The Elk River Alliance (ERA) held a webinar on Thursday (Jan. 27) to present data to the interested public on the health of the Elk River watershed.
Junior ecologist Kaileigh McCallum presented 2020 results from their Community-based Water Monitoring program, whose goal is to collect baseline data on aquatic habitat health and increase ‘community water literacy,’ she said.
Their work examined 10 sites across five Elk River tributaries: Lizard Creek, Alexander Creek, Boivin Creek, Coal Creek, and Morrissey Creek.
The health of the tributaries was measured in relation to other ‘reference’ sites with similar features that are in ‘pristine’ condition. Upstream and downstream areas were monitored at each tributary.
The further a particular site is from ‘reference condition’, the less healthy it is, according to this monitoring method.
Lizard Creek, one of their older monitoring locations, was classified as ‘mildly divergent’ both up and downstream, and there has been some fluctuation over time.
“We’re not worried about mild divergence, because the sites seem to experience stable fluctuations, so they’re not becoming increasingly divergent over time,” she said.
Alexander Creek, for which the ERA has data going back to 2012, was in reference condition.
Boivin Creek, which they began to monitor in 2019, was also in reference condition.
Coal Creek, which they began to monitor in 2019, was classified as divergent at the downstream site, which McCallum said is not surprising.
“The location is downstream of logging roads. There’s historic mining up there, some cattle grazing, a decommissioned landfill, there’s ATV trails, and it meanders through a portion of town before coming to our downstream site.”
The upstream site of Coal Creek was classed as ‘mild divergent’.
“We’re not currently super worried about that, but based on the two years of data, the sites appear to be trending towards increasingly poor condition. But with the fluctuations that we’ve seen at some of the other sites, it is hard to say without more data,” she said, adding that they will continue to monitor Coal Creek closely.
As for Morrissey Creek, which is a newer monitoring site, downstream was divergent, and upstream was in reference condition.
“I think overall our sites are looking pretty good,” McCallum said.
“The lower Coal (Creek) and lower Morrissey (Creek), are considered divergent, but I think it’s hard for us to say a whole lot about them until we have more longer term data sets. But with the amount of things that are going on in those locations, we’re definitely keeping an eye on them.”