I Woke Up To The Sound Of Heavy Rain

I woke up to the sound of heavy rain this morning and it’s raining quite hard now as I write this. But by some stroke of luck it was only a drizzle earlier when we did our regular Tuesday stream sampling. 

     Mud Bay was its usual constant self, perhaps a bit more lively than usual with the added water. A pair of greyish-brown fish, about 6” long, swimming in tandem, watched the placement of our sensor with professional interest.  Later, at Wilfred Creek we got a distinct autumnal feel scaling our way down the bank. The light rain filtered its way through the canopy. Nestled in a natural bowl, Wilfred is always an oasis of coolness but today it was cooler and darker and the water less inviting than in the heat of summer.  At Cowie Creek, a portion of the path leading to our site was completely flooded, trail merging with tributary. We had to bushwhack around the edge a bit to get to the familiar chocolate coloured water of post-rain Cowie.

     Our sample results also reflected the changes brought by the recent rain. The Specific Conductivity of all three streams has dropped. Stream water that’s been working it’s way through dirt and rock tends to pick up various minerals which increases its conductivity. Rain water has no mineral content and therefore has low conductivity. So the dilution by rain water lowers the Specific Conductivity. In similar fashion, the recent rain, working its way through the top layers of soil, has washed a lot of the dry summer dust and debris into the water. As a result turbidity (a measure of cloudiness) has noticeably increased. 

     And the wells that we’ve begun monitoring seem to have responded to the rain as clearly as the creeks have. The descending line of Graph A tracks the level of a well that is measured manually once a week. The spikes are days with rain. The steady decline of the water level since late May slows and even reverses with rainfall. It appears to have begun the journey back up to winter levels.

Graph B, from a different well, shows hourly changes during the first few weeks of September. The pulses of rain coincide with the beginnings of upward trends.

Similarly, Graph C, from a third well, shows a good, albeit raggedy, trend that bends upwards with increasing rain events. The jaggedness of this data is a puzzle. The well is lightly used and it’s hard to imagine a use pattern that would account for it. More than likely it’s a problem with one of our low-budget ultrasonic sensors.

     

     What this all means in terms of hydrogeology is not yet clear to us. But as we continue to gather information, expanding our data set further into the future, the picture will start to come into focus. For now, we just keep our heads down, plodding forward, and trying to stay dry.

Adventures in Flow Measurement

On a recent Thursday morning, under drizzly grey skies, a small group of BWS volunteers gathered in the Fanny Bay Hall parking lot. We were meeting Neil Goeller, a Regional Hydrologist who works out of the Nanaimo office of FLNRORD*. Neil had given a presentation at a recent symposium demonstrating the use of a DIY “flow stick”; an affordable device designed to measure the amount of water flowing in a stream. Just the thing for a cash-strapped watershed group. Now he was going to show us how to use it in the field. 

Neil is a friendly, low-key guy but he isn’t helping us out of the kindness of his heart. As he explained in an email:

“…we need people on the ground invested in their local resources because there really isn’t any way that we can keep an eye on everything. There is immeasurable value in a group of people collecting local, site specific, data to better inform resource management decisions where little to no local data is available.”

We like the notion that we are providing “immeasurable value”!

With the first real rain since February continuing to fall we make our way to the stretch of Mud Bay Creek that we had chosen based on our understanding of measurement criteria. Mud Bay Creek is one of our smaller creeks but it runs steady all year long. This is why it’s interesting to us. We’ve chosen a site further downstream from where we do our water quality sampling because it’s a straighter stretch with less turbulence. We step over fallen branches and around wet sword ferns, as the rain drips through the canopy. We reach the creek and Neil assesses it with a practiced eye, pointing out that it’s rather shallow and there may be a slight back eddy at one edge. But there’s no better site nearby so we give it a whirl.

Taking measurements is more of a finicky process than we had expected. The shallow depth means the measurements are all at the bottom of the stick. One of us holds the stick upright while someone else scrunches down, face practically in the water, trying to see the exact point at which the slider hits the water. The differences are small. We record them carefully, along with the depth at each point, and then through the magic of calculus we arrive at a flow rate: 15 litres per second. We all stare contemplatively at the creek trying to decide if it looks like 15 litres going by every second. It doesn’t seem like that could be right. So on to the next step.

Neil has brought a professional (read expensive) flow meter for comparison. We get a hands-on tutorial in its use and not surprisingly the results are quite a bit lower: 8.5 litres per second. We blame the discrepancy, quite reasonably, on the shallowness of our poor little Mud Bay Creek. We decide to move on to Cowie Creek, a much larger, deeper creek, to see if increasing the signal-to-noise ratio will help.

 A short car ride later and we’re scrambling down the hill from the highway. We can already see that Cowie Creek doesn’t look anything like it did when we sampled two days ago. It’s normally quite clear but now the water is a dark brown, the colour of strong tea. The rain, after so much dryness, has flushed an amazing amount of debris into the stream. Our chosen spot is unworkable; the rocks along the bottom, always slippery and somewhat treacherous, are now hidden and therefore doubly treacherous. Between us we only have a single pair of hip waders and they aren’t the sure-footed felt variety. We have no walking sticks or staffs for support. So we look around and discuss the best spot for future measurement and decide to wait until we’re better prepared. 

So in the end we come away with very little data. But we have a sense of the messiness of measurements in the real world. Neil assures us this is completely normal. Experience will help. Already we have a better idea of what the ideal site looks like. On the drive back we discuss further site explorations and ways to improve the “flow stick”. Just another day in the adventures of the Beaufort Watershed Stewards.

*Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development

Expanding On Our Success

Volunteers Still Welcome!

Stream Sampling Program Accepted by Province

As you know, we started a stream sampling program last year. We have made the data from this program available to local stakeholders but our goal was always to have it included in the provincial groundwater database. This entails meeting certain standards of sampling and record-keeping. We are pleased to report that the province has deemed our methods and our data acceptable. Now our three streams are part of the province-wide database! We are pleased that our streams (Mud Bay Creek, Wilfred Creek and Cougar/Cowie Creek) are now included in this database. Many thanks to the community groups and individuals that have supported us in this effort. 

Tracking Flow Rates

Building on this early success, we are starting an additional program.  We will now be tracking flow rates for our three streams so that we will have quantity data to go along with our quality data. 

How will we measure flow?

Our measuring tool is an ingenious device, basically a flat piece of plexiglass with metersticks attached. The device is held in the stream crosswise to the flow and the water pressure on one side causes the level to rise against the stick.  On the other side the level drops due to the lower pressure.  The difference in height on the two sides is a function of velocity at that point. Taking the velocity at numerous points across the stream allows us to calculate the volume of water flowing in the stream. 

Volunteers Needed

We can still use more volunteers to help with the added workload. More volunteers means more data. If you like the idea of wading around in our gorgeous, running streams in the hills of the Beaufort range with a plexiglass stick and a bunch of enthusiastic stream monitors, Drop us a line!

Cougar / Cowie Creek
Cougar / Cowie Creek

BECOME A CITIZEN-SCIENTIST

BECOME A CITIZEN-SCIENTIST WITH BWS! Last year we focused on QUALITY. We began a program to gather data for three local streams, monitoring and recording specific elements of stream health.

     This year we’re adding QUANTITY. We will begin measuring and recording flow rates for those same three streams in addition to our quality measurements. 

     Establishing an organization like BWS requires a lot of meetings. We don’t mind meetings because they are an important communication tool. But our favourite times last year were when we left the meeting room to go into the woods. Our sampling locations are for the most part well off the beaten track. They aren’t far physically from civilization but they feel like it. They feel like they could be decades removed in time, back when we roamed the woods as kids. Or even hundreds of years before that, before Europeans came to the island.

     Would you like to join us? This is your chance to become a full-fledged citizen-scientist! (Training provided). This is your chance to don hip waders and tromp around in the bush with other like-minded souls. At this point we are contemplating three streams, once a month. If you’re interested send us an email at info@beaufortwater.org. We’ll notify you of the orientation session and any further training sessions. 

Well of Plenty or Edge of Crisis – Follow-up

On Sunday, April 7th, BWS, with the support of the Fanny Bay Community Association, held a town hall meeting to discuss our water supply.  ( )The attendance exceeded our most optimistic expectations.  We had hoped for 50 or 60 and there were 130 people who showed up.  Clearly, folks are concerned about water.  Pat Lapcevic and William Shulba each presented information about aquifers in general.  The information was detailed and highlighted the complexity of water issues.  After the two speakers finished their presentations a number of people stayed to discuss ideas and concerns.  The topics raised included:

Threats

  • Possible fracking or mining 
  • Housing development
  • Salt water intrusion in wells and aquifers
  • Contamination by grey water or chemicals
  • Forestry practices within our watersheds
  • Industrial use of water: bottling, fish hatcheries, etc.

Knowledge Gaps

  • Lack of information on local aquifers and watersheds
  • Uncertainty as to the effects of climate change

Actions

  • Water conservation
  • Ground water mapping
  • Public ownership of watersheds to allow control of activities affecting water
  • Building relationships with governmental agencies and advocating for regulation
  • Rain water capture

If you missed the event, or if you’ve thought of other things that you would like to have discussed, please comment below, or go to our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/beaushedstewards/

We billed this event as an intro to aquifers and watersheds.  The title of the event was “Well of Plenty or Edge of Crisis?”  One common remark afterwards was that this question hadn’t been answered during the presentation.  Unfortunately, while the title of the event represents the uncertainty surrounding our water in coming years, we don’t have the answer.  Our intent was to stimulate conversation about the problem.  Clearly we need more information and getting that information will take work.  We’re encouraged that so many people want to know the answer too.  We will continue, with your support, to press for answers, to gather data and to advocate for our watersheds.  

Please consider joining the BWS and contributing your ideas and support. 

Save the Date!

Bring your questions and concerns for discusssion

BWS-Poster-Town-Hall-Meeting-10H

We are pleased to present this informational session. Pat Lapcevic is Section Head, Water Protection in the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. She will lay the groundwork (pun intended) for our understanding of aquifers and watersheds. William Shulba is Freshwater Geoscientist with Islands Trust. He will be discussing the geological underpinnings specific to our area. Both are knowledgeable and engaging speakers. Jennifer Sutherst is a professional biologist and Estuary Co-ordinator with Project Watershed. She will be facilitating the discussions that will follow the two presentations.


K’omoks First Nation: An Introduction to Climate Change Adaptation

On January 23rd two representatives of BWS were invited to participate in a half-day workshop called “K’omoks First Nation: An Introduction to Climate Change Adaptation”.  Other participants included representatives of local governments and other stewardship groups.  We found the workshop very productive and we hope to continue to work with all the groups involved, especially the K’omoks First Nation.  We thank them for hosting and for including us.

The New Normal

It seems like the last few summers have been drier and hotter than we’re used to. People are saying this is the “new normal”. Unfortunately, the new normal is still a long ways off. For at least the next 50 years climate scientists are predicting constant change.

The Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) is a not-for-profit organization based at the University of Victoria that, among other things, provides climate change predictions for the Pacific and Yukon regions. Their work is to “provide regional climate stakeholders with the information they need to develop plans for reducing the risks associated with climate variability and change.”

Their predictions for the Comox Valley during the period 2010-2039 include a 3% increase in annual rainfall compared to the 1961 to 1990 Base Period. But there’s a catch: most of this additional rainfall will be in the fall and winter. The summers are predicted to have 10% LESS rainfall. And the decrease in rainfall will be accompanied by an annual temperature increase of between 0.4% and 1.3%.
For the period 2040-2069 the annual increase in rainfall is predicted to be 6% but, again, the summer change is projected to be 17% LESS than the Base Period.

It may be tempting to assume that the additional rainfall will be stored in our aquifers and allow us to get through the drier summers. But that may not be the case. How much of that rainfall will be absorbed into the ground instead of rushing down the creeks to join the Salish Sea? We don’t know. One thing we do know is that the changing climate is going to be a stress on our water systems. For those of us concerned with the quantity and quality of our drinking water, conservation needs to be a large part of our “new normal”.

( Go to the Pacific Climate site to see more. )

An Intro to Salt Water Intrusion

After our hot, smoky summer, it might be a good time to take stock of our water situation. The trend seems to be towards longer, drier summers and there were reports this year of lower than normal well levels. We really don’t have enough data to draw conclusions but we are concerned: a dropping water table at the end of summer could be a warning sign. And one of the concerns for a coastal aquifer such as ours is saltwater intrusion. Here is how the BC website on Salt Water Intrusion describes it:

Saltwater intrusion occurs when saline (salty) water is drawn into a freshwater aquifer. Saltwater intrusion can affect one well, or multiple wells in an aquifer, making the water unpotable.

And the site goes on to advise:

Know the risks: Be aware of areas that are at risk of saltwater intrusion and educate property owners, site managers or water system operators that their well or locale could be affected.

Wells closest to the coast are at the highest risk. Many Fanny Bay wells are within metres of the ocean and some are actually drilled to depths BELOW sea level. It’s the weight of the water in the hills above us, the hydrostatic pressure, that keeps the saline boundary from creeping in. If the local water table drops too far we could start seeing saline intrusion.

There are many factors that can increase the risk of salt water intrusion. Increased population is one, as it results in increased water consumption. The population of Fanny Bay increased by 10% in the period between 2011 and 2016. Climate change is another. Climate models for our area predict increased rainfall but wetter winters might not be enough to keep our water table from dropping during longer summer droughts.

While we continue our efforts to learn more about our water supply it certainly won’t hurt for us all to begin developing good water conservation habits.