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New thinking required for our watershed management

In the Columbia Basin, there are exemplary examples of community-based water monitoring
A Living Lakes Canada community-based water monitoring training course with Friends of Kootenay Lake Stewardship Society in Nelson during summer 2021. (Submitted)

This is the second of four articles submitted by Living Lakes Canada (LLC), the respected Columbia Basin-based water stewardship group that works to monitor and protect Canada’s lakes, rivers, wetlands, and watersheds.

READ MORE: Experts calling for watershed monitoring in the Columbia Basin amid climate change concerns

Unprecedented changes are taking place in our rivers, creeks, and lakes. To ensure the long-term protection of our water sources, community-based water monitoring is becoming an increasingly important tool at local and regional levels.

Water monitoring is used by governments and communities to assess the health of our watersheds and improve decision-making about our freshwater supply. Community-based water monitoring (CBWM) allows citizens to partner with decision-makers and work collectively towards watershed management.

In the Columbia Basin, there are exemplary examples of CBWM that are recognized by local governments and replicated in other regions in B.C. and Canada.

In the East Kootenay, the Lake Windermere Ambassadors (LWA) is a group of committed citizens representing business, government, First Nations recreation, second homeowners, local residents, youth and non- government organizations. Their mandate is the long-term protection of Lake Windermere. The LWA monitor water quality, make recommendations based on the data they have collected, and support local government in the implementation of strong water stewardship policies based on the guidelines and recommendations of the Lake Windermere Management Plan.

The Friends of Kootenay Lake Stewardship Society (FOKLSS), based in Nelson B.C., work in a similar vein to help improve the health and stewardship of Kootenay Lake through monitoring, habitat restoration.

The Columbia Lake Stewardship Society has been working to preserve the ecological health of Columbia Lake since 2013. They conduct water quality and quantity monitoring, collect and share the outcomes of their data with local residents and decision makers.

Living Lakes Canada is working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to assess the rate of ecological change and urban development on the foreshore of eight lakes in the Columbia Basin. Lakes included to date include Kootenay Lake, Slocan Lake, Lake Windermere, and Columbia Lake. This work maps shoreline habitats, assesses habitat value and establishes Shoreline Development Guidelines to conserve important foreshore lake ecosystems to protect species at risk and support the development of more climate resilient management plans.

Another source of freshwater being monitored by Living Lake Canada is groundwater, which is drawn on for domestic, agricultural, industrial, and commercial purposes. Groundwater helps maintain water levels and water quality in wetlands, streams, rivers, and lakes, and is vital for maintaining the health and balance ecosystems, including habitat for fish, waterfowl, and wildlife. This Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program partners with landowners to establish observation wells, and trains well owners to use water sensors and data loggers, which automatically collect hourly groundwater measurements. Data loggers detect changes in groundwater levels and help us forecast potential drought conditions and better understand the connection between groundwater and surface water for wetlands and streams. This data helps to support water management and conservation efforts.

There are numerous other groups in the Columbia Basin working in CBWM including the Slocan Lake Stewardship Society, the Salmo River Streamkeepers, the Slocan River Streamkeepers, and the Elk River Alliance to name a few. Despite all of these efforts, we still require more water data to understand how watersheds in the Columbia Basin are responding as a whole to the impacts of climate change.

“While the Canadian Columbia Basin is, by area, only 15 per cent of the larger transboundary Columbia River Basin, studies have shown that it provides approximately 40 per cent of the annual water flow,” said Kat Hartwig, executive director of Living Lakes Canada.

“While much of the water data collected on the large rivers, streams, and lakes helps to inform the Columbia River Treaty, much less is known about the smaller streams, wetlands, high elevation lakes, and aquifer size for groundwater sources. There is a greater sense of urgency now particularly with climate change impacts and our hot, dry summers, that we have the information necessary to both understand and address local freshwater needs of communities and the natural ecosystems we depend on.”

To this end, Living Lakes Canada is facilitating the development of the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Collaborative, a unified water monitoring network that will operate on local priorities with a scientific “water balance” approach. This approach can be used to determine the quantity of water moving in and out of a system, which is invaluable information when considering our future water needs. It will also help us to consider the necessity of local water budgets for making future water allocation decisions.

To learn more about Living Lakes Canada and the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Collaborative, visit

The next article in this series will focus on the Columbia Basin Water Hub, a central online database where decision makers, researchers, students, professionals, and the public can access a wide variety of water data and water information in the Columbia Basin.