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Backwater Buggin’ for Healthy Waterways January 31st, 2017

Posted in: 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.

 

Project Spotlight: Vita Community Child Care Centre Rain Garden Project December 22nd, 2016

Posted in: Watershed Moments

The Vita Community Child Care Centre had a vision for developing a natural playground. They wanted to develop a space for children to connect with nature through outdoor play. Engaging with nature is one of the best ways for children to master emerging social, emotional, and physical skills, like running, jumping, inventing games, and solving problems. The Vita Community Child Care Centre found a unique way of developing a natural playground by incorporating the environmental benefits of rain gardens.

A rain garden is a bowl-shaped perennial garden that captures surface water runoff. They are typically planted in urban and residential areas where water flows off roofs, streets, sidewalks, driveways, sump pump discharge areas, and parking lots. Surface water runoff that is unable to infiltrate into the soil may be directed to the street and subsequently overwhelm local drainage infrastructure. It can even pick up harmful substances on its way to the drain, including road salt, heavy metals, oils, and other contaminants. These contaminants can harm the quality of our drinking water and put the health of our aquatic ecosystems at risk when they end up in our rivers and lakes. Rain gardens provide a simple solution for mitigating local flooding issues by infiltrating surface water through the soil. The soil in a rain garden is porous because it is amended with organic materials that help speed infiltration and filter out pollutants. The perennial plants in the garden clean surface water by taking up nutrients as water is absorbed into the soil. Rain gardens also create habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. They also beautify the neighbourhood and mitigate local water issues.

The natural playground area of the Vita Community Child Care Centre functions as both a rain garden and as a unique natural landscape for outdoor play. The rain garden is designed to capture and store water from the roof of the building as well as from the playground area. A small hill with a slide overlooks the rain garden and features a hand pump system, which circulates water for children’s playtime. This interactive design provides stimulating physical play while teaching children about the water cycle and importance of green spaces. The water used during children’s playtime is returned back into the rain garden at the end of the day to minimize waste and the need for plant watering. This innovative multi-use space utilizes the environmental benefits of rain gardens to inspire children’s imaginations through hands-on outdoor play.

Kim Chornopyski, Director of the Vita Community Child Care Centre, said, “The children and staff are very happy with our new natural playground. The children were able to watch the work being done to keep track of the progress being made. The hill is very popular and the trail around the yard is the perfect ‘track’ for chasing games. Our natural play hut and sand box is a nice area to sit and relax. It is also a central meeting place for the children when they are playing. The rock climbing wall and timber stump steps provide the children with opportunities to exercise their muscles. We just scratched the surface when it comes to all the opportunities it offers for children’s play.”

The Vita day care approached local representatives of the Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) with the project idea in summer 2015. The SRRCD Board of Directors approved project funding for two urban rain gardens as well as project design and management support. Additional funding was secured by the Vita day care through a Province of Manitoba Community Places Program grant. The natural playground rain garden project was completed in summer 2016 with plans to complete a second rain garden for the purpose of capturing water from a secondary sump pump discharge area.  The Vita Community Child Care Centre urban rain garden project is an innovative watershed initiative implemented at the local level.

“We look forward to the upcoming spring and summer season when we will experience the environmental benefits of the rain garden first-hand with the children,” said Kim.

Heavy precipitation events and rapid snowmelt in the Southeast challenge the way we manage surface water in our area. Rain gardens are innovative design features that can improve the way we manage surface water in urban areas. The SRRCD can help you design and create your own rain garden project. We provide funding up to $500 for individual projects, or 50% up to $5,000 for projects located in public spaces. We would be pleased to present on our expanded urban rain garden program at your next community organization meeting. Give us a call in La Broquerie at (204) 424-5845, or in Vita at (204) 425-7877. You can also visit us online at www.srrcd.ca.

Roseau River Surface Water Assessment Complete November 15th, 2016

Posted in: Watershed Moments

The Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) recently completed a surface water assessment in the Roseau River watershed. The purpose of this assessment is to help communities develop sustainable surface water management strategies and increase understanding of how water flows into the Roseau River by creating an inventory of culverts located throughout the watershed.

This summer, the SRRCD partnered with the RMs of Stuartburn and Piney to collect culvert flow information on municipally managed culverts. Field staff used global positioning satellite (GPS) survey equipment to identify 2,175 culvert locations in the watershed. Staff also recorded elevation at the upstream and downstream end of each culvert, as well as information about culvert type (corrugated steel, plastic); restrictions (gate, apron); and culvert condition (torn, crushed, blocked, or altered pipe) for each municipality.

The GPS data collected throughout the surface water assessment can be analyzed using computer mapping software to show culvert locations and alignments for hydro-conditioning Digital Elevation Models (DEM). Hydro-conditioning refers to the process of using computer mapping software to accurately represent the flow of water across the contours of our landscape, including hills, valleys, cliffs, depressions, and even under roads. Hydro-conditioned DEMs can now allow us to accurately calculate where water will flow after a rain event. It is also possible to calculate the effects of changes on the landscape, such as replacing a small culvert with a large culvert. This means that the capacity to model surface water flows will give decision-makers better information on implementing sustainable surface water management strategies, including water storage and drought preparedness.

Water storage is important for slowing the flow of water to mitigate the effects of flooding on homeowners and agricultural land. Hydro-conditioned DEM surface water models are used to identify water storage sites in the watershed that are most beneficial to the community. Water storage and drought preparedness modelling are both currently being prepared by the province. Everyone agrees that the only thing worse than too much water is not enough water at all.

The inventory of culverts collected through the surface water assessment provides municipalities with information about the status of each culvert under their management. Municipalities can take short-term action to replace or maintain culverts identified in the inventory as no longer functioning due to damage, alteration, or blockages. The inventory also allows municipalities to develop long-term asset management strategies to optimize water management needs throughout the area by resizing or repositioning culverts, as well as replacing culverts that may be reaching the end of their design life.

The surface water assessment conducted by the SRRCD is a successful initiative that provides benefits to local municipalities in partnership with the district. The RM of Stuartburn recognizes the importance of these benefits for planning and decision-making.

Jim Swidersky, Reeve of the RM of Stuartburn, says, “Useful information is the lead to all projects because it increases the capacity for communities and local government to make more informed decisions.”

The SRRCD is pleased to partner with municipalities in our district by developing initiatives that benefit the health of our watershed. Feel free to contact our offices in La Broquerie and Vita for more information about the Roseau River Surface Water Assessment. We can be reached in La Broquerie at (204) 424-5845 or in Vita at (204) 425-7877. You can also visit us online at www.srrcd.ca.

Volunteer Weather Observer Shocked by On-Farm Downpour October 11th, 2016

Posted in: Watershed Moments

By Alan Wiebe at Seine-Rat River Conservation District

Harold and his brother were taken by storm last summer when they heard news that a deluge of rain dumped 2.81 inches of rain on their crop land near St. Elizabeth, Manitoba.

“We were in Winnipeg at the time and my brother phoned home to talk to my sister-in-law,” said Harold. “She said it was just pouring outside! We got home later and couldn’t believe what we saw. A storm cell had just formed and burst on our small area of land. You could have gone a mile in any direction from where we live and no one received any measureable amount of rain.”

The saying, “Rain doesn’t fall the same on all” certainly gives meaning to Harold, an avid CoCoRaHS volunteer weather observer. Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a grassroots network of volunteer weather observers of all ages and backgrounds. They work together to measure and map precipitation, including rain, hail, and snow, in their local communities. The data they report is used to better understand where precipitation falls in our communities and how weather affects our lives.

Harold checks his rain gauge every day and reports weather information online using an app on his phone. The extreme nature of the isolated precipitation event he experienced on July 15, 2015 caught the attention of CoCoRaHS weather watchers, including Tiffiny Taylor, Provincial Coordinator for CoCoRaHS Manitoba.

“Tiffiny called me to find out if there was a reporting error. I laughed at the time because my brother was with me to verify the huge amount of rain we received. The bad part was that our area got another 1.88 inches of rain the next day.” said Harold.

Today, we are seeing more severe precipitation events in the amount of rain that falls in a storm – even though annual precipitation events are staying the same. This means that multi-day storms are increasing in frequency and extreme precipitation events are becoming more severe and damaging.

The health of Harold’s farm is deeply connected to the weather and the health of the Marsh River watershed. He says that the CoCoRaS website is nice for keeping track of localized precipitation in his area in the Municipality of Montcalm, just east of the Red River.

“I love the way you can go on the website and check the map to see how much precipitation the neighbours got. It’s a great way of tracking total rainfall amounts and how much precipitation you have on your farm for the season.”

CoCoRaHS is the largest provider of daily precipitation observations in the United States. This network of volunteer observers report precipitation measurements throughout Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. The daily observations collected by volunteer observers are reported in real-time and are used to provide high quality data for natural resource, education, and research applications.

“Every drop counts for volunteer weather reporting,” said Tiffiny, “including reports of zero precipitation. That’s because organizations across North America use CoCoRaHS data every day to get the latest weather reports as they come in.”

The Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) uses CoCoRaHS data to help us model water flows in our watershed. Pete Hiebert is a SRRCD sub-watershed representative of the Manning Canal watershed. He is also a dedicated CoCoRaHS volunteer observer who is interested in checking how much moisture is in the snow. He believes that volunteer weather reporting is important because weather data is more accurate when there are more volunteer weather observers reporting.

The increasing frequency and severity of short-duration, high-intensity precipitation events means that volunteer observers play an important role in their communities. Organizations like the SRRCD benefit when there are more volunteers because they provide localized precipitation data that can be used to implement more effective surface water management strategies.

According to Tiffiny, “Managing erratic and extreme precipitation events, as well as longer, hotter, and drier growing seasons pose major adaptation challenges. That’s why precipitation data, and more of it, is really important. The data our volunteer observers provide tells us the story of our current climate conditions. More data gives us better tools to assess and address changes in our land and water systems. It also helps flood and drought forecasters, as well as decision-makers, make more informed decisions for managing risk, flood and drought mitigation, and building resilience in our communities.”

Joining the CoCoRaHS network as a volunteer weather observer is easy. Anybody with an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions can become a volunteer observer. Volunteers receive training and education on how to use low-cost measurement tools to report observations on the interactive CoCoRaHS website.

“I got involved with CoCoRaHS because I like tracking weather and precipitation. I am a farmer and it’s nice to see what my total precipitation amounts are for the year. The data we collect is also helping other organizations and this information is beneficial to everyone in the region.”

The SRRCD is pleased to partner with CoCoRaHS to measure and map precipitation data in our district. You can sign up to become a CoCoRaHS volunteer weather observer by visiting www.cocorahs.org. You can also find out more by contacting the SRRCD at one of our offices in the southeast. We can be reached in La Broquerie at (204) 424-5845, or in Vita at (204) 425-7877. You can also visit us online at www.srrcd.ca.