Watersheds made simple

A new watershed management tool created by way of a project led by the Lake Country Environmental Society could help to generate public interest and participation in protecting and enhancing water quality. The watershed report card template uses an easy to understand letter grade to assess the overall health of water bodies such as Middle Vernon Creek.

Making informed decisions is about collecting as much detail as possible about a subject and using that knowledge to choose the best course of action. Individuals who are rich in knowledge on a given subject don’t always have decision-making power however, and in such cases they must do their best to share their expertise with others.

In Lake Country an example of this scenario can be found in the management of the municipality’s watershed. District staff and outside consultants collect massive amounts of data on water quality but ultimately it is council that makes decisions relating to watershed management.

One problem that arises in trying to communicate watershed information between the scientific community and politicians stems from the highly technical nature of the subject. Understanding the significance of the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus plotted as data on a graph can be difficult without proper training. To complicate matters further, council likes to solicit community input to use in its civic planning but much of the public is unfamiliar with terms like ‘riparian zone,’ so how can good decisions be made?

Recognizing this predicament, the Lake Country Environmental Society (LCES) has recently completed a project that could help translate the scientific jargon into layperson’s terms. With a $7,000 grant from the Okanagan Basin Water Board, the society hired and collaborated with Geostream Environmental Consulting to produce what it is calling a watershed report card template.

The template assesses physical, chemical and biological criteria as they relate to important considerations of watershed management such as streamside vegetation, hardened surfaces and surface water and ground water quality. When the template is applied to a specific body of water, Wood Lake for instance, an overall letter grade indicating watershed health can be given based on the evaluation of the various criteria.

“You can think of it as being similar to the way a country evaluates its standard of living. We look at a number of factors and based on those we assign a letter grade that is easily understood and allows people to compare the health of one body of water against another,” says Stan Brynjolfson, President of the LCES.

Lorne Davies of Geostream Environmental Consulting emphasizes that the template is just one part of a bigger picture when it comes to watershed management in the Okanagan. While it has the potential to be used anywhere in the Okanagan Valley it is up to individual jurisdictions to decide whether or not it will be used.

The LCES already has one notable supporter of the project in Okanagan College. Beginning in September 2012, Water Engineering Technology students will be exposed to the template as a part of their curriculum. Students in the program will gain real world project management skills as they create a report card for the region’s large lakes. The results of the report card will then be presented to municipalities and other stakeholders.

Brynjolfson is hopeful that if the report card template comes into widespread use it could help to attract new members to the LCES too. After more than 20 years of local environmental stewardship the society’s numbers are dwindling. By making the issues easier to understand, the society is trying to assist more people in relating to the watershed and facilitating their active involvement in its management.

Anyone wishing to learn more about joining the LCES is advised to attend its annual general meeting on April 13 at 7:00 p.m. in the Carr’s Landing room at the municipal hall.

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