Watershed Council to test Lesser Slave water this winter

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

The Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council (LSWC) will start testing Lesser Slave Lake this fall and winter. In the past few years, the Alberta government hasn’t taken samples, so the local watershed council is stepping up. These will be taken at the same locations as previous samples taken by the Alberta government.

The decision to start testing the lake was made by the LSWC board on September 17.

LSWC executive director Meghan Payne outlined the plan at the meeting.
There will be two test sites – one in the west basin and one in the east. In the fall, a first sample will be taken by boat. Then when the ice is safe, samples will be taken of the ice and of the oxygen level under the ice.

For the last few years, the council has tested the water quality of various rivers which flow into Lesser Slave Lake. Industry and Swan River First Nation are partners in this testing.

Farm projects
Last year, funding delays and this year COVID-19 have delayed projects aimed at reducing reduce disturbances to water courses by agricultural activities. However, there are a few in the works.

The LSWC staff are trained to help farmers complete environmental plans and have some funding to help with projects which will help protect the watershed. These include riparian area fencing, which keeps livestock out of streams and wetlands.

Cattle in rivers and streams can cause erosion and add bacteria to the water.

For example, the watershed council is trying to find the source of a high level of fecal coliform bacteria in one of the rivers on the west side of the lake. This is evidence of animal feces in the water. The tests aren’t back whether the bacteria is from cattle or other ruminants such as moose and deer.

The availability of most such projects is spread mostly by “word of mouth,” says LSWC executive director Meghan Payne. The goal is to “stretch our grant funding,” so LSWC staff help the farmers with environmental farm plans, because this allows them to apply for other forms of funding, not just money from LSWC.

“I think it’s growing in popularity,” says Payne. The changes to the farms in the area are “producer-driven, positive change.”

This summer while doing testing on the rivers, says Payne, the LSWC staff also collected samples for research being done in Guelph, Ontario on waterfowl.

On the east side of the lake, Patti Campsall with the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory and Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation is also taking water samples.

“It’s a good way to contribute to science stuff, without a lot of cost,” says Payne.

Lesser Slave Lake in winter: what’s it like under the ice? The LSWC aims to find out with a testing program.

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