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Highlights from the 2020 Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network Gathering

The Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network (LWCBMN), coordinated by LWF, mobilizes citizens to collect water samples across Manitoba. With the help of watershed partners and the guidance of LWF science advisors, the network is identifying phosphorus hotspots – localized areas that contribute higher amounts of algae-causing phosphorus to local waterways than other areas.

In what has become an annual event, LWCBMN volunteers, partners and other supporters recently gathered at the University of Manitoba to connect with each other, learn about the results of the 2019 LWCBMN field season, and get updated on how citizen-generated water-quality data are being used.

Highlights from the 2020 LWCBMN Annual Gathering

LWF Program Manager Chelsea Lobson began the day with a summary of the 2019 sampling season.

Phosphorus hotspots were once again identified in several areas of the province, following spatial trends previously identified in 2016 and 2017. The highest phosphorus exports were identified in the Seine, Rat and Roseau watersheds, with additional hotspots also located in the Pembina Valley and western Red River valley.

One big difference between the 2019 season and previous years was the timing of phosphorus loading occurred. High water events in fall led to significant late-season runoff in 2019; previously, most phosphorus loading happened in spring during the snow melt.

LWCBMN continues to grow. In 2019, more than 2,000 samples were collected from 160 sampling sites, with coverage expanding into new drainage areas including the Winnipeg River System. In addition to facilitating the efforts of citizen volunteers, LWF worked with 11 conservation districts, and began new partnerships with Manitoba Hydro and Ontario Power Generation.

New for 2019, stilling wells were installed at eight LWCBMN sampling sites. This equipment will enable LWF to monitor water flow at sites that don’t currently have Water Survey of Canada flow gauges. Flow data is used with phosphorus concentration data to calculate phosphorus load, i.e., the total amount of phosphorus flowing past a sample site over a given period of time. This information is then used to calculate phosphorus export, i.e., the amount of phosphorus exported from each hectare of land in a year, which helps paint a more complete picture of what’s happening on the landscape.

Excitingly, citizen-generated data is proving useful in a number of different applications; LWCBMN’s data is now being used by watershed partners in funding applications and to target projects, and by government researchers and other non-profit organizations doing watershed modelling.

Twelve regional reports were generated from LWCBMN data collected in 2019, organized by watershed district boundaries.

The 2020 gathering also featured presentations from researchers and watershed partners about new initiatives throughout Manitoba that are making use of both LWCBMN data and LWCBMN’s on-the-ground infrastructure – in which samples are collected using scientific protocols in a timely, responsive and cost-effective way.

Braedon Humeniuk from the University of Manitoba shared details of a new, two-year study that will use LWCBMN’s volunteer network, equipment and protocols to collect a robust salinity dataset. A variety of human activities – from agricultural practices to the road salt used to de-ice streets during winter – are increasing salt concentrations in freshwater ecosystems. This can pose a risk to aquatic organisms and lead to other negative consequences. Starting in 2020, Humeniuk will be examining the current state of salinity in Manitoba’s surface waters, analyzing collected water samples for salt concentration to determine possible sources and drivers of salinity in the Lake Winnipeg watershed.

Joey Simoes from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) explained how LWCBMN phosphorus data is being used to validate a predictive watershed model. Hydrological modelling can be used to predict the future probability of high-water events such as rainstorms, snowmelts and floods, as well as the expected water volume and phosphorus load associated with such events. Using a tool called the Prioritize Target and Measure Application (PTMApp), IISD is exploring how modelling can inform both the choice and placement of water-retention beneficial management practices that could be implemented on rural landscapes to improve water quality. 

Alexis Kanu, LWF’s executive director, provided an update on how local community-based monitoring efforts are feeding into a national conversation about the value of citizen-generated data to inform policy. Together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous community-based water monitoring practitioners, water scientists, and policy and data experts from across the country have generated a set of recommendations to the federal government to further support community-based monitoring as a critical tool for freshwater protection across the country. Companion documents to these recommendations include a roundtable discussion paper and a series of case studies, including one highlighting LWCBMN as a group conducting effective monitoring.

Kent Lawarne from Prairie Spirit School Division gave a summary of River Watch, a water-sampling program offered by the South Central Eco Institute that provides opportunities for students across Manitoba to explore their local rivers and creeks. Operating under the motto “students in water stewardship action,” this program trains youth on the proper use of industry-grade equipment to collect and analyse water samples. Starting in 2020, participating students will be offered LWCBMN sampling kits and trained on sampling protocols, with a goal of sparking interest in students who may someday become citizen volunteers.

Matt McDougall and Jorg Stetefeld from the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Oil and Gas Research and Development gave an overview of environmental DNA (eDNA) – a cutting-edge research field which could greatly benefit from LWCBMN’s on-the-ground infrastructure. All living things shed DNA when moving through their environments, and scientists can now test collected water samples for the presence of eDNA from aquatic organisms. This research has great potential for monitoring the effects of climate change or industrial activities on aquatic species, assessing the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems or tracking the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Agnes Fojt from Water Survey of Canada (WSC) shared more details about this national agency and how it collects, interprets and disseminates standardized water resource data, including data used by LWCBMN. Operating in partnership with provinces, territories and industries, WSC currently maintains 780 active monitoring stations across the Lake Winnipeg watershed; 137 of these stations are located within the Manitoba portion of the watershed, and water flow at these stations is constantly monitored. Flow data is shared online in real time – sometimes, up to multiple times an hour! Collected data is used in multiple ways, including flood forecasting, infrastructure planning and water-quality research such as LWCBMN sampling activities.

To reduce phosphorus loading, we need to know how, when and from where phosphorus is reaching Lake Winnipeg. LWCBMN is generating critical data to inform research and policy, helping us focus our energy and invest our resources wisely to improve water quality across Manitoba. To learn more about LWCBMN and how you can get involved, visit our website’s LWCBMN page.

*Please note, the 2019 regional reports originally shared online and released at the 2020 LWCBMN Annual Gathering contained an error in the phosphorus loading calculations for the Seine Rat Roseau Watershed District data.  All corrected reports have now been updated on our website; we apologize for this error. Thanks to our partners at the Seine Rat Roseau Watershed District for noticing the error.  Having local knowledge on the ground is a key part of our monitoring efforts, and SRRWD’s catch demonstrates the value of collaboration! If you downloaded a report from our website prior to Feb. 25, 2020, please discard the report and download the updated version.



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