Eastern Slopes Community-Based Aquatic Monitoring Collaborative

Eastern Slopes Community-Based Aquatic Monitoring Collaborative
Living Lakes Canada has launched a community-based aquatic monitoring program across the Eastern Slopes as a 3-year pilot. During this program, LLC will be working r to develop a community-based water monitoring (CBWM) program for the Eastern Slopes.

Eastern Slopes Community-Based Aquatic Monitoring Collaborative

Living Lakes Canada has launched a community-based aquatic monitoring program across the Eastern Slopes as a 3-year pilot. During this program, LLC will be working with partners to assess local community needs, share expertise and resources, secure additional resources as required in order to develop a community-based water monitoring (CBWM) program for the Eastern Slopes. Partner organizations will complete necessary training, identify local study objectives and sites, and collect data from streams using national CABIN sampling protocol and STREAM eDNA metabarcoding analysis. LLC will also work to support a Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) reference model for the Eastern Slopes that can be used for assessing test sites using the Reference Condition Approach.


Map courtesy of Alberta Wilderness Association

Alberta’s Eastern Slopes form part of the headwaters of two of Canada’s major watersheds, or basins. River basins that run through Alberta include the Peace and Athabasca that flow north into the Arctic Ocean, while the North and South Saskatchewan rivers basins, which start at the Eastern Slopes, flow east into the Hudson Bay. This increasingly busy landscape is facing pressure due to a multitude of human uses, including rural communities, forestry, mineral and energy extraction, cattle grazing, motorized recreation, hunting and fishing, horseback-riding, hiking, and RV camping. 

In June 2020, the Alberta Government rescinded the Coal Policy that has been in place to protect the headwaters of major rivers to the Canadian Prairies. This move will open sensitive habitat of the Eastern Slopes to international open pit coal mining bids. The Coal Policy was established in 1976, and was to ensure that there were appropriate regulatory and environmental protection measures in place before new coal projects were authorized. However, there is still insufficient baseline data to determine appropriate watershed and land use planning nearly 45 years later.

All of these land uses will naturally have an impact on water quality and aquatic ecosystems; there is a need for more monitoring both to establish baseline conditions and to measure change. Aquatic monitoring by the provincial government varies according to budget and priorities. An opportunity exists for local organizations and volunteers to work together to develop a community-based water monitoring (CBWM) program to augment and complement government monitoring.

Community-based monitoring (CBM) programs are:

  • Driven by local community needs and values;
  • Nimble and flexible because they are coordinated by smaller organizations;
  • Able to make data accessible to the community in a timely fashion;
  • Fantastic experiential learning activities and skills training, and;
  • Opportunities to engage and motivate local citizens.


CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network) is “an aquatic biological and chemical monitoring program developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada for assessing freshwater ecosystems, primarily stream and river habitats. Trainees of CABIN gain access to a suite of web-accessible tools and resources, such as a national database of biological reference condition information, data management system, analytical software and reporting tools. CABIN training provides the tools necessary for users to conduct consistent, comparable and scientifically credible assessments of streams. Results provide rationale to direct policy and planning efforts. It is the most widely used biomonitoring protocol in Canada, applied by federal government agencies, provinces, territories, community groups and industry. Living Lakes Canada was one of the first non-government organizations certified to deliver CABIN field certification workshops. (link). 

The STREAM project is a collaboration between Living Lakes Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the University of Guelph and the World Wildlife Fund-Canada. The STREAM project has a goal to use the CABIN methodology and the new made in Canada technology, DNA metabarcoding for a national community-based water monitoring project. DNA metabarcoding has the opportunity to analyze benthic samples collected by community-based water monitors faster, cheaper and more accurately. The University of Guelph received funding from Genome Canada to provide sample analysis free for 3 years for participating groups (2019-2021). 

Visit the STREAM project page on our website. 


Year 1 (2020-21): 

  • Program Development (meetings, gather resources, confirm funding, identify sites, study design)
  • Acquire equipment 
  • Begin building reference model (GIS)
  • Partners identify local test sites and study question(s)
  • If resources/conditions allow (read: COVID-19 restrictions), may possibly collect some samples in the fall

To date: 

  • Held Training in Coleman Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. The course was attended by representatives from the following;
    • Athabasca Watershed Council 
    • North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance 
    • Oldman Watershed Council 
    • Kainai Nation (Blood Tribe) 
    • Elk River Alliance 

Year 2 (2021-22): 

  • Continue building reference model and verifying reference sites
  • CABIN Training (online and field)
  • Sample test sites and reference sites as resources allow. (Free eDNA analysis from University of Guelph STREAM project)
  • Planned course scheduled for Rocky Mountain House, Alberta – Fall 2021. If COVID restrictions permit ECCC will audit LLC and host another CABIN course

Years 3+ (2022-): 

  • Field sampling. Analyze existing data to date
  • Assess success/value of project to organizations
  • Plan and secure resources for future of CBWM program


This pilot will encompass the eastern slopes and foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, including the headwaters of the Peace, Athabasca, Lesser Slave, North Saskatchewan, Red Deer, Bow, and Oldman Rivers. Exact sites to be sampled will be determined by local organizations according to their study objectives, local land uses, and capacity. Currently, fRi Research is carrying out a GIS exercise to identify possible Reference sites within the sub-basin watersheds. Local community groups can then select which reference sites would be appropriate and feasible to add to their existing monitoring programs to support the development of the reference model.


There are numerous local organizations who seek to improve the watershed through education, monitoring, planning, and action like restoration activities. These organizations are ideally positioned - with an ear to the ground and a network of connections - to lead local community monitoring efforts. This collaboration involves Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs), watershed stewardship groups, First Nations land managers, environmental non-governmental organizations, research groups, and volunteers, with support from government and Living Lakes Canada.

Engaged Organizations:

  • Oldman Watershed Council 
  • Bow River Basin Council 
  • Red Deer River Watershed Alliance 
  • North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance 
  • Athabasca Watershed Council 
  • Lesser Slave Watershed Council
  • Mighty Peace Watershed Alliance
  • Ghost Watershed Alliance Society
  • Elbow River Watershed Partnership
  • Cows and Fish 
  • fRI Research
  • Blood Tribe Land Management
  • Living Lakes Canada
  • Parks Canada
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Alberta Environment and Parks
  • University of Guelph
  • University of Victoria 
  • World Wildlife Fund- Canada
Eastern Slopes Community-Based Aquatic Monitoring Collaborative

Status - Active


Water Bodies
Rivers, Creeks and Streams
AcademiaCommunity groupsFNGovernment – ProvincialIndustry
Types of Work
CABINCitizen ScienceCommunity Based MonitoringMonitoring

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