Editor’s note: The Arrow Lakes News is proud to welcome a new periodical column series contributed by the Arrow Lakes Environmental Stewardship Society.
Once again the annual fall migration of twenty some volunteers, otherwise known as “citizen scientists,” head out to their local wadeable creeks throughout the Columbia Basin to strut their stuff.
Dressed in life jackets and hip waders, for those of us that have them, and armed to the hilt with our “tools of the CABIN trade,” we hunt for someone we’ll call ‘No Name’ to help us carry all the paraphernalia needed for our quest.
What’s this all about, you may wonder? It’s part of a five-year Water Quality Monitoring Project funded by Columbia Basin Trust to establish a baseline on the health of wadeable creeks.
CABIN, an acronym for Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network, is a national biomonitoring program developed by Environment Canada (EC) that provides a standardized sampling protocol for assessing aquatic ecosystem approach.
Arrow Lakes Environment Stewardship Society is one of nine groups throughout the Basin taking part in the project with Simon Bamber and myself having taken a University of New Brunswick online course and certified by EC in the spring of 2009.
Enough of the fancy talk, let’s get down to local business.
It’s a rainy October Monday morning at 7 o’clock. We’ll spend the day recording six pages of information for each of Burton’s three creeks. With equipment and site inspection sheets completed, first stop: the lower end of the Caribou.
Simon sets his borrowed survey equipment and “holy —-” – not more than three spits to the wind, a perched eagle.
“Quick ‘No Name,’ get the camera and while you’re at it, take photos: upstream, downstream, across site, then place that six inch ruler on the exposed bar and shoot that.”
‘No name’ replies “how about taking a shot of Scotch at the bar.”
In the meantime I tick the uneventful first half page of the field sheet: tick, tick, tick. Location Data… I’ll have to doodle with Google again…wish we had a GPS; and drawing a Site Location Map always looks like an artistic effort done by a three-year-old. After some more tick tick ticks we’re into the fun stuff – Benthic Macroinvertebrate sampling, otherwise known as bottom dwelling visible bugs without backbones.
Collecting these bugs has Simon with stopwatch in hand (he’s the one without hip waders) while I take the mesh kick net and head into yon creek sliding and stumbling over periphyton (algae)-covered cobble. Positioning myself facing downstream with net at feet, I give the signal “READY.” Simon responds “GO.”
The next three minutes involve kicking and twisting the stones to a three- or four-inch depth and rubbing one booted foot over the surfaces to dislodge the critters. The collected sample is poured into a swirl bucket and, much like panning for gold, the critters are separated from unwanted debris. Then they are transferred into a sample jar, preserved with a measured ratio of rubbing alcohol, labeled and sent off to a taxonomy lab for identification.
The 100 Pebble Count involves the actual measurement of – you guessed it – 100 randomly selected pebbles from within the creek bed and trust me, the water is darn cold. Its purpose is to determine the average size of substrate whether it be organic, pebbles, cobble, boulders or bedrock.
As the percentage of sand and silt increases, the suitability and availability of living space for bugs decreases, and therefore fewer bugs in existence somewhat reflect the health of a fish-bearing creek.
Our borrowed survey equipment is finally put to work with Simon and ‘No Name’ to determine the slope as part of the Channel Data.
In the meantime I’ll unpack the meters to take Water Chemistry readings for pH, Specific Conductance, Dissolved Oxygen and Turbidity. Having taken part in the Know Your Watershed project, your grade 8 students should be able to help decipher some of this terminology, otherwise I’d be taking up the reminder of this page – or hopefully, you could read all about it in our next bi-monthly column. Lastly, a water sample is taken, to be sent to the lab for further chemical analysis.
Full width and depth measurements of the bank comprise the last portion of Channel Data. Simply put, a math formula combining these measurements along with a velocity meter stick will yield the volume and speed of water. The significance of this data is most useful in determining hydrological variables and the relationship to bug distribution.
One last sample we’ll take with a stainless steel spoon – sediment. A lab analysis will provide a history of metals contained within the hydrological habits of the creek bed.
And lastly – “pull the logger!”
“What – a logger in the creek?”
Yes. A temperature logger has been recording water temperature every hour since it’s been launched last spring and once connected to a computer will display data in graph- and hour-specific format. The Caribou is done – the Burton and Snow to go and then homeward bound we’ll be.
Upon receipt of all lab analysis, it and all collected data is entered into the National Data Base. Once the accumulation of several years of data which has been entered into the data base, a computer generated program based upon physical, chemical and biological interactions will compare the condition of this particular site with a pristine watershed giving us the ability to conduct consistent, comparable and scientifically credible biological assessments.