All Eyes on Lesser Slave Lake

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! 

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Water Protection at Home and Around the World

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.

view of wetland area near Lesser Slave lake 2015

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Monitoring the 'Shed

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! 

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The Science Behind the Seasons

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. 

 

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Science...to the X-Stream!

There used to be a mobile science education program that roamed Northern Alberta communities, they had a green van with a dragonfly stuck on a frog’s tongue as its logo, they were called Mad About Science. The program leaders would roll up to a new town every week and prepare for a whirlwind of adventures with local elementary school kids, and sometimes summer camps filled with eager young minds. Each day at the summer camp version had a different theme, wetlands, forests, microscopic worlds, cosmology (not to be confused with cosmetology, or the study of cosmetics/beauty), and more.

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6th Annual Kids Can Catch

Another year, another successful ice fishing event! Thank you to everyone that came out to the Lesser Slave Watershed Council’s (LSWC) 6th Annual Kids Can Catch Ice Fishing event in Joussard on February 18th! In case you missed it, here is a quick wrap-up of the day of fun and festivities!  

Our day began with the smell of pancakes and sausages, a free breakfast hosted by the Big Lakes County FCSS! As people filled their bellies and visited with familiar faces, stations were set up all around the hall to entertain folks of all ages! We were grateful to have support from our friends at the Lesser Slave Forest Education Society that brought their fur kit, ice fishing game and a sensory activity which had people feel items and try to guess what they were! We had another fur kit from our board member and outdoor conservation enthusiast Keith Denoncourt! The LSWC set up a station which had people connecting the dots between the fish species in the lake and the different regulations for catching them! We also had a station for coloring and drawing your own watershed! For those that needed hints, we had our Watershed Wise magnet board set up too! And to top it all off, there was a photo booth with fishing props and giant stuffed fish! 

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A Day in the Life of a Lake Sampler

Have you ever wondered what it is like to participate in citizen science programs? Or maybe head out on a frozen lake for science? Or maybe both?? Well, you'd be in luck! Today's story is all about a day in the life of a lake sampler... specifically in the WINTER! 

First off, do you know what citizen science means? Citizen science means that members of the public volunteer to help gather information for scientific research. Anyone can do it! But the things you need to know and do for each project are different! Volunteers usually have straight forward instructions to follow or go through short tutorials and training sessions to make sure the information gathered is being done the same way as everyone else so that the information is comparable in the end. Next, have you ever heard about the Alberta Lake Management Society's (ALMS) different citizen science opportunities? Our friends at ALMS have a bunch of different programs and opportunities available for individuals or groups to help across Alberta! One of those programs is the Winter LakeKeepers program! The LSWC is a proud supporter and volunteer to the LakeKeepers program! 

So.. back to that 'day in the life' stuff! 

We start out at the LSWC office, making sure we have ice packs, sample bottles prepared and ready to go, and all the tools we will need to gather our information! It might be funny to think we need ice packs in the winter, but we need to make sure our samples stay cold before they make their way to the lab for analysis! We make sure to have a measuring tape, cooler and our bottles, long insulated gloves, an ice scoop, field sheets, our fancy probe and of course, an ice auger! Once we are all packed up, we start our journey to the lake! 

Watershed Coordinator Kate Lovsin (L) and Executive Director Meghan Payne (R) filtering Chlorophyll-a, Winter 2022. 

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Have You Heard About ALUS?

What's the deal with this 'ALUS'? Who is she and why am I hearing so much about her? If you haven't heard about it yet, ALUS isn’t a person; it is a program that is producer driven to help make positive changes on the landscape using nature-based solutions.
Okay, but what does that mean? Well, I'll give you the run-down!
The ALUS Program, originally started as the Alternative Land Use Services Program, set out as a community-based initiative to work with landowners to help find natural solutions to issues they were facing on their land. The program's chief goal is to promote environmental stewardship and provide landowners the opportunity to consider conservation as a means of land management that would benefit them, their land, and their operations in. The program is producer driven, meaning it runs on the schedule of the producer, based on their interests, and works to provide solutions on a project-by-project basis. It is by no means a one-size-fits-all model! ALUS coordinators are partners working hand in hand with landowners to make real change across Alberta, and Canada! ALUS is currently in 31 communities across Canada and has invested over $12 million in projects across Canada! With over 1,103 producer partners and 32,134 acres enrolled with ALUS since 2021, ALUS is thriving on support from its communities and partners!
So you might be thinking, what does it mean to get started with ALUS? What kinds of projects qualify for the program? And how will I find the time to do more on my farm? We get it. Going above and beyond for the sake of conservation isn’t always feasible. That is why programs like ALUS exist! Your ALUS coordinator is here to support you throughout your project, help you manage the administrative process, coordinate the project as little or as much as you need, provide support, and adjust the project timeline as needed. We understand that life (and weather) gets in the way. ALUS is flexible!

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Ice Safety

A few years ago my family from England came to visit in the dead of winter. They wanted a snowy Christmas, to pick their own tree from the woods, and to spend time on a frozen lake. My parents, siblings and I were excited to show them the magic of winter here in Northern Alberta, and were keen to show them that cold weather didn’t stop us from having fun! The youngest of my cousins was incredibly afraid of two things: snow blindness and thin ice, but taking him out onto the frozen lake was one of the best parts of their visit! They put on their gloves before their coats, and needed help to do up zippers, then complaining about being too warm in the truck (we did tell them not to put coats on until we got there, they just didn’t listen.) We slid forward, fell backwards and laughed at the poor English kids that looked honestly like Bambi on ice. I see kids doing the same thing on lakes, ponds and river all over our region, every year.

Learning to skate, to play hockey, and to walk on ice all on the same day made for a great adventure!


Whether you’re thinking about going out on skates for fun, to play a game of shinny hockey, or out ice fishing, please be careful! Here are a few ice safety tips to keep in mind while you’re out.

  • Check the colour of ice, colour is a great way for you to tell the strength of the ice!
    • Clear blue ice is strongest.
    • White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice
    • Grey ice is unsafe. The grayness indicates the presence of water.
  • Ice needs to be thicker if there are multiple people skating or if you’re using any kind of OHV, ATV, or vehicle on the ice.
    • 15 cm for walking or skating alone
    • 20 cm for skating parties or game
    • 25 cm for vehicles, OHV’s & snowmobile
    • Obey posted signs about ice surfaces for activities
    • Avoid any open holes or cracks
  • Pack out what you pack in
    • Leave no human waste, garbage, or recyclables out there. Anything left behind in the spring will go in to our waterways and can negatively impact the health of the lake, fish and wildlife
  • Avoid going out on ice at night
  • Go with a buddy, and make sure someone on shore knows when you’ll be home
    • Avoid going out on the ice alone to ensure rescue is an option
    • Discuss rescue procedures in advance to ensure all fishers know how to perform a rescue safely.
  • Carry rescue equipment
    • ice picks, rope, a cell phone (in a waterproof container) and a first aid kit.
    • Other safety equipment to be considered includes: flashlight, waterproof matches/lighter, tool kit, candles and survival blanket.
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Water & Wastewater

Out of sight, out of mind

You dump something down the drain, and presto, it's gone! Not really, but it does seem like a disappearing act! What goes down the drain in the homes of the people living in our watershed can end up in Lesser Slave Lake. We use water every day, and we affect its cleanness. It's easy to see garbage or debris floating in the water, water with soap suds, or even the sheen of oil on the water's surface. Contaminated wastewater affects all our waterbodies; making beaches unattractive, closing fisheries, and affecting tourism opportunities in our region. Imagine your favourite lake activity: swimming, laying on the beach, fishing, or maybe paddling.

We often don't think about where things end up once they are down the drain. So, where does the water go when you flush the toilet? Well, that depends. If you live in town it goes to the water treatment system, through a series of aerobic and anaerobic (oxygen/no oxygen) digestion processes before being released into the environment after passing water quality tests. Anything you put down the drain that employees or bacteria don't physically remove ends up in our waters. This is different that what happens out of town, and down the storm water drains. Some rural residences are connected to county sewage system as well, but chances are if you live out of town you have a septic system. In our watershed there is one waste water treatment plant that uses biological and mechanical processes to treat waste and discharges continually into a treatment wetland. This plant is able to filter pollutants including nutrients out of wastewater. The technology is better but the costs of building and using this type of system is a major barrier. 

 

No matter where you live though, eventually, the water you flush could going to end up in your glass of water. I know that sounds gross, but it's true. Because of the water cycle, the amount of water on earth stays constant and continuously cycles around the planet, so we could be drinking water that was once in cacti in Arizona!

Many pollutants are not obvious to the naked eye.  Some pollutants are easier to remove from water than others. Wastewater usually contains nutrients, which can exacerbate algal blooms. Though plants and fish need nutrients, excess nutrients overfeed algae which can deplete oxygen from the water as they decompose. Bacteria also decompose the organic wastes in our water. This process takes up a lot of oxygen and can impact the health of fish and other aquatic life in our lakes, rivers, and streams. Nutrients, effluent and other pollutants are ingested by small organisms, which are later consumed by ever larger fish and animals, this is called bioaccumulation. Because of bioaccumulation, animals (including humans) can be made sick, injured or even killed by pollutants.


So, what should go down the drain?

It's best if you only flush your body's waste and toilet paper, anything else can have negative impacts on both the plumbing/infrastructure and the natural environment. Water and anything typically mixed with water, such as toothpaste, soap, and shampoo, are the only thing that should go down our sink and shower drains. Preventing pollution in the first place is essential. We all have a role to play in ensuring toxins and excess nutrients do not enter our waters. When we use water wisely, we ease the burden on sewage treatment. Using water wisely means not wasting it and minimizing the number of contaminants entering our drains. Lake friendly practices can help us make choices to conserve and protect our precious water resources.

By: Alyssa Belanger

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