That’s one of the reasons why Brad Toms and Alain Belliveau, from the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute made a presentation on a community-based water quality-monitoring project to the Municipality of Yarmouth’s council on March 13.
The institute is a non-profit cooperative of community members and researchers, with a mission to promote sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity conservation in southwest Nova Scotia.
This is year four of the five-year project, which promotes the science, stewardship and education surrounding the coastal plain flora and their habitat. Almost half of these species are listed as “at risk” or “sensitive by the provincial government.
Many lakes in the Tusket watershed are tested for the project.
“One of the hot topics around here is the algae bloom so you would have some concrete evidence, or some numbers to back any changes that are happening,” said Toms.
He pointed out the connection to health issues. Some of the problems connected with water quality could threaten the health of residents or their pets.
The water testing is a collaborative approach that includes TREPA, Adopt-a-stream, Environment Canada, Nova Scotia Environment and universities.
Around 25 local volunteers have contributed over 320 hours to water quality testing.
Lakes are sampled four times a year in May, July, August and October. Methods include on-site gathering and in-lab testing of parameters such as water temperature, water clarity, water colour, pH, dissolved oxygen, total phosphorus, nitrate, nitrate conductivity, salinity, alkalinity, chlorophyll a and turbidity.
The institute has access to data dating back to 2002. Lower rainfall causes less runoff, which impacts the numbers.
“That’s why it’s so important to have long term monitoring where you can actually see a trend. You have to do it for many years to know,” said Toms.
Sampling will be completed by Nov. 1, and the municipality will be invited to a project update in late fall and sent a written report by March 31, 2014.
When asked how water quality was affecting protected plants on the shores of local lakes, Toms replied that higher nutrient levels changes the growing environment, and that other, less desirable plants could crowd out rare species.
“We think we’re seeing some change on these lakes but because we don’t have baseline data we can’t really say for sure.
“Some of the expert botanists, if you get them on a lake that’s really been affected by the nutrients they’ll say this isn’t quite natural.”
The ultimate goal of program proponents is to get residents involved and teach them testing methods so they can eventually have their own community based water-monitoring project.
“Our goal with our data is to share it as often as possible in any relevant situation. We get requests all the time for our data from various levels of government,” said Toms.
The proposed budget for the project is $22,000, which covers lab fees, shipping, wages for staff, travel, supplies, administration costs and liability insurance.
A request was made for $3,670 from Yarmouth municipality. The municipality will consider the request at its spring budget meeting.