Taking the pulse of our living lake



HEALTH CHECK  Every Tuesday morning on Lake Windermere, Pulse Check trips take volunteers on a scientific journey. Photos by Kevin Nimmock
HEALTH CHECK Every Tuesday morning on Lake Windermere, Pulse Check trips take volunteers on a scientific journey. Photos by Kevin Nimmock

It was a bright, warm Tuesday morning as I stepped out of my car, groggy-eyed and confused, looking for the public boat launch in Athalmer. As a newbie in the area, I naturally had no idea where I was going, but I decided to confidently stride in one direction and hope I had guessed right.

I had not. As I looked around hopelessly, I saw an arm waving out of the corner of my eye. Sure enough, there was my group, standing beside a beautiful looking boat on the other side of the marina area.

Every week, the Lake Windermere Ambassadors lead a Pulse Check, which I quickly learned involves taking readings of the water using a variety of tests at different points around the lake (the results are printed in the Invermere Valley Echo along with a photograph of the weekly volunteer).

My team for the morning was captained by Ella, the Ambassadors watershed stewardship assistant, and Gavin, our intrepid boat driver. Both had the enthusiasm necessary to make early-morning environmentalism a truly enriching and exciting experienced. The team was rounded out by two other volunteers, pumped for a morning on the water.

After we received our life jackets (and I had the pleasure of being emasculated by fitting properly into a vest meant for a large child), we took to the open waters. It was my first boat ride in the valley, and I had never experienced anything quite like it. Gavins boat cut effortlessly through the glassy, pristine water as we smoothly sped our way towards the first Pulse Check area, indicated by Ellas GPS.

At the first area, Ella demonstrated the six tests that have been done around the lake for over 10 years. She measured water temperature, site depth, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and conductivity. The idea is that with these tests, the Ambassadors can track changes to the lake over time. Considering the important role the lake plays in making the valley an attractive place to live and visit, taking any measure to preemptively protect it seems absolutely necessary.

Ella said the water looked to be normal, though the high oxygen levels were indicative of particularly prolific plant growth. Since we were at the deepest part of the lake, we did some of the tests, like the dissolving oxygen test, at the very bottom of the water and at the top.

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To do all the necessary tests, Ella brought along a large container full of tools I had never seen before. My personal favourite was the Secchi disk, a white and black circular disk on a rope that descends into the water to measure clarity. When you cant see the disk anymore, you have found the waters Secchi depth. We could see the disk deep into the water, indicating Lake Windermere is as clean as I had thought.

After the tests were wrapped up and the tools were put back in their container, it was time to head to the second area. This time, it was my turn to do some of the work. The second area was the shallowest point in the lake, meaning our findings there were likely going to be different than what we found in the deepest area.

I did the turbidity test, by putting a vial of lake water in a machine that looks like a giant TV remote. The turbidity test measures water clarity by looking at how much the material suspending in the water decreases the passage of light through the water.

Regardless of your scientific aptitude, all the tests that volunteers get to do on Pulse Check trips are quite simple. If technical insecurity is something holding you back from volunteering, dont let it.

Quickly, we moved onto the third and final area, where I checked the waters pH level using a small device that just had to be dipped into the lake. Once the team completed the necessary tests, we were whisked back to our starting point at the marina, traversing what felt like most of the lake in the process.

Maybe my experience was skewed by the beautiful weather I got to enjoy, but there really is no finer way to spend a Tuesday morning. When I stepped off the boat, it seemed clear to me that Pulse Check trips are important for two reasons.

First, protectionist groups like the Lake Windermere Ambassadors need to be able to document how climate change and other factors are altering our precious lake. Second, regular residents need to understand the lake supports a diverse, vibrant eco-system and that it needs to be protected by everyone, collectively.

As much as it was an exciting trip, the Pulse Check program is informational at its heart. For anyone who spends a lot of time around Lake Windermere, the program should be a must-do.

To find out about volunteering, call 250-341-6898 or email info@lakeambassadors.ca.

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