Spotlight: Rainy River – The Effects of a Canadian Winter on our Waterways

WHO?

Chris Herc, the environmental monitoring coordinator at Grand Council Treaty #3, has been a dedicated member of Water Rangers for only one year, but has over 50 observations recorded and helps with Water Ranger’s data quality assurance. Chris has tested in 19 different locations consisting of Drewry Lake, Anicinabe Park, and various other bodies of water from the Lake of the Woods and Winnipeg River area in the Kenora district of North Western Ontario. Chris first got involved with Water Rangers because he likes the ability of Water Rangers to “connect people to their environment and allow [them] to collect meaningful data on aquatic environments.”  While Chris has been involved in environmental monitoring since 2008, he recently had the opportunity of witnessing the first-hand effects of winter road hazard mitigation on the Rainy River.

WHERE?

The Rainy River is located in north-western Ontario, Canada and Minnesota, USA. It is part of the boundary between Canada and the United States. The area is home to many residents and is rich in biodiversity both in the water and on the land.

Photo of water body in winter taken by Chris Herc.

WHAT HE FOUND

While Chris was conducting his citizen water monitoring this March, he noticed that areas where there was not a lot of snow melt had very low conductivity, while areas with significant amounts of snowmelt had very high conductivity. As a reminder, conductivity is the measure of the ionic content in a body of water (such as chloride, nitrate, sulfate, sodium, magnesium, calcium or iron). Road salt generally has a high conductivity and high chloride content. The relationship found by Chris between snow melt and conductivity emphasizes that road salts get into our waterways every spring! When road salt gets into bodies of water it can be bad for aquatic plants and animals and it can change the way that bodies of water mix every season which can lead to dead zones.

Photo of the Guelph Team of undergraduate students studying the effect of road salts on water quality.
Photo of the Guelph Team of undergraduate students studying the effect of road salts on water quality.

Similar studies have been done in conjunction with Water Rangers work! Last year six undergraduate students studying Environmental Science at the University of Guelph worked with Water Rangers to conduct a Citizen Science Salt Water Monitoring Project. They retrieved fall baseline data conductivity measurements (pre road salt application) from different places across Guelph and want to see the effect of road salt on their local waterways! They sent their results to a lab to be tested for chloride concentration. Amazing work done by these undergraduates!

WHY TEST?

Chris tests because he likes the sense of connectedness to the world around him. He values citizen science because it acts as baseline data to understand how activities can affect our waterways, whether it be climate-induced, industrial organization induced, or as a result of tourism.

IMPORTANCE OF CITIZEN SCIENCE

Unfortunately, environmental monitoring can’t be done everywhere on a regular basis, but that’s where citizen science comes into play. Citizen science programs, such as Water Rangers, equip people with the necessary tools and knowledge to be able to monitor what’s happening in waterways right in their own backyards! Chris was able to monitor the effects of road salt right in his backyard with the help of Water Rangers. As spring is finally here, take this opportunity to participate in social distancing and see if winter management has had an effect on your local waterways!

What has Water Rangers taught you? Share your experiences with us!