Preliminary study of water quality in streams discharging into Fulford Harbour raise questions about land-based pollution

The key to restoring and protecting aquatic environments for people and wildlife is a high quality monitoring program upon which communities and managers may act.

Water is vital to life, and on the Gulf Islands, efforts to understand, monitor and protect watersheds are increasingly needed to ensure healthy ecosystems on land and in adjacent marine waters. The planned restoration of the Sea Gardens in W̱E¸NÁ¸NEĆ/Hwune’nuts (Fulford Harbour) on Salt Spring Island by the W̱SÁNEĆ Nations and Hul’q’umi’num speaking Nations highlights the need for water quality analyses that identify impacts from adjacent watersheds. 

To address this question, Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society, Marine Stewardship (Transition Salt Spring), and Raincoast Conservation Foundation partnered to carry out a study of water quality in seven creeks entering Fulford Harbour at three points in time in 2022 and 2023. The participation of members from the W̱SÁNEĆ Nations and Hul’q’umi’num speaking Nations delivered a strong sense of purpose, with Parks Canada contributing funding to the analyses. The effort entailed water sampling and the measurement of temperature, water velocity, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen, metals, and fecal coliform. 

A map of the water sampling site locations and watersheds around Fulford Harbour.
Water samples were collected from seven streams discharging into Fulford Harbour (W̱E¸NÁ¸NEĆ / Hwune’nuts) on Salt Spring Island, BC, for a preliminary water quality study.

What we found

Our measurements largely fell within ranges measured previously both in Fulford Harbour streams and at other freshwater sampling sites on Salt Spring Island. There were no exceedances of BC Environmental Quality Guidelines for the protection of aquatic life for any of the water properties or metals. However, fecal coliforms were detected in 93% of water samples, indicating land-based contamination of creeks from wildlife, livestock, pets, and/or humans. Fecal coliform counts were highest in summer, and their detection raises questions about the extent to which this might be due to humans through failing septic tanks and/or faulty wastewater connections. 

This study did not include pesticides, hydrocarbons, pharmaceuticals, roadway contaminants, or other contaminants of concern that may originate from homes, businesses, and roadways in the watersheds draining into Fulford Harbour. 

Our new report

The results are published in our new report, Pilot water quality report for streams discharging into W̱E¸NÁ¸NEĆ/Hwune’nuts (Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia). The study builds on the longer term monitoring of flow and water properties established for several watersheds on Salt Spring Island documented in the FreshWater Catalogue (SSIFWC Watershed Notes). The findings from this study speak to the value of sampling a wider suite of contaminants.

Our recommendations

  1. Regular monitoring of the seven streams for coliform levels to establish temporal and seasonal trends,
  2. a Bacterial Source Tracking effort that would identify the host species for coliform contamination in these streams,
  3. a more in-depth study of Fulford Creek to characterize the extent to which this principal freshwater stream in Fulford Harbour is releasing other contaminants of concern from activities in its watershed, including pesticides, hydrocarbons, pharmaceuticals, and other contaminants,
  4. and a regular, multifaceted engagement forum that brings First Nations, government agencies, and stewardship organizations together in support of transparency, sharing, and monitoring for threats to water as well as solution opportunities.

Sea gardens

The anticipated future re-opening of shellfish harvesting in the Sea Gardens will benefit from comprehensive data that identifies threats to the freshwater that discharges into Fulford Harbour. This first glimpse into water quality in Fulford streams provides some reason for optimism, but suggests that we may wish to dig a little deeper into contaminants that were not part of this study. In-depth knowledge will provide meaningful guidance for best practices in Fulford watersheds.

Citation

Ross, P.S., J.A. Millson, A. Parkinson, and S. Scott. 2023. Pilot water quality report for streams discharging into W̱E¸NÁ¸NEĆ /Hwune’nuts (Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia). Raincoast Conservation Foundation Sidney BC. 39 pp. ISBN 978-1-7381090-1-2

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the participation and dedication of the W̱SÁNEĆ Nations and Hul’q’umi’num speaking Nations. In our report we also use the names for this place from two major Coast Salish Language groups, in SENCOTEN referred to as W̱E¸NÁ¸NEĆ and in Hul’q’umi’num’ as Hwune’nuts. The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial and/or in kind support of Parks Canada Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR), Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society, Marine Stewardship (Transition Salt Spring), and Raincoast Conservation Foundation (Healthy Waters). We are grateful to Bryant DeRoy and Erich Kelch at Parks Canada for their interest, support, and feedback. We would like to thank Pauquachin Marine for participating in our shared learning regarding freshwater inputs into Fulford Harbour and how that may affect this important cultural resource. In particular, we acknowledge Sarah Stelte, Gene Lagis, Michael Sheena, and Kristian Lagis for coming out for the day and participating in the tour of the watershed and shared discussion on the beach. We are thankful for the work of those volunteers who support our island stewardship. We thank Brooke Gerle at Raincoast for ArcGIS support of mapping and Pink Sheep Media for design.

Affiliations

John Millson – Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society
Anne Parkinson – Marine Stewardship (Transition Salt Spring)

Our annual report is out now!

Get highlights from the year, our science, flagship projects, staff and volunteers, as well as a peek at what’s in store for the coming year.

Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.