Watershed Wanderings

By Lake Windermere Ambassadors

The Lake Windermere Ambassadors direct a community-based water monitoring and citizen-science education program within the Lake Windermere watershed. 2021 marked the fifteenth year of lake monitoring since the Lake Windermere Project began collecting water quality data in 2006. For our first watershed wanderings article of the season, we thought an overview of the work we did and the findings observed during the 2021 monitoring season would be valuable. 

In 2021, we collected weekly water quality measurements at three sites on Lake Windermere from late May to September. Measurements include water temperature, turbidity/clarity, pH, conductivity, depth, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved phosphorus and total phosphorous. 

2021 saw increased environmental stressors impacting water quality. Five out of the eight water quality parameters deviated from Ministry of Environment objectives throughout the season. The deviated parameters included temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, specific conductivity, and phosphorous. The outlier in last year’s monitoring season was the extreme temperatures, or the ‘Heat Dome,’ observed at the end of June into the beginning of July. The increased air temperatures directly impacted the water temperatures. Increased water temperature can affect the chemistry of the lake and the health of aquatic life. In addition to our weekly water quality monitoring program, we also

  Monitored substrate samplers at six sites for invasive mussels 

• Hired Lotic Environmental LTD to perform a native fish survey

• Contracted Goldeneye Ecological Services to complete Lake Windermere’s aquatic plant and waterbird surveys

During the invasive species sampling, no invasive species (plants, mussel larvae, or mussels) were found. Overall, there is a healthy abundance of vegetation throughout the lake; however, a couple of sites of concern saw less healthy vegetation. Invasive mussels were not detected in Lake Windermere, but there was an anecdotally observed decline in the native freshwater mussel species. A fascinating finding from the aquatic plant surveys which deserves more attention was green freshwater sponges, an animal species most likely known as Spongilla lacustris. If you are interested in reading more on these topics, the reports will be available on our website.  

The Columbia Valley is home to an exciting and diverse group of waterbirds. The newly developed waterbird survey protocol and the investigative report found 889 individual birds from 18 species observed, several of them being rare sightings. Of these sightings, the Surf Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, and California Gulls are the designated species at risk. Out of all the observed species, 6 per cent are species at risk, making our lake a valuable hot spot for such bird sightings.

Reflecting on the 2021 monitoring results, creates some interesting questions and highlights the continued importance of monitoring efforts in a changing climate. Each year this region grows in popularity, experiencing increased development within the watershed, risks of adverse environmental impacts to water quality and quantity, and disturbance to aquatic populations. Case studies demonstrate lakes and rivers which undergo significant changes to pollution events, algal blooms, or invasion by non-native species suffer possibly irreversible environmental damages. Last year’s heatwave reminded us that climate change influences hydrologic regimes in the Columbia Valley, causing hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters. The cascading effects of these climatic changes, in combination with compounding human influences on our aquatic ecosystems, can cause significant impacts on the health of our lake.

How will these factors impact Lake Windermere in the long term? Though no one can tell for sure, it is essential to continue building our baseline data and learning more about this amazing watershed we are lucky to call home. Stay tuned for more watershed wanderings to learn more about the importance of Lake Windermere and its surrounding watershed. 

To learn more about our organization or if you are interested in volunteering with us, please contact info@lakeambassadors.com.