For Susan Bond and Shirley Hansen, volunteers with Mainstreams Environmental Society of Kimberley, mapping the Mather Creek watershed was an adventure in learning.
The adventure began in 2015 when Mainstreams decided to launch a three-year program to monitor water quality in Mather Creek. Mainstreams enlisted long-time local residents Susan, Shirley and Walter Latter as monitors, and the novice trio began dipping their toes into the specialized, technical world of collecting creek data that stands up to scientific scrutiny.
With Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network training and lots of mentoring from Mainstreams technical director Laura Duncan, Susan, Shirley and Walter learned how to take water samples for lab and field analysis, measure stream velocity and flow, collect the tiny creatures that live in stream sediments and are good indicators of water quality and, finally, to keep accurate records of it all.
A year into their three years of monitoring, Susan and Shirley realized that learning about the entire watershed was critical to understanding the factors affecting water quality in the creek. They took a couple of exploratory road trips along sometimes sketchy Forest Service roads but soon realized that custom maps would yield a better overall picture. Mapping human and wildlife uses of the watershed became the goal. Enter the Columbia Basin Watershed Network, its partner Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre, and the centre’s co-op student Kalyn May.
Mainstreams’ application to CBWN’s 2017 mapping program was successful and by early May, Kalyn had produced a first draft of the watershed itself. Shirley and Susan took one look and said, “Whoa, girl! That lake isn’t in the watershed. There’s no creek there. Or there. Or there.”
To prove their point(s), they set out to ground truth Kalyn’s draft map. Spring 2017 was an exceptionally high water year so they were confident that any ephemeral water was sure to show up. What did Susan and Shirley learn? They were wrong – sort of. Kalyn was right – mostly.
But they came to that collective conclusion only after Dr. Ryan MacDonald, an eminently qualified hydrologist from Cranbrook, generously donated his time to work with Kalyn on mapping the watershed boundary. That’s when Shirley and Susan learned that creeks could be “indefinite” or “intermittent” or even “inferred.” Who knew?
First step taken, first obstacle overcome, time to move this adventure on. Many, many drafts, corrections, revisions, additions, changes of mind later – Kalyn had the patience of a saint – the journey’s end was in sight. By late August Mainstreams had beautiful colourful maps (in three sizes!) of the Mather Creek watershed, its human uses and designated wildlife areas. Plus a bonus! A very cool Google Earth flyover video of the watershed from headwaters to mouth. Plus another bonus! A fat folder full of all the GIS files Kalyn used to construct the maps, which means Mainstreams can add to, alter and re-purpose the maps as needs and circumstances dictate.
Already the maps and flyover have been distributed to a number of watershed users and other stakeholders, including First Nations, conservation organizations and local government. A presentation to the Meadowbrook Community Association is scheduled for later this month and other presentations are in the works. The visual impact of the maps will go a long way in bringing home the role the watershed plays in daily life.
In a nutshell, here’s the story the maps tell.
Mather Creek begins in the Purcell Mountains north of Kimberley, flows south through forests of pine, fir and larch, swings east skirting the rural community of Meadowbrook, and then winds its way through wetlands before emptying into the Kootenay River above Fort Steele.
Along the creek’s 60 kilometres and within its watershed, Mather provides habitat for an exceptional diversity of wildlife. In fact, three conservation organizations – Ducks Unlimited Canada, Nature Trust of British Columbia and Nature Conservancy of Canada – have conservation properties and projects along the lower reaches of the creek. The entire watershed is designated winter range for seven species of wild ungulates while specific sites provide protected habitat for the endangered American badger.
For its human inhabitants, the watershed supplies a wide range of ecological goods and services. Commercial logging is the predominant industrial activity but there are also ranches and farms, a working quarry, and trapping, guide-outfitting and grazing tenures. There are 62 water licences on the creek, primarily for domestic use and irrigation. There is even a small regional park established to protect a locally treasured waterfall on the Meadowbrook stretch of the creek.
All in all, the Mather Creek watershed supports an abundance of life in all its diversity. Many thanks to Columbia Basin Watershed Network, Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre, Columbia Basin Trust, Dr. Ryan MacDonald and especially Kalyn May for making the adventure possible.