Conservation at heart of lakes program
From the sparkling waters of Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park to the placid shores of Killarney Lake, southwestern Manitoba is home to plenty of bodies of water that people use for fishing, boating and swimming.
For anyone wishing to take an active role in ensuring the health of Westman’s lakes, registration is now open for Living Lakes Canada’s third annual National Lake Blitz.
The initiative, which runs from May to September, is put on by Living Lakes Canada, a non-government organization that supports monitoring, restoration and policy development initiative for Canada’s lakes, rivers, wetlands and watersheds that are impacted by climate risk.
Lake Blitz started as a pilot project in 2021, said Camille Leblanc, a program manager with Living Lakes Canada. The initiative was created because Living Lakes believed there was a need for everyday people to understand the importance of climate change and its impacts on Canadian lakes.
“We wanted to create something that was super low barrier, that was free for people to take part in,” Leblanc said.
Volunteers select a sample site on their local lake where they measure the water’s temperature at least one metre deep and record the temperature data on an observation form. Each volunteer receives a free Lake Blitz standard kit, which includes a thermometer, a tape measure, a field guide and data sheets. This year, Living Lakes Canada is also offering Lake Blitz level two kits that are available for purchase. The expanded kit allows volunteers to measure additional lake health parameters, including pH balance and water clarity.
After they record the data, which will be done twice a month, volunteers take a photo of the lake’s shoreline and water colour. The photos and data are then submitted using the Lake Blitz mobile app or on a desktop computer at livinglakescanada.ca.
Living Lakes Canada provides free online training on how to monitor lakes, from data collection to data entry. All of the data that volunteers collect will be uploaded to the Lake Blitz observation map, which can be found on its website at livinglakescanada.ca. Online workshops featuring guest speakers presenting on a range of topics relevant to lake monitoring will also take place on a monthly basis.
Monitoring Prairie lakes, like those found in western Manitoba, is important to keep track of problematic climate factors such as algal blooms, Leblanc said. As the Sun previously reported, several lakes in Westman had blue-green algae cells that were above Manitoba’s recreational water quality last summer.
While some amount of blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, is normal for Prairie lakes, it’s a concern when the frequency and severity of the blooms become more enriched with nutrients. This usually happens when an increase in nutrients from the ground enters lake systems.
“Cyanobacteria is a huge concern in a lot of our Prairie lakes,” Leblanc said. “We are seeing a link between algal blooms and climate change, so it’s all related back to that.”
Global warming has led to more toxic algae in Prairie lakes, which has increased human health risk, according to a 2020 University of Regina study.
Educating Canadians about why the health of lakes is a direct mirror to the health of the country, and the people in it, is part of the mission of Lake Blitz, Leblanc said.
While more people are becoming aware of climate issues, a sizeable knowledge gap still exists. Getting people interested in volunteering in a hands-on way is a great opportunity to educate them and inspire them to care about the environment, she added.
“It’s just always better to meet people where they are,” Leblanc said. “I think it’s best not to assume that people understand and just to really make sure that information like this and actionable opportunities are accessible across the board because that really drives change and people wanting to take action. It could even open the door to other aspects of climate change advocacy on an individual level.”
Lake Blitz saw an increase in volunteers from the pilot year to last year, which Leblanc said is very encouraging. In 2021, a group of 25 volunteers took part in the initiative, which grew to 160 in 2022.
“It shows people are interested and they want to take part … and we got some really great feedback on the program,” Leblanc said. Around 50 per cent of last year’s volunteers took part in a survey at the end of the program, and of those, the vast majority were happy with it.
Volunteers have also come forward with stories about how much they learned from Lake Blitz, and how much enrichment they got from it, Leblanc said.
“This year, we really want to focus in on the volunteers and provide opportunities for them to share their observations and their stories.” For the first time, Living Lakes Canada will share these, along with data collected, in a newsletter.
Anyone who doesn’t have time to regularly monitor a lake but still wants to get involved with Lake Blitz can submit their favourite lake photos to the Living Lakes Canada’s Lake biodiversity photo challenge. Starting May 1, submissions can be sent through the organization’s website, or uploaded to social media with the hashtag #LakeBlitzPhoto2023. This year’s photo categories include lake biodiversity, lake impacts, and kids (for children aged 12 years old and younger). All entries will be showcased in the 2023 photo challenge’s online gallery.
Registration for Lake Blitz closes May 1 or when supplies of the kits run out.
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun