Over the last year, the PWA successfully accomplished many projects (both new and ongoing). Here is a recap of our research, actions, and outreach by our Communications coordinator, Michelle Tan.
Southeastern New Brunswick’s extensive web of rivers, streams, and standing water bodies has long sustained the region’s unique assortment of flora and fauna. Life depends on access to this steady, consistent, clean source of water. But the New Brunswick of today looks far different than it did a few hundred ago. Our waterways have experienced cascading changes alongside increasing populations, widespread agriculture, and intensifying industry.
As the pressure of human development mounts, protecting and restoring watersheds is more vital than ever. Conserving aquatic habitats serves both the organisms that call them home and the communities that benefit (often without even knowing) from their services.
Ecosystems are remarkably resilient; over millennia, landscapes have adapted to various forms of disturbance. But environmental change has proven too fast and humans too unrelenting. Urbanized riparian areas and wetlands, pollution, nutrient loading, contaminated runoff, obstructed waterways and altered land use all seriously threaten aquatic environments.
Fortunately, these changes have been met with informed action. For 25 years, the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance (PWA) has been monitoring water quality across much of the Petitcodiac and Memramcook River watersheds. The PWA’s rounded approach to restoring and protecting these water systems and their services involves scientific monitoring, habitat improvement, environmental assessment, as well as education and outreach.
The year 2022 was yet another successful one for the PWA. Fieldwork involved routinely monitoring water quality across 27 sites (six of which are swim guide areas). Our 12 temperature loggers were also placed to remotely track changes in water temperature. While swimmers may appreciate warm waters, the same cannot be said for our charismatic cold water species like Atlantic Salmon. Temperature is, however, just one of many different factors that affect water quality. Over the 2022 season, the PWA recorded measurements for 11 metrics across all monitoring sites; some of the key ones being dissolved oxygen, PH and phosphorus (find a full list on our website). This work is especially important in summer as the swim season coincides with elevated risk of algae blooms among several other threats to health and safety. However, the PWA’s monitoring work does not end strictly with water quality. In partnership with ECO360, drone footage was used to track the spread of invasive phragmites and five riparian zones were surveyed for plastic pollution. In response to plastic litter and other waste, the PWA led five community cleanups over the course of the year.
Water quality and biodiversity are dynamically interconnected. New Brunswick boasts as many as eleven native freshwater mussel species; however, poor management practices, habitat changes, degraded water quality, and altered food webs have led to population declines for over 50 years. These unassuming mollusks are powerful ecosystem managers; they not only filter water, they are a staple in the food web and play key roles as bioindicators (species used to asses environmental quality and/ or change over time). The PWA monitors freshwater mussel populations, assesses and reduces threats related to land use practices, and implements habitat improvement projects. In the 2022 field season, mussels were present in three out of the five sites surveyed.
Aquatic species, particularly migratory ones like the Atlantic salmon, have historically traversed great distances. Unobstructed watersheds offer hundreds to thousands of kilometers worth of navigable territory. However, human development has fragmented these waterways via damming, causeways and much more. Culverts are commonly installed to divert water away from important infrastructure and to avoid pooling. Unfortunately, they alter river flow and prevent fish passage as debris builds up. Poorly installed or out-of-date in-stream structures like digger logs, deflectors, and bank stabilizers can counterintuitively increase erosion and sedimentation. These “broken brooks” pose a serious threat to biodiversity and the integrity of watersheds. That is why the PWA is dedicated to increasing aquatic connectivity. In 2022, the PWA removed nine in-stream structures and assessed 47 watercourse crossings.
In the wake of all of this overwhelming environmental change, it is easy to become resigned to the ecological spiral. It can sometimes feel like humanity has knotted its sneakers just to race to the bottom. But man-made problems can have man-made solutions—many of which are more simple than they might seem at first glance. As urban landscapes have hardened through paving and development, cities like Moncton have become increasingly vulnerable to flooding among other water-related risks. In response, the PWA installed three rain gardens throughout the watershed in 2022. Rain gardens offer far more than aesthetics; they collect stormwater and winter melt to minimize flooding, filter rainwater and runoff, and more.
Native pollinators face overwhelming odds as degraded habitats, pesticide use, and invasive species have wreaked havoc on their populations. To raise awareness of the issue, the PWA encouraged six communities (alongside many individuals) to join in on the No-Mow May movement. The initiative attempts to increase wildflower growth and improve access to nectar access for young pollinators.
Of course, none of these solutions reverse the drivers of environmental change. Environmental advocacy is slow work that unfolds over a series of small, incremental steps. The PWA is just one of many organizations working at this necessary intersection between science and community action.
Our habitats face devastating odds; and yet, there remains ample room for hope. Vocal, engaged communities have the ability to protect and restore their local environments (urban, rural, and everything in between). Get involved and you might just make the difference!