Raising awareness around the essential role of groundwater

Guest Blog submitted by Nicole Fulcher, B.C. Groundwater Protection Officer

Groundwater is an important resource and is becoming more essential for our needs and to support ecological function. In many areas in British Columbia, it is the only freshwater source and it is heavily relied on. With climate change, there is increasing uncertainty with surface water supply, and groundwater can provide a vital resource of freshwater.

However, groundwater needs to be protected, managed, and used in a sustainable way. My career and experience in environmental sciences and working with groundwater has made the importance of groundwater protection and sustainable use very clear. I am the new Groundwater Protection Officer for the West Coast Region with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and I have been working with groundwater in various roles since 2008.

 Prior to my current position, I was the Groundwater Program Lead with Living Lakes Canada on their Columbia Basin Community-Based Groundwater Monitoring Program.  This program aims to collect much-needed data on groundwater aquifers within the Columbia River Basin, and was the first of its kind to operate in British Columbia. The data collected helps make informed decisions on groundwater use within the Columbia Basin. It will also be used to assess how climate change is impacting groundwater levels within the area.

An important part of the program is to involve and empower the communities that use the groundwater through citizen-based science, outreach, and education.  I feel that community engagement and involvement is very important because groundwater protection relies heavily on how individuals manage and maintain their own wells and groundwater sources. Working with Living Lakes Canada on this program gave me better insight and experience working with water supply wells and communities that rely on them. It helped to inspire my growing interest in groundwater and helped me develop more skills in this area. Working with groundwater has been a rewarding and challenging field of work for me so far, and I look forward to settling into my new role.

My current position focuses on groundwater protection through compliance and applicable provincial regulations. Essentially, my goal is to protect groundwater sources by ensuring that groundwater wells are drilled, maintained, and operated in ways that protect the water that so many rely on.

To help protect and conserve groundwater resources, some things that you can do are:

  • be efficient with water use
  • keep your well properly capped and maintained
  • keep the well area free from debris and possible sources of contamination
  • ensure that your wells and pumps are installed and serviced by qualified professionals who are registered with the Province of British Columbia

Also, to help with groundwater conservation and informed management, you can register your domestic well so that it is considered in decisions made for authorizations to use groundwater in your area. If you have questions or concerns about your well or another well, there are many resources available via gov.bc.ca for groundwater well owners and users. Questions, concerns, and other inquiries can be directed toward FrontCounter BC at 1-877-855-3222 or to groundwater@gov.bc.ca.

Nicole Fulcher is the West Coast Region Groundwater Protection Office for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

Conference draws attention to impacted B.C. lakes

Living Lakes Canada attended and presented at the BC Lake Stewardship Society (BCLSS) Annual Conference – Understanding BC Lakes in Changing Times — that was held in Winfield, BC from October 4-6, 2019. 

The conference brought together experts around the province to discuss how climate impacts and pressures on B.C. lakes can be addressed and what can be done to preserve, protect and restore the lakes we love.

Dr. Ken Ashley, BCIT Rivers Institute

Living Lakes Canada shared information on using community-based water monitoring to understand watersheds. Year 1 milestones of the STREAM project were presented, including building momentum for a national community-based water monitoring project using the emerging technology of DNA metabarcoding in 5 watersheds across Canada.

Other LLC projects shared included Foreshore Inventory Mapping and Shoreline Development Guidance for Columbia Basin Species at Risk, Upper Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program and the Roundtable for Community-based Water Monitoring.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Ken Ashley, BCIT Rivers Institute, who spoke about the effects of climate change on lakes and fisheries, and the need to get non-point source pollutants under control to stop eutrophication of small, shallow B.C. lakes. Ashley also warned of the warming climate and the tipping of feedback loops that have already shown to have serious damage on the health of many B.C. lakes. He shared his technologies for reversing these impacts — a step, but only a band-aid to the larger problem.

Participants who attended the conference heard from experts about flood mitigation and the importance and possibilities of naturalizing shorelines; the Love Your Lake program, developed in Ontario and being implemented on Okanagan Lake; invasive mussels and the economic risk; and the provincial stewardship network and the rules of engagement. A local research study was shared on large powerboat impacts on stormwater contaminated sediments and a reminder about the importance of observational data while in the field (“follow your senses”).

Living Lakes Canada is a proud member of the BC Lake Stewardship Society. For more information on the BC Lake Stewardship Society and the great programs they offer — including LakeKeepers — visit their website: https://www.bclss.org/

 

CABIN training with the Adventure Scientists in the Columbia Valley

Living Lakes Canada is excited to be partnering with the Adventure Scientists in the Columbia Valley, BC area from September 24 to 27.

The initiative is a two-day CABIN training course adapted to include eDNA analysis for the STREAM project, followed by two days of data collection from remote lakes and streams.

“It was identified by Martin Carver in his 2017 water monitoring report that high alpine lakes in the Columbia Basin are missing a lot of data,” said Living Lakes Canada program manager Raegan Mallinson, who will be leading the training. “We want to focus on high alpine lakes and tributaries in our data collection for STREAM.”

STREAM is a three-year community-based project with the aim of collecting 1,500 bulk DNA samples from rivers across Canada to assess and monitor river health. 

By training Adventure Scientists volunteers on the national protocol for data collection, Living Lakes Canada hopes these trained volunteers will contribute to the STREAM project by collecting samples from remote tributaries that otherwise would not be included in the analysis.

Adventure Scientists is a U.S.-based non-profit organization that equips partners with data collected from the outdoors that are crucial to addressing environmental and human health challenges.

By recruiting, training and managing individuals with strong outdoor skills — such as mountaineering, diving or whitewater kayaking — they provide their partners with reliable and otherwise unobtainable data.

Up to 20 volunteers — both Canadians and Americans — will be participating in the Living Lakes Canada CABIN training and are committed to collecting samples of water-dwelling invertebrates according to the project protocol at 2-3 locations between Brisco and Canal Flats during the data collection days of the course.

“Moving forward, we’re hoping these volunteers can collect samples for STREAM in watersheds where we have already established relationships and where community-based water monitoring groups want extra support,” Raegan said.

So far this year, Living Lakes Canada has conducted courses and data collection in 5 priority watersheds for Year 1, including the Columbia Basin, the Skeena and the Peace/Athabasca in British Columbia, the Bow Valley in Alberta and Sudbury in Ontario.

To learn more, visit: https://livinglakescanada.ca/projects/cabin-edna/

COURSE RESULTS:

  • 14 volunteers & 2 Adventure Scientists staff were trained
  • 36 samples collected from 12 sites (tributaries to the Columbia River)
  • 2 days of training
  • 1 day of monitoring

 

Alberta watershed group shares CABIN training experience

Guest Blog submitted by the Ghost Watershed CABIN Team

Have to say, we thoroughly enjoyed the recent CABIN workshop in Canmore, Alberta this summer and are happy to share some highlights from our team members.

Our team was made up of three Board members (Cal, Bryne and Bob) and the Executive Director (Marina) of the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society (GWAS). The Ghost River watershed is a sub-basin of the Bow River basin, largely situated northwest of Calgary, Alberta. The westerly parts of our watershed are pristine source-water environments within protected areas while other parts, closer and more accessible to Calgary, are intensively used for random camping and off-highway vehicle trails. It is a beautiful watershed, but under growing pressure from recreation, logging and other activities.

Several of our members having science-focused backgrounds knew about the CABIN protocol, which was developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Canada-wide network offered a great opportunity for learning. 

“I became aware of this initiative from an article in the Alberta Society of Professional Biologist summer newsletter (BIOS). This article by Alexander Elliott and Raegan Mallinson of Living Lakes Canada was entitled ‘STREAM: a community-based water monitoring program’. I followed up on their website link. Marina became aware from a presentation that Kat Hartwig, Living Lakes Canada Executive Director, gave at the Bow River Basin Council Quarterly Educational Forum in June 2019. We brought this forward to our Board of Directors and decided to become involved.” (Bryne)

We came with high expectations; here’s what we were hoping to accomplish together:

  1. to learn the techniques, processes and discipline of CABIN’s science-based approach to monitoring and assessing stream health;
  2. to better understand how aquatic ecosystems are impacted by land use and human activity;
  3. to learn and practice a sampling method that lends credibility to the findings and calls for restorative action in watersheds;
  4. to provide a solid foundation upon which to design a more comprehensive, systematic multi-year monitoring framework in the Ghost watershed;
  5. to learn of the resources available to watershed groups like ours to support water quality monitoring efforts; and
  6. to be part of a nation-wide method and network that contributes knowledge about the health of Canada’s rivers and streams!

That’s what we were hoping to learn and that’s what the knowledgeable and engaging STREAM team delivered – and more!

The pre-reading modules were essential, especially for those who did not already have a science-focused background. 

For a non-science guy like me, the concepts were made clear, concise and yet sufficiently detailed to appreciate the importance of what was being sampled and why the method had to be done in a systematic, repeatable way.” (Bob)

The two-day workshop hosted by Living Lakes Canada with support from World Wildlife Fund – Canada (WWF) itself was engaging, very hands-on, and a lot of fun!  Going over the procedures three times offered a terrific way to learn.  Round one – “just watch the coaches do this – no magic here – you can do this too, just follow the protocols”.  Round two – “put on your gear, all boots and hands in the water, work with the tools, follow the procedures – just do it!”  Round three – “ok, we know what needs to be done now and how to do it properly – let’s see if we can get it right this time and do it perfectly!”. 

“While the first training day was pretty intense and we were all getting a little cold and wet due to the rain showers, we were able to deepen our newly acquired knowledge on the second day, feeling confident that we can now do a good job as a team to complete the CABIN sampling successfully on our own.” (Marina) 

We really appreciated our bonus day with the field STREAM team following the workshop in Canmore – picking a site in the Ghost watershed and being coached through the process yet again – through rain and hail – a fourth run at getting the method under our belts while constantly receiving additional knowledge and insight by the STREAM team. We are thankful that there will be ongoing support from Raegan Mallinson (LLC) and Catherine Paquette (WWF) – we’ll do it right, keep learning and be part of something bigger that’s happening across Canada. Our data will contribute to the national community-based monitoring program developed by the STREAM project. With a goal to collect benthic samples for analysis by the University of Guelph using cutting-edge technology of DNA metabarcoding, we know that our efforts are helping to validate this new technology while also filling important data gaps.

So what opportunities has this training opened up for our Ghost watershed team?

  1. One of us (Bryne) has signed up for the additional modules to become the Project Manager, able to design and lead a thoughtful, comprehensive sampling program in our watershed over the next three years; “This is a fantastic opportunity to fulfill one of the recommendations in our recent “State of the Watershed Report.”  (Bryne)
  2. Our Board has included the CABIN sampling program in our three year business plan as a Board priority.  “The CABIN sampling program fits extremely well with the mission and vision of GWAS.  The timing was good as we were trying to find a way we could better monitor the health of the creeks and rivers within the watershed.  The CABIN program fits our needs perfectly, giving us a credible tool that non-experts can use.” (Cal)   “I’d say it has also stretched our thinking to be more strategic about how we prioritize sampling locations and schedule this work as part of a more comprehensive multi-year research approach for our watershed.”  (Bob)
  3. Our team is keen to begin the sampling program in our watershed in 2020; assembling our Tool Kit and looking to expand the circle of trained volunteers.  “Beyond those of us trained in the CABIN protocol now, we are looking forward to getting our membership involved in the sampling process, connecting them to the watershed and showing them that there is more to be discovered than what first meets the eye. I still remember the first time I saw a benthic invertebrate sample being taken in our watershed as part of an event several years ago. Seeing the diversity and abundance of invertebrates found in the stream significantly changed my perspective of the river.” (Marina)

We want to give a shout-out to the Canmore STREAM team: Raegan, Catherine and Alexander. 

“I was really impressed by the passion and enthusiasm expressed by the STREAM team – this was infectious and really made the whole experience very enjoyable!”  (Cal) 

You taught us, included us in your circle, and set us on a new path to better understand, document and assess the health of streams in our watershed – we appreciate your efforts and support very much. 

The Ghost Watershed CABIN Team – Bryne, Cal, Marina and Bob

 

Water governance discussions at Columbia River Treaty conference

Over the weekend of September 12-14, 2019, Living Lakes Canada (LLC) attended the Columbia Basin Transboundary Conference in Kimberley, BC. The conference focused on bringing together a multitude of First Nations and Tribes, stakeholders, government, academia, non-profit, scientists and community members to discuss future priorities to be considered in the negotiations surrounding the Columbia River Treaty.

Primary focus areas of the discussions were the re-introduction of Salmon to the Upper Columbia and the inclusion of ecosystem function as an addition to the agreement, which currently has power production and flood risk management as its two key priority areas.  

Over the course of the weekend, participants heard from a variety of  groups and saw presentations on cultural history; invasive species; climate change impacts and projections; water monitoring; data sharing and deficits; future management collaboration between government, First Nations and Tribes; the balance of power generation requirements with  transparency, inclusivity, collaborations and youth involvement, to name a few.

LLC Executive Director Kat Hartwig was one of 4 presenters on the Day 3 “Transboundary Water Governance – The Future of Water Management” session that highlighted innovative proposals and approaches to water governance in the Columbia River Basin. 

Living Lakes delegates participated in workshops and for the posters session provided abstracts on the Columbia Basin Water Collaborative, the Groundwater Monitoring initiative and the eDNA-STREAM monitoring project.

The variety of speakers, presentations and representatives at this event was truly remarkable — a reminder that we are all connected in our reliance on the Columbia Basin system as a healthy functioning system, for the collective well-being of not only the people, but for all species. 

The dialogue regarding collective efforts towards a more climate resilient future was encouraging.

For the agenda and to learn more, visit the conference website at: https://transboundaryriverconference.org/.

Living Lakes Canada Executive Director Kat Hartwig presents at the Columbia Basin Transboundary Conference in Kimberley, BC September 12-14, 2019. LLC Photo

A Passion Project: Community-Based Water-Monitoring meets eDNA

Submitted by Alexander Elliot, Canadian Conservation Corps Volunteer

It was mid-July in Canmore and I found myself knee-deep in a stream vigorously kicking my feet in an attempt to dislodge bugs from their aquatic homes. Since having completed school, I had been looking for a way to combine two of my passions: molecular biology and the environment – an odd pairing at first glance, but a powerful tool when given the chance. However, the path to my involvement with the STREAM program was not a straight run; it was full of turns and riffles that eventually got me involved. 

Before having ever heard of STREAM or CABIN, I started volunteering as part of the Canadian Conservation Corps. This is a new federal program aimed at getting young people from across Canada involved in environmental stewardship. 

This journey took me from Calgary, AB to Hamilton, ON and eventually to Victoria, BC. With 11 other people from across the country, I got to explore Canada’s wilderness. A month in Ontario adventuring through Algonquin Park was followed by helping manage invasive species at Fort Rodhill for their fall season. As quick as it began, it was over and I found myself back in Calgary, looking for my next opportunity and wondering how I could contribute to the ideals learned over the previous four months.

While I’m passionate about the environment, I’ve always had a keen interest in molecular biology. Knowing the fundamentals of DNA and the information to be gained from its analysis, I wanted to help the public better understand these tools and to normalize their use in environmental monitoring. The goal was to have a sustainable, long-lasting project that incorporated biomonitoring while leveraging modern sequencing techniques; I had many preliminary ideas that involved developing a project from the ground up. 

I was fortunate to come across the STREAM program through Living Lakes Canada. Their initiative had all of the aspects I was looking to develop and then some: a large biomonitoring network that was expanding its reach to incorporate modern molecular techniques in the watershed that I lived in – how fortunate! 

While I was very excited about the project, others took a little convincing to develop an interest in the program. For months, I reached out to different community groups, First Nations, academics and members of industry. 

Trying to reach such a diverse audience was challenging; so was determining what individual groups’ mandates and limitations were and how STREAM could contribute to the success of their projects. In some cases, it was improving monitoring on existing projects, while other groups were interested in starting biomonitoring projects for the first time. 

It felt like a slow start, but by the time the course was held, there were 18 participants! Even though the weather wasn’t the most co-operative throughout the two-day field course, it didn’t stifle the group’s eagerness to learn. The large diversity of experience of both the instructors and participants allowed for thought-provoking dialogue and exchange of information.

The course took place in the Bow River, a whirling-infected watershed. Whirling disease (Myxobolus cerebralis) is a parasite that affects the development of trout and salmon. While whirling disease is already in numerous Albertan watersheds, the government is working hard to prevent its further spread and has implemented a decontamination protocol to be used by all researchers in a whirling-affected area. 

The decontamination protocol was tedious and time-consuming, but ultimately in the best interest of the ecosystems that we were trying to better understand. We were even given a crash course in the decontamination protocol from the pros with the Alberta government. We met with their mobile decontamination team after the course and cleaned all of the equipment and waders that we had used. With their help, the clean-up went much quicker than sanitizing all of the equipment in a tiny hotel room.

As luck would have it,  the day after the course some of the participants were headed out to take their first sample for a project they had planned after completing a multi-year study. The timing of the CABIN course had come at an ideal time for the Ghost Watershed Alliance as they were looking to implement a water monitoring system to address information gaps they had found in their watershed. 

It was good practice to collect samples that were actually going to be used in the CABIN database as opposed to collecting practice samples, reinforcing the skills we had just learned. This day was no exception and we had a full gamut of weather, from clear skies and sun to rain and hail, a common occurrence in the Bow Valley. Despite the changing weather and having had two previous days of intensive training, spirits were high and everyone felt even more confident in their ability to collect samples.

After the two days of practice and a day of sampling, exchanging information, badgering our instructors with questions and learning how to decontaminate all of our equipment, everyone went home a little wiser and a lot wetter, bringing back with them the knowledge gained for their own projects. I know that I am already looking forward to the next time I can go sampling.

Budget 2020 Consultation report recommends water fund for B.C.

Water sustainability emerged as one of the top issues for the Province of British Columbia in the unanimous report on the Budget 2020 Consultation released by the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services released today (August 7, 2019).

This milestone for water stewardship in B.C. is due to the hard work and dedication of a consortium of water-focused NGOs and academia led by the POLIS Water Sustainability Project.

Living Lakes Canada Program Manager Avery Deboer-Smith gave a presentation developed by the consortium to the Committee during the budget consultation period. Her presentation highlighted the need for an endowment fund for water sustainability across the province, and this suggestion is included in the report under the section for Environmental Protection and Conservation (p 27):

And the establishment of a water sustainability fund to fund watershed protection work is listed as one of the Committee’s overall recommendations to the B.C. Legislative Assembly (p 31, no. 28): 

Furthermore, in the B.C. Government media release announcing the report on the Budget 2020 Consultation, advancing water sustainability is included in the quote by committee chair Bob D’Eith as a key area for action:

“The committee is grateful to everyone who took the time to share their views and bring attention to the challenges and opportunities facing the province,” said committee chair Bob D’Eith. “Several issues emerged as key areas for action, including providing comprehensive supports to youth formerly in care, and advancing water sustainability.” 

“The importance of collaborative action for water sustainability in B.C. is made evident by the acknowledgement from the province of the importance of addressing the very pressing issue of protecting our most valuable resource,” said Deboer-Smith.  

The  committee heard 276 presentations at 15 public hearings in communities across British Columbia, and received 496 written submissions and 452 responses to an online survey which was based on questions in the Budget 2020 Consultation Paper released by the Minister of Finance on June 3, 2019. 

The budget consultation is typically held every fall. This year, the consultation ran from June 3, 2019 to June 28, 2019 to enable the Committee to deliver its report earlier in the budget process. 

The report is available HERE or visit www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/finance.

 

STREAM Team brings CABIN training to Canmore

STREAM is a collaboration between Living Lakes Canada, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the University of Guelph, which involves the collection of eDNA from rivers across Canada for stream health assessments. Interested individuals and organizations are trained and certified using an adapted CABIN protocol to include eDNA analysis.

By Catherine Paquette, WWF-Canada

On July 16-17, the STREAM team led a CABIN field practicum on the beautiful Bow River in Canmore, Alberta, where 18 people received their certification.

The Canmore group was incredibly diverse and high-capacity: it included university students and researchers, national park staff, professional scientists and consultants, as well as staff and volunteers from local watershed groups and NGOs. This diversity of knowledge and experience allowed for great exchanges of ideas throughout the two-day course. Information was shared not only by the instructor to the participants, but it also flowed from the participants back to the STREAM team. Having participants with such diverse backgrounds really allowed the two-day course to be a dialogue and all participants left with a better understanding of not only the CABIN field protocol but also what kind of work is being done in the water world.

WWF-Canada truly believes that it will take people from all backgrounds to ensure we have a complete picture of freshwater health in Canada. In 2017, WWF-Canada released its Watershed Reports, which was the first national picture of the health of and threats to Canada’s freshwater. One of the major findings was that most of Canada’s watershed were data deficient; the required data to properly assess the rivers and streams either didn’t exist or was made unavailable. Fully 112 of 167 sub-watersheds are data deficient for the benthic invertebrate indicator. One of the main recommendations brought forward by WWF-Canada as a result of this data deficiency was the need to elevate multiple approaches to water monitoring.

While the federal government must be expected to play a significant and leading role in aquatic monitoring, Canada is just too big and diverse for a single organization to be responsible for all of it. Community-based water monitoring (CBWM), alongside academia and local and provincial governments, should be seen as a great opportunity to increase the amount of aquatic data collected, leading to a better understanding of our water resources. Groups across Canada are already taking charge and monitoring their home waters, and through technological advances such as open databases, this is becoming easier than ever.

Another of these technological advances that will benefit CBWM is DNA metabarcoding. This state-of-the-art technology will allow benthic samples collected by CBWM groups to be analyzed much more quickly and with less cost than ever before.

WWF-Canada is excited to be a member of STREAM for that very reason, giving CBWM organizations from across Canada the knowledge, training, and support required for them to be able to not only monitor their own waters but play a critical role in understanding the state of freshwater in Canada.

 

Whirling disease top of mind for Canmore CABIN course

Living Lakes Canada hosted a two-day stream health assessment course in Canmore, Alberta on July 16-17. There were 18 participants that attended the course to learn data collection techniques for biomonitoring, following the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network protocol.

The Bow Valley watershed (http://watershedreports.wwf.ca/…) has been listed as a red zone for Whirling Disease. Whirling Disease is caused by a parasite that affects salmonid (trout, salmon and whitefish). It uses these fish and an aquatic worm and hosts. Juvenile fish are most susceptible to Whirling disease. Whirling disease causes skeletal deformation and neurological damage. Fish “whirl” like a corkscrew, making them easy prey and not feeding appropriately.

Whirling Disease was detected in the Bow River watershed making it a red zone according to Alberta Environment and Parks (https://www.alberta.ca/whirling-disease.aspx).

During our CABiN course, Living Lakes Canada helped prevent the spread of Whirling disease by following the AEP decontamination protocol. We had the great experience of linking up with one of the decontamination trailers that drove across the province to decontaminate all of our equipment – FREE of charge. We now feel confident bringing our equipment to the next watershed, without any invasive hitch hikers or Whirling disease attached.

For a blog about the Canmore course submitted by WWF-Canada STREAM team member Catherine Paquette click HERE

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