected data using WWF-Canada’s Watershed Reports methodology.

Elizabeth Hendriks, WWF-Canada’s vice-president of freshwater conservation, says: “Given the growing stress of climate change, it’s essential for wildlife – like salmon and other fish that move between freshwater and ocean ecosystems – and for communities that depend on access to fresh water that we maintain the health of these rivers and streams. While overall this finding is good news for B.C., when we look at the level of stress in southern subwatersheds, we know we can’t expect continued good health overall without a strong commitment to freshwater conservation. We’re on borrowed time now.”

Kat Hartwig, executive director of Living Lakes Canada, says: “Thanks to a growing network of community-based monitoring groups across the country and a robust baseline of data, we will be better able to track how events like this summer’s wildfires are changing conditions in our watersheds. With data baselines and trends, we will be better positioned to make science-based decisions and take the appropriate and necessary actions to safeguard the freshwater ecosystems.”

About the Pacific Coastal basin:

• This area is home to important freshwater-dependent wildlife including chinook and sockeye salmon (many populations of which are at-risk), grizzly and spirit bears, river otters, the coastal tailed frog (special concern), white sturgeon (endangered), western painted turtle Pacific Coast population (endangered).

• The overall health has been assessed as “Good” with many of the sub-watersheds scoring “Very Good.”

• Climate change is adding a high level of stress to the region, while pollution is adding a moderate level of stress. Why community-based monitoring?

• Canada’s geographic diversity and low density makes comprehensive monitoring networks a challenge to maintain. Community-based monitoring programs are far more nimble, with the potential for more comprehensive reach.

• WWF-Canada and Living Lakes Canada are championing community-based water monitoring (CBWM) as an efficient approach to fill national data gaps for watershed health indicators, and is calling for the Government of Canada to support CBWM by increasing resources and incorporating its data into national databases.

 

Groundwater workshop presented to Windermere, B.C. residents

Dr. Gilles Wendling presenting information on aquifer and groundwater conditions to a group of citizens near Windermere.

In August 2018, Living Lakes Canada hosted a workshop on groundwater for a group of about 20 residents near Windermere, B.C. Residents had approached Living Lakes Canada because they were concerned that some domestic wells in their area were going dry.

Living Lakes Canada collaborated with GW Solutions to produce a 3-Dimensional Conceptual Model of the aquifers in the area. At the workshop, Dr. Gilles Wendling (GW Solutions) presented the model results and residents also learned about the BC Water Sustainability Act, the BC Groundwater Protection Regulation and Living Lakes Canada’s Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Project.

Residents shared local information about historical and current surface water and groundwater conditions so that we can get a better understanding of water resources in the area. Following the workshop, residents worked with Living Lakes Canada and Dr. Gilles Wendling to identify wells that could be suitable for monitoring in Living Lakes Canada’s Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program.