Watershed Wanderings

By Lake Windermere Ambassadors

In addition to the Columbia River, there are several feeder tributaries that recharge Lake Windermere. The quality and quantity of water entering lakes from tributaries are influenced by the geology, activities, and infrastructure of the watershed they flow over or through.

A watershed is the entire area of land that first receives water, then moves it to a common place of deposition, such as a lake. It is more than just the immediate land surrounding a waterbody. It represents a much larger area than one usually considers. 

An undisturbed watershed can purify and buffer against environmental impacts and small amounts of pollution. However, when poor land use practices occur in watersheds, it can affect the water quality and quantity of the downstream environment.

The Lake Windermere watershed drains approximately 1,325 km2 of land under a variety of uses, including railroads, highways, housing developments, golf courses, agricultural areas, ski hills, marinas, mining, septic and wastewater, wells and groundwater, logging and forestry zones, grasslands, campgrounds, and beaches. Water flowing across or through these different types of landscapes can pick up material and then deposit it into our lake. The most concerning input is pollution. 

The Government of Canada and of British Columbia classify environmental contamination into two main categories – point source and non-point source (NPS) pollution. Briefly, point source pollution enters the environment from an easily identified and confined place (such as a pipe from a wastewater treatment plant, a septic system leak, a factory or industrial plant, municipal landfills, and runoff from a highway). 

A non-point source pollution generally is the release of contaminants that are carried over a broader area by rain or snow melt before depositing into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal and ground waters. They are often an accumulation of pollution from multiple sources. This polluted runoff is usually a result of urban and land development, residential and agricultural runoff, forestry practices, stormwater and sewer leakages and outflows, infrastructure drainage or seepage, boating and marina activities, and environmental alteration.

A Land Use Table prepared by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (found on our website) identifies forested land as the dominant land use in the Lake Windermere watershed. Open range, agriculture, and lakeshore residential are also identified in smaller amounts. 

NPS pollution may be a problem in certain areas of the Lake Windermere watershed, but little is known about its source and what impact it may be having on our lake. 

In a preliminary land use survey previously conducted by the Lake Windermere Ambassadors (see our website) areas of concern and potential sources of non-point source pollution were identified as follows: golf courses and resorts, residential properties and developments, agricultural land, which may include greenhouses, nurseries, ranches, and hobby farms; highways, bridges and other urban structures and developments, septic and sewer systems, marinas, boating practices, and gas docks, storm drains and ponds. 

Concerns include the proximity to Lake Windermere and surrounding tributaries, the use of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, bacteria and nutrient runoff from pet and livestock waste, oil, grease and toxic chemicals from recreational practices and urban runoff, heavy metals from motor vehicles and finally, sediment transport. 

The impacts of non-point source pollution can range from minimal to astronomical for Lake Windermere, a water body that has seen a large variety of land use and an accelerated increase in development. 

It is evident that further investigation and surveying is needed.  

For tips you can take to minimize pollution in your watershed and for sources consulted in this article please refer to our website www.lakeambassadors.ca