WWF-Canada Blog:
Freshwater


Water is Life: A Partnership Approach to Water-Monitoring in the Northwest Territories

Written by Blair Carter, Water Program Manager, Ecology North

“Water is life and we have a responsibility to keep it healthy”.

This is what you will hear when you ask the people living in the community of Sambaa K’e about water. Sambaa K’e is a small (population 80) and remote Aboriginal community located in the Upper Mackenzie-Mills Lake sub-watershed of the Northwest Territories.

1)Caption: An aerial view of the community of Sambaa K’e (Trout Lake), Northwest Territories, Canada. © Blair Carter

An aerial view of the community of Sambaa K’e (Trout Lake), Northwest Territories, Canada. © Blair Carter

For the people living in Sambaa K’e, access to clean and abundant freshwater has long been critical to sustaining their subsistence lifestyles. The dependence and constant interactions that they have with their land and water makes them keen observers of environmental changes and trends in the area.

Over the past decade the community has raised concerns about water quality, particularly with links to climate change, industrial development, historic waste sites, and fuel storage in the community. To begin addressing these concerns, the Sambaa K’e Dene Band partnered with our organization (Ecology North – a charitable, non-profit organization based in Yellowknife, NT) and the Environment and Natural Resources Department of the Government of the Northwest Territories to develop a community source water protection plan. The plan, which was largely led by a local community-working group, outlines a number of management actions to help address the concerns raised in the plan. Not surprising given the pronounced lack of data in Mackenzie watershed, many of the actions called for increased water quality monitoring to better understand the water quality issues and threats in the region.

Collecting samples adjacent to a suspected waste pond near Trout Lake. © Blair Carter

Collecting samples adjacent to a suspected waste pond near Trout Lake. © Blair Carter

Given the latter, we were very excited to receive support from the Loblaw Water Fund in order to move beyond the meeting and planning phase of the project and actually get community members on the ground to start monitoring! This is a critical first step in gathering more information about the health of the watershed so that we can work together to make sure problems are identified and solutions are developed. The results of our work will also contribute to the long-term efforts of the Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management Monitoring program.

Our monitoring project got underway this summer when a representative from the Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management Monitoring program travelled to Sambaa K’e to provide a training session on monitoring protocols and techniques. With new excitement building over the project, we worked with the community to inventory, map and identify accessible sites of concern to be sampled. In August, myself, a representative from Environment and Natural Resources Department of the Government of the Northwest Territories contaminated sites, the Chief of Sambaa K’e, and the SKDB environmental coordinator travelled along very rough and swampy cut-lines to various sites and collected five water samples, and several soil samples.

Collecting samples from a 30+ year old pipe protruding from the ground. © Aimee Guile

Collecting samples from a 30+ year old pipe protruding from the ground. © Aimee Guile

Now, we are eagerly awaiting the results from the lab. Additional sampling occurred at the end of September – community members are planning to collect samples from identified sites as they return from their annual fall hunting trip on the land. Over the course of the next six months we plan to move ahead with data analysis, interpretation and communication in order to better inform decisions around the health of this important watershed.

If you’re a registered charity or not-for-profit, you can find this year’s applications and guidelines for the Loblaw Water Fund at wwf.ca/waterfund. Deadline for applications is December 14, 2015.


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