Winter Water Monitoring

 In News

As we start to think of warmer weather, we want to reflect on the winter season and some of the fantastic work our partners have been doing throughout the colder months.

Throughout Atlantic Canada community data is leading the way for change, and it doesn’t stop when the temperatures plunge below 0. A lot of our partners are working diligently year round to monitor their watersheds to gain further insight on how to protect it. 

We spoke to Jim Kennedy from Oathill Lake Conservation Society, and Kaylee MacLeod from Coastal Action to learn more about why they have built winter water monitoring into their annual monitoring program and what insights they’ve learned because of it. 

Oathill Lake Conservation Society

Oathill Lake Conservation Society (OLCS) is a community-based group dedicated to restoring and maintaining the ecological health and biological diversity of Oathill Lake in Dartmouth Nova Scotia.

Prior to the program’s beginning in 2013, Oathill Lake was in pretty dire shape. With large amounts of litter, stormwater run-off, and excessive numbers of trout being stocked in the lake, it was dealing with continuous algae blooms, a loss of its aquatic and amphibious biodiversity (particularly frogs) causing a severe drop in community use. Since then OLCS has been working to improve the health of this small lake and parkland , working hand in hand with both the community and municipality to keep Oathill Lake as a source of recreational and aesthetic pleasure for future generations.

After their first 2 years of seasonal monitoring, OLCS wanted to take further measures to mitigate the issues, and monitor the lake’s progress and changes throughout the year. They typically have 3 stations for monitoring towards the middle of the lake and 4 outflows points where they collect samples. In the winter, when the ice on the lake is at least 10 cm thick, they go out with a YSI probe and an ice auger, using the drill to help them access their sampling locations.

By monitoring throughout the colder months, OLCS is able to get a better view of the concerns facing the lake throughout the entirety of the year. Through tracking the ice-on and ice-off dates they have been able to monitor the effects of road contaminants as well as track the effects of climate related temperature changes. Their winter monitoring program in particular helped them confirm their concerns that the water is spending more time around zero leading to increase in the freeze/melt cycles, which in turn is causing an increase in salting and road runoff into the lake. 

OLCS is not only using this data to adapt to the changes in their watershed, but also to advocate for the lake. With the data they have gathered they have been able to work with their municipality and the local community to adjust their practices, getting most residents surrounding the lake to switch to sand or brine over rock salt and have even had some success with the municipality in getting them to not salt at all in areas where they can see the lake and where there is no steep slope opting to instead lay sand.

This program has helped OLCS make an impact on not only the water itself, but the entire surrounding community. It has helped make people more aware of the external factors contaminating the lake, and has encouraged them to be a part of preserving the future of their local watershed.

Coastal Action

Coastal Action has two year round water monitoring programs. Their biggest water quality monitoring program at LaHave River has been running year round for 17 years and has become one of the strongest, longest-running programs in Atlantic Canada.

They have 15 monitoring sites along the tributaries and watershed of the LaHave River that are visited and sampled monthly using a combination of YSI sampling and grab sampling sent for lab analysis. Samples are collected from 10 sites to monitor chemical changes within the water and to monitor water quality changes over time for the local salmon population.

The water monitoring program at Petite Riviere, run by their species at risk and biodiversity team, is in its 14th year of year-round water monitoring. This important watershed includes the only known population of the endangered Atlantic Whitefish, and it acts as the drinking water reservoir for the Town of Bridgewater. Monitoring water quality throughout the watershed helps them monitor changes and develop mitigation plans to address water quality issues as they relate to humans and aquatic organisms.

Water quality monitoring at 18 sites has helped them discover a difference in the salinity correlating to proximity to roads, increasing both the conductivity and dissolved solids in the water.

“We’ve found that monitoring throughout the winter gives a better overview of what is happening with the water quality and the fish habitat year round.”

Monitoring year round has definitely had benefits for the fish, making  it easier to predict averages, when  only sampling in the summer cannot accurately represent the health of the watershed and its inhabitant throughout the whole.

Incorporate winter monitoring into your program

While it may not be the easiest time of year to be outside collecting samples, it has played a crucial role for both these organizations in monitoring the health of their water bodies and helping them adapt with the changes in our climate, and advocate for better practices that can help mitigate the impacts on the local wildlife and community.

You can learn how to add winter monitoring into your community based water monitoring plan by visiting Atlantic Water Network’s new Water Monitoring Knowledge Hub, and Water Monitoring Plan Builder!

Written by Belle Teixeira