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Carden Water Quality Monitoring

Vision

Our vision is to protect globally rare alvar habitats in the Carden Plain by analyzing water quality, and the impact of cattle manure and stream-side grazing, in the Talbot River watershed.

Action

Located northeast of Lake Simcoe in central Ontario, the Carden Alvar is an outstanding example of a globally-threatened alvar habitat combining alvar grasslands, shrublands, forests and wetlands. This habitat is critical to the survival of globally rare communities and the endangered eastern loggerhead shrike.

Cattle grazing in Carden is essential to maintaining the alvar conditions necessary for threatened and endangered grassland birds to survive. Yet cattle can be destructive to waterways if not managed properly. For a decade now, our partner organization, the Couchiching Conservancy, has been building fences on the properties they manage to keep cattle out of streams, and then creating alternative watering sources for cattle to access. They have also been helping other ranchers in the area to do the same.

The Couchiching Conservancy has invested its heart and soul into helping endangered birds survive, but what would be the point if they are just creating a water quality problem for everyone else downstream?

One cow produces about 120 pounds of manure per day, and where cattle have access to a stream, this manure can introduce pathogens harmful to both humans and aquatic life. It’s not their fault – they’re just thirsty! – but in the process they trample the stream beds and banks, causing erosion and hindering the growth of vegetation. The water becomes warmer and murkier, phosphate levels rise causing algae blooms, and the potential for faecal coliforms increases.

As citizen scientists involved with this project, we have learned how to test the water for temperature, turbidity, total phosphorous, total nitrogen, pH, and dissolved oxygen. We have also learned how to conduct benthic macroinvertebrate tests and identification which helps to assess pollution levels in the water based on the presence (or absence) of aquatic species. We will also be conducting tests to assess the level of faecal bacteria in the streams.

As a volunteer team of 3 students in the unique CAPSTONE program at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School, we have committed to long term monitoring and data collection at local river sites, and have been involved with this project since June 2015. Over time, we hope to collect enough data to measure the effectiveness of fencing cattle out of streams, and determine the primary sources of contamination to the waterways where cattle continue to drink from streams.

By participating in this project, we are ultimately helping to clean up Lake Simcoe, and getting to know some of Carden’s beautiful habitats and waterways on a regular basis.

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