Geoffery Gunn, a project officer with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, takes a water sample in Winnipeg.
Collecting samples from the Lake Winnipeg watershed — Canada’s second largest, stretching across four provinces and four states — is no easy task, but a group of high school students were up for the challenge this past June. The Lake Winnipeg watershed monitoring Bioblitz was a citizen science project initiated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and Canadian Geographic Education. It saw data collected by 110 high school students at 23 sites. “The results were pretty consistent and gave us great baseline data,” says Karla Zubrycki, project and communications manager for the IISD Water Program. “This will give us a good indication of any changes in the watershed come September when a new batch of students go out sampling.” Students collected data on phosphate and nitrate levels, water turbidity, species identification and precipitation. The goal of the project is to be a hands-on educational experience for students, while simultaneously creating credible data that will be accessible to the public on open-data catalogues. “The Lake Winnipeg watershed is so large that it’s very difficult and expensive to get a good picture of it from a data viewpoint,” says Zubrycki. “Having citizens collect data will help us understand our watershed so that we can make better management decisions.” The students covered a wide range of sites, including lakes, rivers and ponds. One school from Balgonie, Sask., sampled Buffalo Pound Lake — the source of drinking water for Regina and Moosejaw — and were pleased to find high water quality. The project currently involves schools in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota, but Zubrycki is hoping to expand the initiative to include schools in all four provinces and four states encompassed by the watershed. “One of the key aspects of this project is getting students to recognize that even though they’re in different countries or different provinces, they’re all in contact with the same water,” says Zubrycki. “What happens in Minot, N.D., affects the water in Winnipeg.”