The Community Stewardship Program (CSP)
The CSP is an integrated initiative that engages the local community in the protection and restoration of the SSCA, and the Somenos watershed overall, through many projects (described below). Through this program, the SMWS team offers regular opportunities for community members to gain experience and training with ecological restoration and monitoring techniques, and to learn about the diverse ecosystems of the SSCA. These activities have allowed us to directly reach hundreds of people through citizen science activities, volunteer events and tours and many thousands more through our outreach initiatives. This program contributes to the health of the ecosystems of the SSCA by removing harmful invasive plants, replanting native plants and collecting data that is essential to understanding the ongoing management and recovery of the SSCA. Our outreach and communication activities also help to foster increased support for the ongoing protection of the conservation area for many generations to come.
Clean Water Action Project
The Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society, in partnership with the Cowichan Land Trust, is working with landowners and community partners to address water quality issues in both Somenos and Quamichan Lakes by improving the riparian areas that border both lakes. Through the delivery of riparian area assessments and recommendations created for over 33 properties around Somenos and Quamichan Lakes, 21 short and long-term monitoring sites have been selected for riparian area restoration, water health assessment and ongoing restoration efforts with residents of Somenos and Quamichan Lakes. So far, 3,920m2 of invasive plants were removed and we are anticipating the restoration of 1.8ha of private riparian area in partnership with local residents. Additionally, the project connected with over 1000 property owners through targeted mail-outs; 62 people participating in our community launch meeting and Lakekeepers workshop, as well as school children and community members engaging in restoration activities. Through press releases, newsletter, and social media posts we have achieved community outreach to over 20,000 Cowichan residents and increased education and awareness around the interrelationships between water quality and riparian area health. We are confident that pursuing our effort towards invasive species removal, riparian restoration, landowner contact and community engagement will have a positive immediate and long-term impact on the health of riparian and aquatic ecosystems around Somenos and Quamichan lakes.
Citizen Science Water Quality Monitoring
Historically, Somenos Lake has provided critical year round habitat for salmonids within the Somenos Basin. Currently however, it only provides suitable habitat for 6 months of the year in winter. This is due to high temperatures in the upper water column and anoxic conditions (low levels of dissolved oxygen) in the lower water column during the summer. Poor water quality has led to prolific cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms during the summer which becomes consumed by aerobic bacteria, which utilizes dissolved oxygen. This creates an anoxic environment unsuitable for salmonids.
Water quality monitoring has been ongoing in Somenos Lake since spring 2014, weekly during the summertime and monthly during the winter. Volunteers measure water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, dissolved solids, specific conductivity and water clarity. Data loggers are installed in the deepest part of the lake, with one data logger at the surface, one at mid-depth and one near the bottom measuring water temperature once an hour. This project provides crucial information that helps us track water quality fluctuations throughout the year and their effects on the ecological functions of the Somenos Basin. This, in turn, helps us identify, develop and execute studies and management plans that will improve these conditions. This citizen science water quality monitoring project also help us monitor the long-term effectiveness of ecological restoration efforts delivered throughout the Somenos watershed.
Parrot's Feather Management
Invasive Parrot's Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) was first introduced in Somenos Creek in 2014. Over the past 6 years, Parrot’s Feather has encroached upon 70% of the creek’s surface area by creating dense mats of floating vegetation that obstruct the creek’s natural flow. The Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society is currently researching the impact of Parrot’s Feather on salmonid species ability to travel upstream to Somenos Lake and its tributaries where spawning occurs.
In partnership with the Municipality of North Cowichan, we have developed an experimental management strategy to help reduce the spread of this highly competitive invasive species. This strategy involves two shading methods: “Smothering” using pond liner applied over large beds of Parrot's Feather, and “shading” using riparian planting. Smothering is being tested as a short-term management practice, while the planting of tall shading trees along the edge of Somenos creek is being used as a long-term restoration practice.
By restoring the natural vegetation cover we are hoping to inhibit the growth and spread of invasive species throughout the watershed. In order to monitor the effect of Parrot’s Feather on water quality, temperature and light data loggers are being installed in the Creek.
GreenStreams is a partnership between the SMWS and Cowichan Tribes. The goal of the GreenStreams project is to restore the 30m riparian buffer zone wherever possible on Bings and Menzies creeks from Mt. Prevost to Somenos Lake. We hope that project this will set a precedent to entrench more stringent approval processes around development adjacent to all creeks within the Somenos watershed, and ultimately throughout the Cowichan watershed as well. Our long-term thinking is that this model could be used in other communities and that a community economic benefit could be gained when people visit this area for training in our methods.
There are three main tributaries that flow into Somenos Lake; Averill Creek, Richards Creek, and Bings/Menzies Creek. We have identified Bings and Menzies Creeks as the first phase of our GreenStreams work being that they are likely the most contaminated streams as together, they drain the largest urban and industrial are in the Cowichan Valley. Measurements have also confirmed that these creeks contain the highest heavy metal burden of all other tributaries.
We are currently mapping out the creeks and existing riparian areas to identify property ownership and identify potential point sources for pollutants. After this is complete, a baseline survey will be conducted to determine riparian and creek health using indicators of riparian vegetation community, benthic invertebrate community, water chemistry, fish populations and wildlife activity. This area is also very culturally significant to the Cowichan Tribes People and as such we are partnering with them to identify wildlife movement corridors and to maintain the cultural significance of the upper watershed on the slopes of Swu’qus (Mt Prevost).
Another key aspect to this project is community involvement through Citizen Science fish surveying and water quality monitoring where we will provide equipment and training for active resident volunteers. Due to the scale of this project we will continue to build partnerships with as many agencies, businesses, involved groups and individuals as we can, this will also ensure long term support at the community, municipal, and provincial levels. Currently we have garnered support from several partners interested in working on this endeavour including the Municipality of North Cowichan, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Cowichan Valley Naturalists, The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Madrone Environmental Consulting.
WildWings Nature and Arts Festival (www.wildwingsfestival.com)
The WildWings Nature & Arts Festival is an annual series of events, established in 2009 by the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society to coincide with the seasonal return of the iconic Trumpeter Swans, North America’s largest waterfowl, to the Cowichan Valley. The purpose of the festival is to draw attention and gain support for the protection and care of natural areas in the Cowichan Valley. WildWings 2019, in partnership with Cowichan Tribes and the Cowichan Valley Naturalists was our most successful yet with 24 nature, cultural and art events spread over 3 weeks in October. Most events were either very affordable or free to attend.