Climate Monitoring Milestone Met

Earth-Day-white-2499-sq.jpgFor Earth Day's 50th anniversary, Earth Day 2020 was given the theme "Climate Action". Organizers identified climate change as "the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable."

Recognizing the importance of water in climate change causes, impacts, mitigation and adaptation, both World Water Day and World Meteorological Day chose for their 2020 themes "Water and Climate Change.”

World Water Day 2020 highlighted that;

"Humans need water to survive, as do all the systems we rely on: sanitation, healthcare, education, business and industry.

Action plans to tackle climate change need to be integrated across different sectors and coordinated across borders. And they must have one thing in common: safe and sustainable water management."

World Meteorological Day 2020 raised the need for monitoring, with;

"The world now faces increasing challenges posed by water stress, floods and droughts and lack of access to clean supplies. There is an urgent need to improve forecasting, monitoring and management of water supplies and to tackle the problem of too much, too little or too polluted water."

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WaterWealth is excited to announce a milestone in our own climate action efforts, having selected the last of monitoring sites on the list of streams for our Chilliwack River Valley climate monitoring!

It’s a milestone that’s been a long time coming.

onset_mx2201.jpgIt started in August 2018 when we bought one Onset MX2201 temperature logger to try. The cost of these impressive little devices is a fraction of that of previous temperature loggers, and a bluetooth enabled phone app replaced expensive and cumbersome proprietary connectors and computer software required to use older models. So, in addition to lower cost there is no longer the need to choose between taking a laptop out in the weather or bringing loggers in from the field to retrieve data. Temperature logging is accessible to more people and at scales never before possible.

Satisfied with that first logger, we began imagining ambitious programs to apply this new capability. One of those programs is to monitor the Chilliwack River (Sts'elxwíqw' stó:lō) watershed with the goal of providing data to help guide land use and conservation decisions to protect this very special place.

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Sts'elxwíqw' stó:lō was chosen for multiple reasons.

In terms of human use, this watershed holds many archaeological sites and sites of current day cultural and spiritual importance. Lands along the watershed are included in groundbreaking advanced-stage negotiations between the Crown and the Stó:lō Xwexwilmexw Treaty Association. An active residents’ association provides a hub for residents, who take a keen interest in the well being of the valley.

salmonberry_mpearson.jpgA variety of natural foods and medicines are cared for and harvested in the watershed. Small farms add to the mix of local foods available. Also, perhaps little known among those who benefit from it daily, the river is the primary source of water for the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer from which the City of Chilliwack, Yarrow Waterworks, and many private commercial and domestic wells draw. Water for homes, businesses, and institutions of some 100,000 people (and counting) is likely to have come from the river.

Logging is the most visible industrial use, but gravel mining and water extraction are on-going concerns. Meanwhile, the valley is increasingly an outdoor recreation destination for people from all over the Lower Mainland. Any warm weather weekend the sounds of off-road motor vehicles and firearms echo throughout the valley. (Some of the firearms use even taking place at the actual range.) Readily accessible river sections are commonly lined with people fishing. Canoeing, Kayaking, white-water rafting, hiking, mountain biking, and swimming are all popular activities.

coastal_cutthroat_mpearson.jpgCompeting with human uses, the watershed is home to every species of Pacific salmon. Among existing efforts to mitigate the impacts of human activities is a federal Coho, Chinook, and Steelhead hatchery just above Slesse Creek. Dolly Varden, rainbow, cutthroat and bull trout are also present. Sxótsaqel (Chilliwack Lake) is home to a rare lake dwelling population of Longnose Dace. Other rare species found in the watershed include tailed frog, Salish sucker, Pacific giant salamander, red-legged frog, and Pacific watershrew. For aquatic species, strong currents and cold waters tend to be a barrier to the invasive species common in the Fraser Valley below. Rare mammal, bird, and plant species are also found here, along with deer, black bear and cougar.

From receding glaciers in Washington State to it’s confluence with the warming Fraser River (Stō:ló), Sts'elxwíqw' stó:lō is a river and surrounding watershed facing change. Every aspect of that change is touched by, if not driven by, the effects of changing climate. Efforts to come through these changes to the best possible outcomes start with data.

The barrier to invasive species provided by cold mountain streams was the basis of the Climate Shield concept first championed by Dan Isaac of the US Forest Service. Climate Shield seeks to identify and protect cold-water refuges for native trout across the American West. Inspired by Climate Shield, WaterWealth began our work toward developing data and support for climate-aware planning, to give the diverse native species of fish and wildlife in this watershed the best possible chance against the challenge of climate change.

In early 2019, with help from Pearson Ecological and the South Fraser Fisheries and Oceans community advisor, we identified tributaries in the valley for the initial phase of climate monitoring. Mike Pearson also gave his time and decades of experience to help shape the overall approach to the program.20180704_093943.jpg July 2019 a very generous donation from the Visscher Group of Companies allowed us to purchase 30 temperature loggers. November 2019 the Chilliwack Rotaract Club donated another temperature logger and took on its deployment and on-going monitoring in Peach Creek, an important salmon habitat enhancement area and popular recreational area adjacent to Vedder River (Th'ewálmel). Chilliwack River becomes Vedder River at Vedder Crossing since being diverted by settlers in the late 19th century.

 

"The big talent is persistence." -- Octavia E. Butler

Little did we know when we came up with our list of tributaries in early 2019 that we would still be finalizing sites in early 2020! But the first stream we went to pick a spot on set the tone, as we arrived at the location the stream is indicated on provincial maps to find not even a dry stream bed!

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Since then it’s been a process of building relationships with residents and others experienced in the valley, and dealing with streams that exist only on maps, streams that are found in the valley but not on maps, and streams that are present but in different locations than maps show. Access proved challenging where streams flow through private properties and where roads on maps turned out to be trails and washouts.

Snow at higher elevations paused our site selection. And proved that a Ford Escape can be suspended on nothing more than snow beneath its belly -- mud & snow tires, chains, and all wheel drive not helping when all four 'feet' are dangling. Oops.

Then a global pandemic happened.

Sometimes it's hard to put your finger on just how the pandemic has been disruptive. Things just feel out of kilter. Certainly it complicates getting together to do any sort of work. Based on advice and methods from healthcare and industry, we are working out protocols to enable safe participation in various water quality, habitat, and species surveys. Meantime WaterWealth’s streamkeeping coordinator, April, and program director, Ian, selected sites on the last few streams on our list. Fortunately distancing outdoors is easy when just exploring sites!

20200418_123913_300.jpgRecently selected sites included locations on Nesakwatch Creek and Loyúmthel (Liumchen Creek), both stunningly beautiful streams that are as wild and free as can be found in this area. Photos from those days can be enjoyed on Flickr – Nesakwatch from April 18 and Loyúmthel April 19.

The last two sites on the list were in Sts'elxwíqw' stó:lō itself. For one of those sites DFO community advisor Rob Shaefer came to our aid again, helping us gain access to the Chilliwack Hatchery to place a logger at their intake from the river. Being able to attach to their structure gave us one site where we probably don't have to worry about either the river or people carrying our logger away. With that and another site where the topography should protect from erosion when the river is high, the initial site selection phase of the program is complete!

Next Steps

Confirmation of the sites we've selected will come through submitting the entire list to Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe for their approval. We don’t want to intrude on any sites of cultural or spiritual importance where our presence may not be welcome. As sites are approved by Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe we will at last deploy loggers and take the first of regular water quality measurements!

Temperature loggers will record water temperature hourly. Most sites are in tributaries of Sts'elxwíqw' stó:lō. Sites in the main river itself include one just below Sxótsaqel (Chilliwack Lake), one above Slesse Creek, and one below Slesse Creek, Slesse being the largest tributary and a point about half way down from the lake. For the lower end we will use data from the federal hydrometric station at Vedder Crossing.  Five sites roughly 10 km apart will have air temperature recorded as well. Data will be retrieved several times a year. Of course temperature logging is only one piece of the data that will help paint a picture of the state of the watershed and how it is changing.

lamprey.jpgWhen loggers are deployed and when data is retrieved basic water quality measurements will be taken. These include stream widths and depths across a transect (where practical to measure), dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity and conductivity. Habitat surveys will record physical characteristics of stream beds, their overhead canopy, and riparian areas. Invertebrate counts, fish surveys, and amphibian surveys will give insight into who lives in those habitats.

As we learn more about these streams our list will evolve, with some streams likely removed from monitoring, others added, and some of the sub-watersheds possibly becoming sub-projects of their own. In future years, based on what we learn, we expect to continue up some of these streams with additional temperature loggers and surveys.

All data will be public and shared with interested parties. The Pacific Streamkeepers Federation database will be one home for it. As well, we look forward to developing our own database for greater ability to run queries and comparisons, and to make use of the data in outreach efforts.

What will be baseline data for us, we know will be a remnant of what once existed in this watershed, just as the trees we call forest now are like sticks compared to the giants logged off early in European occupation of these lands. However, it will also be better than the worst that’s been seen here, coming on the heels of restoration and conservation efforts of more recent decades. And, we hope, the still wild and beautiful places found here can be protected so that cold, clear running waters and the native species that depend on them will always be found here.

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 - Salmonberry, and coastal cutthroat trout photos courtesy of Mike Pearson


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