Wetland education is a critical component of Alberta's curriculum. Having the opportunity to bring students from all walks of life out to such an important part of our natural world is a blessing. We all experience nature in our own ways, yet it does not matter where we come from, but that we live in the moment and take in the world around us. Environmental education is a crucial part of the curriculum not only because it teaches students where things come from, about natural processes, and other living and non-living things, but because it is an opportunity for students to connect to the place they are living. It lends the opportunity for people to develop a sense of belonging and a sense of place for where they are at any given moment.
Students from Bishop Routhier exploring under quality at the Winagami Provincial Park Boat Launch and Marina, Spring 2023.
When we take students out of the classroom and into the natural world, something amazing happens. The excitement they experience from the moment they get off the school bus to their first activity and through the day is electric. Not only is it a change in routine for the, but they are being given some freedom to explore and learn about the world around them in a meaningful way. On our trips, students cycle through stations throughout the day, giving them the chance to try different, new and exciting things. From exploring plants and insects to experiencing things life animal pelts, there's something for everyone. Playing games and going on nature hikes are also a part of the adventure, depending on the age group! Seeing kids, in some cases for the first time, explore the world around them is truly remarkable.
Students from Kinuso School exploring a wetland adjacent to Devonshire Beach, AB. Spring 2023.Read more
Who is Peat? Or rather, what is Peat? Peat is a build up of organic matter (like leaves and other natural debris) that accumulates in wet, acidic conditions and looks similar to soil! Peat is a critical part of bogs and fens, contributing to the poorly draining soils of wetlands. Water in wetlands containing peat can be up to 300 years old because it drains so slowly! Peatland covers approximately 3% of the Earth's overall land cover and peatlands are also critical habitat to many species! Peat is a carbon-storing powerhouse and is an invaluable part of our natural world. Peat is harvested across the globe as a fuel source and to help support gardens.
How is peat made? Well, it is made up of a bunch of dead materials like leaves and other partially decomposed natural materials. But because of the chemistry surrounding peatlands, the dead material doesn't decompose like normal. Instead, it is pretty well preserved and can preserve things too! Have you ever heard of a bog body? They're not for the faint of heart!
Peatlands are places where debris collects over hundreds to thousands of years, and because of the acidic soil conditions and limited oxygen, things aren't broken down at the same rate as other places. In Alberta, peat only grows 3-7cm per 100 years! Around the globe, it also take a very long time to create peat. As such, peat is a limited resource. That's why there are global campaigns to help protect peatlands from being harvested!
There is so much to do in our wonderful watershed! Our wild backyard is one of the best places for recreation! But did you know that all the activities that happen across the watershed pose risks to our water, biodiversity and environment? That is why it is critical to follow best management practices and to do our recreation activities responsibly! And protecting our natural systems is easier than you think! Here's some risks from recreations and how we can mitigate those risks!
Wheels Out of Water
Did you know that it is against the law to disturb the bed and shore of a waterbody? First, we should start with some definitions. The bed and shore of a waterbody is the bottom of that waterbody (bed) and the immediate surrounding area (shoreline) of that waterbody. Waterbodies are described as any area where a significant amount of water collects or pools at any point during the year, including creeks, ponds and wetlands. One of the most common ways that these sensitive aquatic systems are disturbed is from off-highway vehicles driving through waterbodies like rivers and creeks. Damaging the system in this way adds sediment to the water, making it challenging for critters living in the water to breathe in oxygen and find food, however temporary the disturbance may be. Roughing up the terrain also affects habitat for many aquatic species, from fish to benthic macro-invertebrates. Driving through can lead to pollution of the waterbody by adding hydrocarbons ad other man-made pollution that negatively impact the system and all downstream life. The tires can also add soils, seeds (particularly invasive species seed) and sediment to the waterbody which will impact all life downstream too.
It is important that anyone headed out onto a frozen lake surface follows all ice safety precautions! Frozen lake conditions can be unpredictable and it is vital that everyone be prepared for every scenario. Be sure to wait until the ice is thick enough for your activity, whether it be snowmobiling across the lake, ice fishing, hauling an ice fishing shack onto the ice and what limits exist for every type of vehicle. Personal protective equipment like ice picks should be worn and be at the ready in case of a break in the ice. Always tell someone on land where you're going and when to expect you back. Check out more ice safety tips before you head out. And remember, always check the condition of your equipment and make sure it isn't leaking. Just because the water's surface is frozen now doesn't mean that it's land. Protecting the ice surface from spills, leaks, and leftover garbage will keep all this unwanted pollution from melting right into the lake in the Spring!
Alberta's Water for Life Strategy was the first of its kind in North America, focusing on 3 main goals: safe, secure drinking water; healthy aquatic ecosystems; and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy. The strategy has been how the Government of Alberta has managed water in the province since its inception. This year, Water for Life celebrates its 20th Anniversary, which has many in the water world reflecting on the rich history of water in the province.
Though I have not been in the water world nearly as long as some of my colleagues, I have immersed myself over the last few years, working with a Watershed Planning and Advisory Council and shifting focus from general environmental factors to a water specific scope. Here's what I've learned over the years.
Alberta's Water for Life Strategy started in 2003, but was renewed in 2008. It includes 3 goals to guide water management in the province: knowledge and research, partnerships, and water conservation. Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) were created from the strategy to help accomplish the province's goals, lending support to WPACs to act as conveners and collaborators for local stakeholders and build relationships with the locals to curate a better understanding of local watershed issues. WPACs are also designated to work to gather information about their respective watersheds, bridging the gaps in knowledge for the Government, locals and researchers alike.Read more
Fluvial geomorphology. What does that mean? It is the scientific term for the changes that water cause on the landscape, where fluvial means 'of water' and geomorphology is the study of the physical features of the Earth's surface. What a strange way to describe the changes in the landscape, right? Some people think that water is an abundant resource that will always be around and that it has had little impact in the grand scheme of things. Humans have engineered the Earth's surface to be how it is using equipment, force and planning. Though humans have had a major impact on how the Earth's surface looks today, the impacts of water across the globe are immeasurable. We see dips and valleys where prehistoric lakes and oceans once were. Evidence of glaciers, long melted and the impact of the meltwater on the land is still visible today! What may have started as a small flowing stream millions of years ago has cut away millions of years of soil and sediment, creating deep channels like the Grand Canyon! When comparing humans building storm water ponds or moving river channels, years of erosion from water will have the greater impact.
So why should we care about fluvial geomorphology anyway? Well, the way that water flows and where can have big impacts on human activities like where we build roads and infrastructure, how we use the water, and even whether the water is safe or not. Here we can see the Swan River cutting a new path in the Spring of 2021, eliminating our water monitoring grab sample site , forcing us to access the stream at a different location.Read more
Been clicking around on our website to see what's new? Or maybe just what's unfamiliar? Maybe you came across the SRWI page... or the Swan River Watershed Initiative page. The Swan River Watershed Initiative is an informal collaboration between industry, governments, Swan River First Nation, NGO's and the Lesser Slave Watershed Council. The Swan River Watershed is part of the traditional territory of Swan River First Nation. In addition to traditional Indigenous land-based practices, it provides habitat for many species of plants and animals including Grizzly Bears and Arctic Grayling. The LSWC is supporting stewardship efforts in the Swan River watershed by industry, government and Indigenous communities. This area is a sub-watershed of the Lesser Slave Watershed. It has many partnerships, projects and stories to tell.Read more
Hey! Did you know that the Lesser Slave Watershed Council has 2 live cameras pointing at Lesser Slave Lake? The cameras were set up to show the public a live view of Lesser Slave Lake at any time to help keep people informed of live lake conditions and to be used as a safety tool! We set this project up in 2022 because we were finding that folks in the area needed this vital safety information and that everyone doesn't know somebody living on the lakeshore to call and ask what the weather and lake conditions are! This project helps make information about the lake more accessible!
There were far too many stories about folks heading out to the lake for recreation like kayaking, wakeboarding, or fishing, only to get out to the lake and realize that the lake conditions were far too unsafe for the activity! That's why the cameras are so important. They offer a way to save time, gas money, and hassle!Read more
A river winding through thickets of spruce and pine, a thundering ribbon of water racing through the jungle, a gentle trickle of water over hard blue stones, our waters are the lifeblood of the land. We’ve long known the importance of water, just 3 days without it and our bodies cease to function. This is just one reason why it is of the utmost importance for us to do our part in protecting and safely managing our water resources.Read more
It's a lot of work to monitor a major watershed in Alberta! Don't believe me? I'll fill you in on the ins-and-outs of our summer monitoring programs! To break it all down, I'll simplify our summer monitoring to 3 main projects and programs: our tributary water quality monitoring program, our lake monitoring program and our aquatic invasive species monitoring project. These 3 things keep us busy in the field throughout the whole open water season!
First, I'll talk about the busiest and most labor-intensive monitoring program: the Tributary Water Quality Monitoring Program. 2023 marks the 7th year of the program, meaning we have a lot of experience, fun stories and several thousand kilometers of driving on record! Oh, and data too! The program started with a 5 year commitment to fill data gaps in water quality in Northern Alberta. A few changes were made (updates that come with experience) and another 5 year commitment! In this program, we travel all around the watershed to collect water samples and water quality data in the field from all the tributaries of Lesser Slave Lake! Tributaries, or rivers that feed into a lake, give critical information about the water quality of our lake. We measure things like pH, water temperature, electrical conductivity and dissolved oxygen in the field with a fancy probe and send samples to a lab to measure total and dissolved nutrients, fecal coliforms, total suspended solids, and at some sites, total and dissolved metals! We head out once every 2 weeks from the last week of April to July and then once a month in August, September and October to collect samples at 15 sites across the watershed! We monitor 15 sites across 2 days on the Swan River, Saulteaux River, Otauwau River, Driftwood River, Marten Creek, Lesser Slave River, Driftpile River, the Grouard Channel, East Prairie River, South Heart River and West Prairie River!Read more
It's official! Yesterday was the last day to have all ice shacks off the lake which only means one thing: spring is coming! Warmer temperatures mean melting ice and open water season! But did you know that the temperature above water has more of an impact on lakes than ice or no ice? There are a few things that the temperature of the season does to affect water chemistry and population dynamics of the ecosystem!
First, we'll talk about water chemistry. As a part of our Water Quality Monitoring Program, the LSWC measures general water quality parameters like pH, temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, total and dissolved nutrients, fecal coliforms and total suspended solids. This program helps gather important data about water chemistry throughout the open water season and on lakes during the winter months. There are a few parameters that are affected by the seasons, or more directly, the average air temperature. Dissolved oxygen is the measurement of how much oxygen is available in the water. This is important for all of the species that live in the waterbody or rely on it in some way. Colder water holds more oxygen than warmer water, which means that colder conditions can be better for many species! Some ways that oxygen can be mixed into the water include wave action and wind! But in the winter, when there is a layer of ice preventing air circulation, lakes can experience lower levels of oxygen as what is 'stored' from lake mixing gets used up during the ice cover months.