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! 

Lake monitoring is a lot less frequent, but still takes a day! 2022 was the first year we monitored Lesser Slave Lake on a program! We spent 4 days across June-September collecting sampled and taking field measurements on each basin of Lesser Slave. We measured all the same parameters as our river program with one added test: Chlorophyll A. Testing for Chlorophyll A means a test for how much algae is growing in the water, which is an increased concern in lakes. Lesser Slave is naturally a phosphorus rich lake, which means it is naturally higher in nutrients for plants to grow and is prone to algal blooms in the summer months. We head out in a boat from Canyon Creek marina first thing to beat the waves and collect from 2 locations on the 'East Basin', then do it all over again from Joussard on the 'West Basin'. As long as we beat the wind and the weather is safe, its a pretty fun day!

The last monitoring we do is the newest to the roster: Aquatic Invasive Species Monitoring! In the spring of 2022, LSWC staff were trained by Jessica Pope and Ron Zurawell at the Government of Alberta to help them sample for Quagga Mussels, Zebra Mussels and the Spiney Water Flea. For this, we head out to Lesser Slave Lake and Fawcett Lake to collect samples from the marinas, which would be the first point of contact for these little invaders to our invasive-free lakes. For this, we sweep a net in the water to collect a sample of living things in the water for taxonomic analysis. If these unwanted critters were in the lake, we'd see the larval forms (called veligers) which are more easily seen under a microscope than with the naked eye. We collect these samples and send them to Edmonton where the Government of Alberta does the analysis! 

And that's the summer field season! On top of continued invasive species monitoring for land dwelling species every time we are out and about, that sums up our monitoring! The days in the field add up pretty quick! And to top it off, we are looking to add more monitoring with the CABIN Program in the later summer and fall! Learn more about the National CABIN Program.

If you ever have questions about our monitoring or want to volunteer to join us, reach out! (780) 523-9800 or contact Meghan at [email protected]

By: Kate Lovsin