Backwater Buggin’ for Healthy Waterways January 31st, 2017

Posted in: Environmental Education Water Quality Testing Watershed Moments

The Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) is excited to launch Backwater Buggin’ for Healthy Waterways. Backwater Buggin’ is a unique program implemented by the SRRCD in partnership with local schools. District staff help students collect information about the health of river and streams by examining the different types of bug communities that live in our waterways.

Did you know that water bugs can tell us a lot about the health of our waterways? That’s because some kinds of bugs are sensitive to changes in their environment. Pollution in our waterways can affect the abundance and diversity of benthic macro-invertebrate communities. Benthic macro-invertebrates are bottom dwelling bugs with no backbone. They live among the stones, logs, sediments, and plants of freshwater rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands. They are large enough to see and include species, such as dragonfly and stonefly larvae, snails, worms, and beetles.

Bottom dwelling macro-invertebrates are reliable indicators of the biological health of waterways. They are ideal indicators because they spend all or most of their lives in water, are easy to collect, and differ in their tolerance to pollution. Healthy waterways can support a wide variety and high number of benthic macro-invertebrate species, including many that are less tolerant of pollution. Bug communities with only pollution-tolerant species, or very little abundance and diversity of macro-invertebrate species, may indicate a less healthy waterway.

Backwater Buggin’ is an aquatic biomonitoring program implemented by the SRRCD for collecting samples of benthic macro-invertebrate community compositions in southeast Manitoba. The bug samples we collect are used to establish a baseline for evaluating watershed health by sampling sites under the guidelines established by the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN). The CABIN program is maintained by Environment Canada and allows project partners to take their observations and make a formalized scientific assessment on watershed health using nationally comparable standards. This means that the data we collect through ongoing sampling will be shared with researchers across Canada working to support initiatives that promote healthy watersheds.

Backwater Buggin’ is a comprehensive biomonitoring program incorporating CABIN protocols to test for over a dozen parameters at each sampling site, including nitrogen, phosphorus – and bugs, of course. The high quality data collected through Backwater Buggin’ gives us a better understanding of why our waterways are in the state of health they are in. This data also increases the capacity for communities and local governments to make more informed decisions about sustainable watershed management. The SRRCD will use data collected through this program to guide the implementation of best management practices through existing Conservation District programming for reducing nutrient loading, sedimentation, and loss of functional riparian habitat.

The program also engages the community through public participation to identify and address surface water quality priorities in southeast Manitoba. The program is already generating excitement at Shevchenko School in Vita where junior and high school students are developing a bug library. This reference library of benthic macro-invertebrate specimens is being put together by the Shevchenko School Biomonitoring Group under the supervision of the SRRCD. The library will be maintained by the SRRCD and made publically available to educators and interested groups in the southeast. Students participating in Backwater Buggin’ gain hands-on experience by participating in sample collection and processing. Students also learn an appreciation for science-based water management issues in our region. The reference library also exposes students to practical applications of basic biological principals taught in school.

Backwater Buggin’ for Healthy Watersheds successfully piloted the project at 11 sample sites in the Roseau River watershed with plans to add additional sampling sites throughout the rest of the district. Contact our office in La Broquerie at (204) 424-5845, or in Vita at (204) 425-7877 to learn more about Backwater Buggin’ for Healthy Waterways. You can also visit us online at www.srrcd.ca.