Grassroots water monitoring pilot underway

The Lake Winnipeg Foundation has a pilot project to co-ordinate community-based water monitoring

It’s well understood high phosphorus levels cause harmful algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg. What’s not yet well understood is precisely where they come from.

A new project from the not-for-profit Lake Winnipeg Foundation (LWF) aims to find out.

Its Community Based Monitoring project, operating as a pilot program in 2016, aims to co-ordinate the water testing and sampling now underway by schools, landowners and other individuals and produce a comprehensive data set from their efforts, says Kirsten Earl McCorrister, programs director with the LWF.

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“The idea is to have a network that collects phosphorus information on a geographic scale, that actually lets us truly get a picture of how much and where it comes from,” she said, adding that will ultimately better inform policy for strategic interventions.

“What we know is that we don’t know enough,” she told a June 18 Manitoba Conservation District Association tour group visiting the watershed management projects in the Seine Rat River Conservation District. “Our scientists say until we really have a better idea of where the nutrients are coming from, from what land masses they’re coming from, and what subject areas they’re coming from, we won’t be able to make strategic decisions about where to place interventions.”

The LWF is a not-for-profit volunteer-based organization founded in 2005 with a scientific advisory council of freshwater experts guiding its work.

Their pilot project underway this year is networking two school groups and two conservation districts — the Seine Rat River CD and the LaSalle Redboine CD — as they design protocols for water sampling and figure out how to get samples to labs for testing. Various groups and individuals now do these tests and want to share their data, but there’s a perceived lack of credibility to it because testing and sampling isn’t presently done consistently from site to site.

“What we want to do is make sure that the testing we do and the sampling are all done the same way,” she said.

In 2017 the LWF hopes to expand this network and include more citizen scientists collecting data. The more gathered, especially at key periods such as spring run-off, and after heavy rainstorms, will also help fill in data gaps, Earl McCorrister said.

“The province, Environment Canada, and academia are doing a lot of monitoring, but they can’t always be where they need to be to test the water during peak flows,” she said.

“Having a network where we can call up local people and say, ‘there was just a thunderstorm in your area; can you get out in the next 24 hours to check the water and get a sample?’ means we can see what’s happening in terms of phosphorus leaking into the waterways.”

Earl McCorrister said the LWF is trying to spread the word as widely as they can about the merits of participating in community-based water monitoring.

“If you’re a landowner and you’re interested in collecting samples, please come and talk to us,” she said. “We will be looking for volunteers in the coming year.”

The data will be carefully analyzed and those collecting it will see how their efforts inform the bigger picture, added Mike Stainton, vice-president of the LWF board of directors who was also on the MCDA tour.

“It’s not going to be just a bunch of raw numbers,” Stainton said. “It’s going to answer questions we have about where the hot spots are in the watershed and where land use management interventions are more necessary than others. The landscape isn’t uniform. There are some areas more of a concern than others. We’ll find out where those are.”

For more information about the project contact [email protected].

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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