Elk River Alliance Water and Education Program Manager Ayla Bennett. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Elk Valley water monitoring program expanding

Elk River Alliance to monitor Boivin and Coal creeks based on community feedback

A community-based water monitoring program will be expanded to include two new streams of concern in Elkford and Fernie.

Since 2011, Elk River Alliance staff, board members and trained community volunteers have been monitoring water quality in the Elk River watershed.

The Community-Based Water Monitoring Program (CBWM) aims to fill knowledge gaps in existing data and ensure water quality information is available to the public.

“One of our biggest goals is to empower community by educating them more on water quality, what that means and why it’s important, so that community can be empowered to get involved in watershed decision-making and to speak up for our streams,” said ERA’s Water and Education Program Manager Ayla Bennett.

“The province and the federal government, they don’t have the capacity to monitor these smaller streams. But obviously the health of the Elk River is really dependent on the tributaries, so we think it’s really important that the community can be involved.”

Up until now, water monitoring efforts have been focused on Lizard Creek, southwest of Fernie, and Alexander Creek, east of Sparwood.

Bennett said this year, the program will be expanded to include two new streams based on community feedback about potential impacts such as logging and climate change.

“We’re going to be adding Boivin Creek in Elkford and Coal Creek in Fernie, so we’re looking forward to getting some data on those streams,” she said.

“We’re going to continue monitoring Lizard and Alexander. Overall, they’re in pretty good shape but there are a few parameters that were flagged that we are going to keep an eye on.”

The CBWM program uses protocols from Pacific Streamkeepers Federation, Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network, and Sensitive Habitat Inventory Mapping.

Samples are collected during high and low flow to monitor benthic macro-invertebrates, water quality and stream temperature.

The ERA has spent the past year compiling and analyzing the results from 2012-2018, and presenting the data to the community.

The report cards for Alexander and Lizard creeks show both streams are relatively healthy, despite human pressures on Alexander including roads, agriculture and heavy industry.

Bennett said the only stream showing as “stressed” was Lizard Creek in 2012 when the benthic macro-invertebrate population was found to be “extremely low” and the silt clay percentage “very high”.

Conditions have improved since then.

“This is why it’s really important to have long term data trends,” said Bennett. “The value of water monitoring data isn’t just in the snapshot that we collect, but it’s in analyzing the trends and knowing what’s really going on in the stream… if there’s a sudden change then you can be proactive and investigate.”

Last spring, the ERA completed a bank restoration project on Alexander Creek to mitigate some erosion and associated turbidity issues.

It will host another Streamkeepers training program in the fall, contact the ERA via 250-423-8799 or info@elkriveralliance.ca to express your interest.

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