Monitoring our Waterways
Knowledge is power. In order to take effective action on phosphorus reduction, we must fully understand how, when and from where phosphorus is entering our waterways. The information we gather needs to be responsive to the unique and dynamic changes in Manitoba’s weather and landscape so that we can have a truly accurate picture of what’s happening in our rivers – and how it affects our lakes.
Currently, water-quality sampling of large rivers throughout Manitoba is done by federal and provincial agencies on a routine schedule, as well as by research institutions, universities and conservation districts. Monitoring of smaller rivers occurs less frequently. Though a wealth of expertise exists, limited resources and demands on already taxed capacity means researchers may miss out on opportunities to study what happens in our waterways as a result of events such as spring freshet (the peak runoff caused by melt) or floods. Coordination presents another challenge; estimates of overall nutrient exports are less reliable when scientific information is not shared across sectors and/or with the public in a routine or timely fashion. Without comprehensive reporting that’s publically available and as up-to-date as possible, we can’t know if existing phosphorus-reduction initiatives are working.
Good or bad, successes or challenges, it’s important to confront what’s happening in our rivers and across our watershed. Action 4 of the Lake Winnipeg Health Plan, Monitoring our Waterways, recognizes the need for a cohesive, collaborative approach to ongoing research. In addition to routine monitoring of our waterways, sampling should also be done on an event-based schedule that can account for factors such as spring melts and/or floods. Multiple agencies need to work collaboratively to collect, analyze and share data, and reporting needs to be coordinated, reliable and accessible. LWF will help coordinate the creation of these processes, and work with other organizations to develop responsive and appropriate monitoring tools.
CURRENT WORK: COMMUNITY-BASED MONITORING
Community-based monitoring (CBM) engages citizen volunteers in water sampling, data analysis and interpretation of results that inform them about their environment. With proper scientific guidance and oversight, CBM programs produce credible data that can also inform research and policy priorities, and target remedial action where it will have the most impact.
Human activities – from agriculture to urban development – contribute phosphorus to waterways within the Lake Winnipeg watershed. When in excess, phosphorus results in the eutrophication of Lake Winnipeg, increasing the size and frequency of potentially harmful algae blooms. Pinpointing phosphorus hotspots in the watershed will help us focus our energy and invest our resources wisely to improve water quality.
Launched in October 2015 and supported by LWF’s Science Advisory Council, Manitoba’s emerging CBM network engages citizen volunteers to collect water samples using shared scientifically vetted protocols to measure phosphorus loading into Lake Winnipeg.
Because our CBM protocols are compatible with water monitoring programs conducted by federal and provincial governments, citizen-generated data can be used to enrich these existing data sets and deepen our understanding of water quality trends, challenges and solutions. CBM data can also be used to monitor the impact of water stewardship investments being made across the landscape, water retention and wetland restoration projects.
Manitoba’s CBM network is creating opportunities for citizens to roll up their sleeves and get meaningfully involved in a hands-on way.
Want to learn more? Explore our CBM story map below!