Have you ever wondered where rain and snow melt goes beyond the storm drain? Some assume such water is treated and then sent out into the river, but that’s not the case. Now, thanks to CreekWatch, citizen scientists are finding out exactly what pollutants are in these water sources—everything from concrete and plastic to garbage and animal droppings.
A spinoff of the popular RiverWatch program, a student-focused and province-wide endeavour, CreekWatch started in 2014. Utilizing municipal and provincial water monitoring expertise and HSBC water program funding, and overseen by government and watershed groups, CreekWatch volunteer citizen scientists in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Cochrane and beyond use RiverWatch’s specialized kits to collect and report data from urban creeks.
In its four-year history, CreekWatch has focused on storm water drainage, noting increased levels of phosphorous, but also finding road salt, bacteria, chemicals and invasive plants. CreekWatch also provides data for Alberta Environment’s yearly report card ranking creeks. In 2016, CreekWatch volunteers detected a stormwater plastics spill along Calgary’s Bow River—a major spill of a half-million industrial plastic pellets scattered along 10 kilometers of riverbank that led to a 760-hour shoreline remediation.
Last year, 81 volunteers took up the challenge with CreekWatch, and participated in stewardship events like shore line clean up, invasive weed removal and tree planting.