A Conflux Of Water Work and Appreciation

Not only is it Canada Water Week all week, but World Water Day is all day today – which makes this Wednesday a real confluence of water-related celebrations. We figured we’d take a moment to join in the festivities and raise a glass of clean Kootenay water to some of the work our team does to protect water here at home in the Columbia Basin and beyond (many of Wildsight’s water programs work under the banner of Living Lakes Canada, a project we began in 2010).

A big part of our work is using the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) protocol to train citizen scientists, using aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate populations as indicators for the health of our rivers and streams. Last year, we trained 30 citizen scientists to use the CABIN protocol to protect their local waters, both within the Columbia Basin and in Northern Alberta, where the threat of oil sands and natural gas extraction to water is grave.

We also use CABIN ourselves in the Flathead watershed. We’re in our fifth year of monitoring at five locations with the aim to correlate the effects of logging on the watershed landscape with changes in water quality.

Last year, Know Your Watershed—a program that we manage and deliver on behalf of the Columbia Basin Trust—taught 1012 students how their water gets to their tap and where it goes after it disappears down the drain through field trips and classroom sessions. We also offer deep learning programs for students to delve further into their watersheds, focusing on local issues like ranching and riparian areas, invasive plants and water quality, stormwater runoff and more. Student action projects give students opportunities to take action for clean water by protecting storm drains, removing invasive plants, cleaning urban streams, and installing signage.

In Nelson, we worked with partners towards creating a wetland near Kootenay Lake to treat urban runoff naturally – and we are monitoring the site to assess improvements in water quality. Just down the highway towards Castlegar, we’re working to support residents and local government to take a bigger role in managing the Brilliant headpond, above the Brilliant hydroelectric dam, for ecological and cultural values.

After a two-year pilot of citizen groundwater monitoring in Invermere, we’ve recently launched Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program to gather much-needed data on groundwater levels in 12 priority aquifers across the Columbia Basin.

For decades, we’ve worked to protect the 180km-long Columbia Wetlands between Fairmont and Donald, through tireless lobbying and public campaigns for boating restrictions to protect sensitive shorebird and aquatic life habitat in this special place, designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. More recently, through our Golden-based Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey, hundreds of volunteers have counted tens of thousands of birds from hundreds of species, with the goal of an Important Bird Area designation.

Another focus is Sensitive Habitat Inventory Mapping (SHIM) to help protect the shoreline of our lakes and reservoirs. Currently, we are using SHIM on Lac la Biche in Alberta and working with the East Kootenay Integrated Lake Management Partnership (EKILMP) on SHIM for Lake Koocanusa locally. On Lake Koocanusa, through SHIM, we’ve identified nesting sites for the endangered long-billed curlew and are working to protect them officially.

Looking ahead, we’ve joined forces with other environmental organizations to make sure that the environment has a place at the table at the upcoming Columbia River Treaty negotiations. The Columbia River Treaty, signed in 1964 between Canada and the US, governs the operation of the large dams in the Columbia Basin for the flood control and hydroelectric generation – without considering ecological values!

And in the very long term, through the Columbia River Treaty and in partnership with First Nations, we hope to return spawning salmon to the Columbia River, which are blocked by dams in the US and Canada, along all 2000km from Astoria, Oregon to Canal Flats, BC.

As you can see, water is on our mind a lot. In fact, some Wildsight members probably see World Water Day and shout internally “EVERYDAY is World Water Day!”. And judging by all the amazing water work being shared under the #WorldWaterDay and #CanadaWaterWeek hashtags on social media, they’re not the only ones.