Columbia Basin water data hub preparing for April launch

Monitoring Collaborative update

The Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Collaborative database is in the final stages of development and testing before its launch as the collective hub of Columbia Basin-relevant water data collected by the water monitoring groups in the Basin. This information will help to provide better understanding of the 10 watershed subregions in the Columbia Basin  and to support improved watershed management by decision makers .

The anticipated launch date is for April 30, 2020. Keep an eye on our website and social media for the most current updates.

Fresh Water Data Commons pilot project

As part of the Monitoring Collaborative, we are working on the Fresh Water Data Commons pilot project within our Supercluster Innovation Fund partnership within our Supercluster Innovation Fund partnership. The goal of this project is to collect water data in a cost-effective, real-time, and scalable manner then use that data to understand the water balance in ecosystems and stay abreast of water availability issues in different regions as they occur.

The Fresh Water Data Commons pilot project will ground truth a sub-basin water balance model by placing a system of collection devices in a rural area of the Columbia Basin to test collecting, storing and analyzing data in real-time. By replacing static data collection with real-time data collection and analytics, the accuracy of modelling can be determined to inform machine learning. This real-time data will provide the opportunity to make water management decisions using the most current information available across all sectors including government, First Nations, industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and community-based monitoring groups.

In addition to contributing data to the Columbia Basin’s water data hub, the Fresh Water Data Commons is assisting the Monitoring Collaborative with some of the development of its open source data centre. 

Targeted eDNA

Living Lakes team members will also be involved in an Environmental DNA (eDNA) research component of the project that will assist with further validation of this emerging technology. 

For this eDNA research component, Living Lakes Canada will be working closely with local partner organizations and the University of Victoria eDNA Helbing Lab.

Animals slough off DNA into their immediate environment through skin, mucus, feces, etc. This eDNA can be captured by properly filtering a sample of water and analyzing it in a lab. Living Lakes Canada staff will be collecting water samples in strategic locations at the study sites to determine the spatial extent of a select group of target species. These samples will be filtered and sent to the University of Victoria, where they will be analyzed in the Helbing Lab to determine presence or absence of the predetermined target species.

The eDNA data will be shared with the partner organization in order to offer more information on the effectiveness of local restoration or monitoring projects while improving eDNA research techniques.   

To learn more, contact Program Manager Raegan Mallison at

Collecting valuable data for high elevation monitoring program

On March 1 and 2, Living Lakes Canada team members Claire Pollock-Hall and Kyle Prince along with volunteer Kaylenna Olynyk were recruited to complete the monthly snow survey at one of the North Kootenay Lake Water Monitoring Project (NKLWMP)’s snow survey courses on the northeast end of Kootenay Lake, BC. This work was conducted to assist with the NKLWMP Snow and Climate Monitoring Program, which is under the umbrella of Living Lakes Canada. The NKLWMP snow courses are situated at an elevation that is higher than all the other provincial snow courses within the area, highlighting their value in providing data otherwise outside the range of existing monitoring sites.

Background: The context for this monitoring program are two Columbia Basin Trust reports authored by hydrologist Dr. Martin Carver — Water Monitoring and Climate Change in the Upper Columbia Basin: Summary of Current Status and Opportunities, and Guidance Information for Planning Monitoring Programs  — which have identified knowledge gaps in the scientific understanding of where water resources and aquatic ecosystems in the Columbia Basin are changing as a consequence of land use and climate change. High elevation data, peak glacial melt, and snow trends were among the high priority water-related knowledge gaps identified, which the NKLWMP Snow and Climate Monitoring Program seeks to address. 

This monitoring trip to the Kootenay Joe snow survey course began with an early morning scenic drive along the water with an epic mountain backdrop as the group made their way to the trailhead at the northeast end of Kootenay Lake. The three snow surveyors had their work cut out for them, having to self-propel up the mountainside close to 1300 m on an old logging road using ski-touring gear to access the backcountry survey area and their accommodation for the night.

The first day was very pleasant and the group was treated to patches of sun, blue skies and mountain peak views as they gained elevation. A drastic difference in the snowpack and snow condition was observed throughout the day, changing from exposed ground cover and a spring feel at the parking area level to a winter wonderland experience at their destination.

Once the group reached the cabin where they would be spending the night, they dropped some weight from their packs, gathered the monitoring equipment, and clipped back into their skis to initiate the snow survey. Working together, the team of three were able to collect the snow data efficiently. The survey involved orienteering to each sample site, measuring snow height, removing a core snow sample, and weighing it to determine water equivalency. This was repeated ten times to complete the snow survey course. 

After a cozy night at the cabin, the group headed back down to civilization the next day. Conditions were much different, with cloudy skies, falling snow and blowing winds. The hard work from the day before paid off as the group travelled swiftly down the old logging road back to the parking area, once again experiencing the stark contrast in weather and snow conditions. 

Living Lakes Canada has the mandate to mainstream water monitoring in the Canadian Columbia Basin and beyond, and encourages any interested individuals or groups to contact us to find out more. 

Living Lakes Canada joins rest of STREAM team at biomonitoring lab

From February 10 to 11, Living Lakes Canada joined representatives from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the University of Guelph and the World Wildlife Fund-Canada in Guelph, Ontario for the annual STREAM team face-to-face gathering. 

The STREAM project, led by the aforementioned organizations, is a national community-based water monitoring project which involves the collection of benthic macroinvertebrates from rivers across Canada. The benthic macroinvertebrates are collected using the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) protocol for standardized data collection then analyzed by the new technology DNA metabarcoding by the University of Guelph. This biodiversity data will help build a new baseline reference library of the benthic communities that currently exist in rivers across Canada, making it possible to monitor the long-term impacts of climate change and water pollution.  

The STREAM team met to review the first year of the three-year project (2019 was Year 1). Successes and lessons learned from the first year were recapped. 

Successes included exceeding the target milestone of the number of samples collected. Over 700 samples were collected by participating groups across Canada when the goal was 500. Another milestone exceeded was the number of participants who attended the two-day CABIN field certification courses: over 75 people were certified in the national water monitoring protocol standard, when the goal was 40 participants over the three years.

Lessons learned included identifying the need to provide participating groups with more clarification of how the new technology of DNA metabarcoding fits into the already existing CABIN methods and data. 

“We’re really excited to implement what we’ve learned from our on-the-ground experience working with the community groups last year as part of the STREAM project. We will continue to support groups setting up their community-based water monitoring programs across the country, removing as many barriers as possible, and continuing to support Year 1 participants in the sustainability of their programs,” said Living Lakes Canada STREAM Program Manager Raegan Mallinson. 

During the meeting, the STREAM team received a tour of the Hajibabaei Lab in the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph. This is the lab where the bulk benthic samples collected as part of the STREAM project are sent. The lab performs the DNA metabarcoding analysis, which provides the biodiversity data that is the end goal of the STREAM project: the presence/absence taxa list of the benthic macroinvertebrates in the sample.  

In 2020, participating groups will continue to receive free benthic macroinvertebrate sample analysis through DNA metabarcoding by the University of Guelph. The priority watersheds have been selected and include:

  • the Yukon watershed
  • the Fraser Basin, in the Nechako sub-watershed in B.C.
  • the Winnipeg watershed in Ontario
  • the Great Lakes (Northwestern Lake Superior) in Ontario
  • the Ottawa watershed in Ontario

A two-day modified CABIN field certification will be offered in priority watersheds for participating groups and individuals, along with monitoring support and sample shipment. 

Although training efforts are focused on the priority watersheds, participation and benthic sample submission (collected through CABIN) from any group or program in any watershed across Canada is encouraged.

“Free DNA metabarcoding sample analysis by the University of Guelph is available to any interested participants that are using the CABIN protocol, even if they are not located in the priority watersheds identified by the STREAM project. This provides a great opportunity for groups starting a new biomonitoring program,” says Mallinson. 

To help build Canada’s new baseline and support the validation of cutting-edge technology for stream health assessments, join the STREAM project. 

For more information, email STREAM Program Manager Raegan Mallinson at

Columbia Basin snow surveys helping fill water data gaps

On January 28 and 29, members of the Living Lakes Canada (LLC) team gathered in Nelson, BC, where our head office is located, for a two-day strategic planning meeting. The goal of this meeting was to collectively work on our organization’s direction for the next three years, and ensure all projects align with LLC’s vision and values. 

The gathering also presented the opportunity for several members to get involved in one of our on-the-ground partner projects in the Canadian Columbia Basin.   

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

Under the umbrella of NKLWMP’s snow monitoring program, LLC members joined NKLWMP in conducting snow surveys during a backcountry trip to Lost Ledge Cabin following the strategic planning meeting. NKLWMP has been conducting snow surveys for the past four years and there are 10 survey sites within close proximity to Lost Ledge Cabin.

The surveys involved removing core snow samples, measuring the height of snow in the tube and weight, and therefore determining the volume of water. LLC team members developed skills in conducting monitoring while also enjoying a couple of backcountry skiing adventures! 

LLC and NKLWMP would like to thank members of the Lost Ledge Cabin who provided them with cabin access, great stories and a beautiful place to stay while positively contributing to the conservation of one of our most valuable resources. 


A 2017 Columbia Basin Trust report identified significant water data gaps in the Canadian Columbia Basin, including that from snow and glaciers, small watersheds, high-elevation streams, wetlands, and groundwater. Information gathered through snow surveys such as these provide increased data on water availability within the Basin. This information can then be used to assist in developing management plans and making informed decisions surrounding water use and flood mitigation measures downstream. Filling these gaps will help communities and water resource decision-makers better understand and adapt to changes in the quality and quantity of regional water supplies.

Groundwater management is crucial in Upper Columbia Basin

Columbia Basin, February 10, 2020 — Columbia Basin businesses and landowners who use groundwater for non-domestic purposes are reminded they are legally required to apply for a water licence.

This change came into effect in 2016 with the new Water Sustainability Act. Four years later, just 15% of B.C. users have complied, according to a recent article published by the Partnership for Water Sustainability. Licensing is needed to protect many of the regions in B.C. that have reached a point where water supply is reaching critically low levels, and prevent the same water stress from happening elsewhere in the province, state the authors. Domestic groundwater users are exempt from licensing but are encouraged to register their well so it can be added to the provincial database.

“Groundwater helps maintain water levels and water quality in wetlands, streams, rivers and lakes,” says Living Lakes Canada Executive Director Kat Hartwig. “It’s important to manage this freshwater resource for the health of communities and ecosystems, especially in a changing climate.”

Living Lakes Canada is managing the Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program, which is working with citizens, local governments and other stakeholders throughout the Basin to collect groundwater data that otherwise would not be collected. This information can then be used by citizens to learn about groundwater and in water management decisions, climate adaptation planning, and conservation planning to ensure sustainable water supplies for human use and to maintain healthy ecosystems.

The program is looking to expand the number of wells it is monitoring and invites interested well owners (domestic and non-domestic) to contact Program Manager Carol Luttmer at Suitable wells for monitoring are typically not actively used to withdraw water.

To better understand the new requirements for groundwater users, to apply for a licence or to register your well, visit the BC Government website at

To learn more about Living Lakes Canada’s Groundwater Monitoring Program in the Columbia Basin, visit


Highlighting the Columbia Wetlands on World Wetlands Day 2020

Our organization was founded in the Columbia Valley, headwaters of the transboundary Columbia River and home to one of North America’s longest, intact wetlands system: the Columbia Wetlands.  We want to honour and highlight this wetland the Columbia wetlands for World Wetlands Day 2020 and its theme “Wetlands and Biodiversity”.

The Columbia Wetlands are RAMSAR-designated and internationally recognized for their diversity, variety of wildlife and as important resting and breeding habitat for migratory birds, all of which rely on the ecosystems services that wetlands provide.

In a changing climate, understanding the role groundwater plays in keeping wetlands climate resilient can inform water management decisions in a way that will protect and preserve nature, not only to conserve biodiversity, but the important ecologic  services wetlands provide to society as well (holding floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies, removing pollution, and sequestering carbon).

When we protect wetlands, we all win.  

Living Lakes Canada is part of the Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners (CWSP), a group that was created to develop effective stewardship and management practices for the Columbia Wetlands and the Upper Columbia River. 

CWSP just released a five-year strategic plan for the Columbia Wetlands that is now available for download.  

Click the image to download the report.

First Nations CABIN course featured in Water Canada Magazine

A CABIN training delivered by Living Lakes Canada and WWF-Canada to the Blueberry River First Nations in B.C.’s Peace Region last summer for the STREAM project is the subject of a feature story in Water Canada Magazine’s just-released Jan/Feb 2020 issue: “The Quality of our Water: Working with the Blueberry River First Nations to restore and rehabilitate the watershed.”

Click on the cover image to access the article. 

EXCERPT: “The participants were confident carrying out the monitoring,” said Living Lakes Canada STREAM program manager Raegan Mallinson. “We learned so much from being on the land with the participants. BRFN showed us how strong a community can be when they work together; they taught us about loyalty to each other and the land, and they shared their hopes and struggles. It was an impactful experience working with BRFN and we look forward to continuing the relationship into the coming years.”

Taking in teachings from Northern Canada’s water stewards

Last October, Living Lakes Canada visited the Northwest Territories (NWT) to learn and share about community-based monitoring experiences in Northern Canada and beyond. Living Lakes Canada attended and presented at both the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy in Dettah, NWT and the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) Forum in Yellowknife, NWT.

The NWT has strong, Indigenous-led water monitoring programs that Living Lakes Canada has used as a model for community-based water monitoring initiatives in other regions of Canada, including the Columbia Basin.

The 10th Annual NWT Water Stewardship Strategy Implementation Workshop theme for 2019 was Northern Waters in a Changing Climate. Stories, ideas and the recent climate change research findings were shared by water partners working in various sectors from across the NWT.

Elders shared stories of the rapid change of the species present on the land, the current state of the land, and how these changes are impacting local daily life and culture. Researches spoke about climate change impacts such as slumping due to permafrost melt.

The workshop took place at the Chief Dry Geese Centre, a beautiful, circular, naturally lit building that overlooks Great Slave Lake. It was a setting that evoked the spirit of collaboration, relationship building and shared learning among attendees.

The 5th biennial CABIN Forum brought users of the CABIN protocol from across Canada together including Indigenous Peoples, community watershed stewards and scientists, all levels of government, and academia. The Forum provided an opportunity to focus on biomonitoring for the protection of freshwater ecosystem health in the north and across Canada. Potential future CABIN users were invited to learn about current CABIN activities, and share water monitoring experiences and local knowledge.

At the CABIN Forum, Living Lakes Canada shared experiences, challenges and lessons learned from leading the CABIN field practicum training across Canada over the last 5 years, as well as successes from the first year of the STREAM project, the national community-based water monitoring initiative using the new technology of DNA metabarcoding. 

“The cross-sector collaboration, along with the strong community participation and motivation for watershed protection that we witnessed, provided lessons and knowledge for us to bring back, share and implement within our communities,” said Living Lakes Canada Program Manager Raegan Mallinson. “We are grateful for the experience and shared learning that the water stewards of the north provided.”

Click on photos below to enlarge. 

Moving into 2020 with groundwater monitoring

As we move into 2020, the Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program will continue to partner with well owners to monitor groundwater levels to assess how they change seasonally and year to-year. 

We monitor existing groundwater wells that are not used to withdraw water so that ambient aquifer conditions are measured rather than drawdown from pumping in a particular well. Currently, the Program is monitoring wells in or near the Basin communities of ʔaq̓am, Blewett, Brisco, Castlegar, Cranbrook, Creston, Duhamel, Fairmont, Invermere, Playmor Junction, and Windermere. 

The most recent data for the majority of these sites are available on the BC Real-time Water Data website. The data helps citizens, community groups, water managers, water licensing officers, consultants and researchers understand groundwater conditions to inform water management and conservation actions.   

The Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program exhibited at the East Kootenay Invasive Species Council Agricultural Forum in Fort Steele, BC on November 21.

We wrapped up 2019 with attending the East Kootenay Invasive Species Council Agricultural Forum where we had an opportunity to learn from the agricultural community about water use and concerns and share information on the Groundwater Monitoring Program.

We also recently established an agreement to monitor an existing well on The Nature Trust of British Columbia’s Hoodoos Conservation Property north of Fairmont Hot Springs (click photos below to expand). This well provides a monitoring site on the benches of the Columbia Wetlands, which are likely important areas for groundwater recharge.

In 2020, in addition to monitoring the existing wells in the Program, we will establish additional monitoring sites across the Columbia Basin:

  • to increase awareness about groundwater;
  • to provide local site-specific data for use in groundwater management, and;
  • to guide conservation actions and adaptation to climate change. 

Visit our Groundwater Program page.

Living Lakes Canada attends Transboundary Conference

In November 2019, Living Lakes Canada attended the Lake Roosevelt Forum Conference in Spokane, Washington. The Forum’s mission is to establish a dialog to strengthen collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders who have interests in and around Lake Roosevelt, which resulted from creating a reservoir to support operational capacity at the Grand Coulee Dam, located on the Columbia River in the state of Washington.

This conference provided an opportunity for our team to connect with local and federal government, Native American Tribes, NGOs and academia who are working on projects that tie into Living Lakes Canada’s Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Collaborative. Partnering with groups south of the border in the future would allow a larger diversity of water data to be shared.

Networking with individuals and groups who are working under the current Columbia River Treaty was a great opportunity to link priorities such as salmon restoration and reintroduction into Living Lakes Canada’s diverse water monitoring programs.

 “It was inspiring to witness the increased tribal participation in the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) and collaboration between Native American Tribes who are advocating an ecosystem-based management approach,” said Program Manager Avery Deboer-Smith.

A 2010 document titled Common Views on the Future of the Columbia River Treaty continues to be the guiding less for all participating tribes. Updated in 2015, it outlines a proposal for representing Columbia Basin tribes’ interests in the reconsideration and implementation of a modernized treaty.

Sharing water data to help inform decisions around fish rehabilitation can lead to an enhanced importance of ecosystem-based functions in future negotiations of the CRT.

Learn more about the Lake Roosevelt Forum.

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