Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Report: Pilot water quality report for streams discharging into W̱E¸NÁ¸NEĆ/Hwune’nuts (Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia)

November 2023
ISBN 978-1-7381090-1-2


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.


Peter S. Ross, John A. Millson, Anne Parkinson, and Samantha Scott

Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society logo
Transition Salt Spring logo.


We acknowledge the participation and dedication of the W̱SÁNEĆ Nations and Hul’q’umi’num speaking Nations. A sense of place is key to this report; we acknowledge the long standing history of Coast Salish occupation and stewardship of what is now commonly referred to as Fulford Harbour. In this 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, Transition Salt Spring (Marine Stewardship), 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 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.


The planned restoration of the Sea Gardens in W̱E¸NÁ¸NEĆ/Hwune’nuts (Fulford Harbour) on Salt Spring Island (British Columbia, Canada) by the W̱SÁNEĆ Nations and Hul’q’umi’num speaking Nations highlights the need for water quality analyses that identify contaminants of concern from adjacent watersheds.  We conducted a small-scale study of water quality in seven creeks entering Fulford Harbour at three points in time in 2022 and 2023. Measurements were made of basic water properties in situ, including temperature, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), and flow. Water samples were collected at the same three points in time for the subsequent determination of total coliform, fecal coliform, and Escherichia coli. Samples from one point in time were used for the determination of metal concentrations.

Basic freshwater properties data fell within the range measured previously both in Fulford Harbour streams and at other freshwater sampling sites on Salt Spring Island. A longer term (~ five years) monitoring effort by the Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society shows evidence of creek flow, water properties and metal concentration influences associated with a combination of groundwater and seasonal rainfall. There were no exceedances of BC Environmental Quality Guidelines for the protection of aquatic life for any of the water properties or metals. Fecal coliforms were detected in 93% of water samples, and E. coli was detected in 91% of samples, indicative of land-based biological contamination of creeks from wildlife, livestock, pets and/or humans. Fecal coliform counts were highest in summer (average = 154 ± 42 CFU), as were E. coli counts (average = 35 ± 7 CFU). Variations in E. coli in some creeks highlight the potential for sporadic releases of pathogens into Fulford Harbour. Further investigation to identify the host species for the coliform bacteria detected will help to guide requisite remediation measures. In addition, data for Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and tire chemicals would further contribute to mitigation strategies that protect the quality of freshwater entering the estuarine systems of the bay and the Sea Gardens area. 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.


Water is vital to people and wildlife, but is under increasing threat from climate change and human developments. Sources of contamination in watersheds may include runoff from roads, residential areas, agriculture and forestry, as well as point source discharges from small-scale local industry and wastewater treatment plants. A complex mixture of contaminants renders it difficult to prioritize concerns in aquatic ecosystems, but a risk-based characterization of contamination concentrations can inform source identification and mitigation. The key to restoring and /or protecting aquatic environments for people and wildlife is a high quality monitoring program upon which communities and managers may act.

The marine environment represents a sink for numerous contaminants, including metals, persistent organic pollutants and hydrocarbons from air, land and freshwater. Very high levels of PCBs and flame retardants have been reported in marine mammals (Ross et al 2013), but many of the ‘legacy’ (i.e. banned) contaminants have declined in recent decades (Elliott et al 2023; Ross et al 2013). Some emerging contaminants may threaten the health of fish and wildlife, including Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS), the tire chemical 6-PPD quinone, and endocrine disrupting compounds found in wastewater. For example, high levels of many of these newer contaminants were reported after the catastrophic Sumas floods of late 2021 (Ross et al., 2022). 

Fulford Harbour is located on Salt Spring Island (SSI) in the southern part of the Strait of Georgia and the central Salish Sea (Figure 1). The climate is considered temperate Mediterranean, and the biogeoclimatic zone is described as a Coastal Douglas fir forest ecosystem. BC Ferries operates a ferry terminal located at the end of Fulford-Ganges Road in Fulford Harbour with services running daily, every hour and forty minutes during peak months. The surrounding, larger bay area is steeply sloped, largely residential, with light agricultural activity, and small gravel and paved roads providing access. Water conservation is of major importance to residents of Salt Spring Island as droughts are common in summer months due to reliance on winter rainfall for freshwater recharge.

Droughts are exacerbated by increased demand in the summer due to the popularity of Salt Spring as a tourist destination and watering needs in gardens and on farms. Fulford Creek, which drains directly into Fulford Harbour, is a salmon bearing creek, with historically small numbers of cutthroat trout, coho, and chum recorded, as well as freshwater mussels (McCullough, 2011). Notably, Fulford Creek has been deemed a ‘sensitive stream’ (BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, 2000), with an in-stream recording station monitored by the province.

Since 2014, knowledge holders from the W̱SÁNEĆ and Quw’utsun Nations have been collaborating with Parks Canada on The Salish Sea Garden Project (formerly the Clam Garden Initiative;, with the aim of restoring Sea Garden sites utilising Indigenous Knowledge and techniques. For thousands of years Coast Salish Peoples cultivated these Sea Gardens by constructing rock walls, removing debris, aerating the sediment, and selective harvesting. The renewed interest in reopening the Sea Gardens places an increased emphasis on the necessity of assessing the quality of water flowing into marine waters from adjacent lands. The health risks associated with consuming contaminated seafood is expected to disproportionately affect coastal First Nations consumers, as their diets can include up to 15 times more seafood than their non-indigenous counterparts (Mos et al, 2004; Ross personal communication). Assessing water quality in and around Sea Gardens will support a safe reopening of the clam bed harvesting by local First Nations communities.

A person kneeling on a rock in the water while taking a water sample.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Figure 1. Salt Spring Island in the Salish Sea

Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, is nestled in the Gulf Islands of the Salish Sea (courtesy Salish Sea and Nature Conservancy, Washington).

Map of the Salish Sea with a red point on Salt Spring Island.

Our team

The Salt Spring Island FreshWater Catalogue (SSIFWC) is a community science project under the auspices of the Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society (WPS).  Basic SSIFWC project drivers relate to education/outreach, science and informing freshwater sustainability planning, increasingly working in collaboration with other stewardship groups:

Transition Salt Spring Society is devoted to addressing the climate crisis. The focus is on mobilizing islanders and the organizations that serve them to lower emissions and help prepare for the increasing climate change risks faced by the community and ecosystems. The Marine Stewardship group is dedicated to protecting the ocean waters around Salt Spring Island:  

Raincoast Conservation Foundation comprises a team of conservationists and scientists empowered by research to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia. Its mandate is to investigate, inform and inspire. Raincoast conducts research to understand coastal species and processes and brings science to decision-makers and communities. As a charitable, non-profit conservation science organisation that operates a research lab and a research/sailing vessel, Raincoast is unique in Canada. Raincoast’s new Healthy Waters program is launching a community-oriented water pollution monitoring program to BC watersheds:

What did we do?

Many of the watershed creek systems entering Fulford Harbour exhibit flow year-round, with seasonal chemistry variability. This study targeted an improved understanding of the seasonal changes in creek flow, properties, and chemistry of watersheds upstream of the Sea Garden areas. In addition to the measurement of basic water properties based on the SSIFWC model SSIFWC workflows and existing regular SSIFWC field sites, we measured coliform and metals as a preliminary approach to evaluating anthropogenic impacts on water quality.

The study took place in streams discharging into Fulford Harbour, home to ancestral Sea Gardens over 4,000 years old that are being actively restored by First Nations in partnership with Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR) staff. The intertidal Sea Gardens are vulnerable to potential contamination released via adjacent watershed drainages.

We sampled water during three seasons (Fall, Winter, Summer) at two locations per stream: above High Water Mark (aHWM) and downstream High Water Mark (HWM). For each season, there were 14 samples to be analyzed (2 sites in 7 streams) (Figure 2; Table 1).

Four people crouching on a river bank looking down at the water.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Figure 2. Sampling sites in streams entering Fulford Harbour (Salt Spring Island)

Two samples were collected at each site, one in the creek upstream of tidal influences (Above High Water Mark or aHWM) and the other at the high tide mark (High Water Mark or HWM). Sites included 1- Fulford Creek, 2- Soule Creek, 3- Gerald’s Creek, 4- Fernwood Creek, 5- Larlow Creek, 6- Ruby Alton Creek, 7- Ruby Alton (watershed) below Roland (Central Roland). Map by Brooke Gerle, Raincoast Conservation Foundation (SSI watershed outlines courtesy of the CRD).

Table 1: Water samples for analysis were collected from up to seven creeks discharging into Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island

Water was analysed in situ and by a partnering lab at three points during the year.  Routine FreshWater Catalogue freshwater chemistry and flow measurements were carried out at the time of sampling (For details see Appendix A).

Sampling eventSample dateSample size (creek above HWM)Sample size (creek at HWM)Sample lab submissionsLab analysis – coliformsLab analysis – metals
A. Summer2022/08/156612YN
B. Fall2022/11/037714YY
C. Spring2023/03/097714YN

The following measurements were made in the field at the time of sampling at two sites in each stream; namely above the influence of marine water (above High Water Mark or aHWM) and at the High Water Mark (HWM):

  • flow determination followed SSI FreshWater Catalogue measurement procedures.  The creek flow measurement procedures adopted (at above HWM sites only) followed province guidelines (province reviewed, 2023) where possible.  
  • a handheld Oakton (WD-35634-35 PCTS Testr50) was used to measure water temperature, specific conductivity and pH, and a YSI PRO-DO probe for Dissolved Oxygen (DO) measurements. 

FWC data capture management workflows were followed for systematic field measurement data capture in an SSIFWC Epicollect5 cloud database, and watershed setting and water quantity are available online for viewing (SSIFWC webmap) and for further data analysis (SSIFWC – Pacific DataStream).

The following samples were collected at two sites within each stream and analyzed by MB Labs (Sidney)

  • Coliform samples were taken during all three events, and analysed for total coliform, E. coli and fecal coliform via membrane filtration method, and results were reported in colony forming units (CFU) per 100ml. Samples were collected, transported, and analyzed according to recognized, standardized field and transport conditions (MB Labs How to Take Water Sample).
  • Metals were analyzed once (First flush, event B. i.e. Fall).

What did we find?

1. Water properties

Measurements of basic water properties were consistent with seasonal expectations (Table 2). Average temperature in the summer (x  = 13.8 ℃ ± 0.62) was higher than average temperatures in the fall (x  = 6.7 ℃ ± 0.44) or winter (x  = 4.9 ℃ ± 0.14).  The inverse was found to be true for dissolved oxygen, with highest levels apparent in the winter (x  = 12.44 mg/L ± 0.07) than in the fall (x  = 11.21 mg/L ± 0.28) or summer (x  = 9.44 mg/L ± 0.17).

Table 2: Basic water properties for upstream creek (aHWM) sites – summer, fall and winter

Seasonal variation in flow, temperature, and dissolved oxygen illustrate the influence of precipitation and creek discharge, while higher conductivity levels in summer and (early) fall point to a strong influence of groundwater on surface water properties prior to the rains.

A. Summer
1-Fulford2-Soule3-Geralds4-Fern5-Larlow6-Ruby Alton7-Central RolandAverage
pH8.278.277.988.298.18NA8.908.32 ± 0.13
Conductivity (uS/cm)191136256209209NA304217 ± 23.5
Temperature ()13.412.715.711.915.5NA13.413.8 ± 0.62
Dissolved Oxygen (mg/L)9.489.879.749.379.46NA8.709.44 ± 0.17
Flow (L/s)NA1.72NA0.100.26NANA0.99 ± 0.73
B. Fall
1-Fulford2-Soule3-Geralds4-Fern5-Larlow6-Ruby Alton7-Central RolandAverage
pH7.927.817.777.837.858.008.057.89 ± 0.04
Conductivity (uS/cm)212150253227239209348234 ± 22.7
Temperature () ± 0.44
Dissolved Oxygen (mg/L)11.2711.6910.1010.8110.6511.6712.3011.21 ± 0.28
Flow (L/s)NA4.741.920.210.47NANA2.38 ± 1.25
C. Winter
1-Fulford2-Soule3-Geralds4-Fern5-Larlow6-Ruby Alton7-Central RolandAverage
pH7.897.407.457.697.457.507.527.56 ± 0.07
Conductivity (uS/cm)12499117110126113119115 ± 3.52
Temperature () ± 0.14
Dissolved Oxygen (mg/L)12.4012.2812.3312.4412.7612.6212.2712.44 ± 0.07
Flow (L/s)NANA19.215.0222.81NANA15.68 ± 5.43

Figure 3: Seasonal variations in conductivity speak to the interplay between precipitation patterns and groundwater influences

The seven creek measurements at three time points in this study are consistent with observations made as part of the wider Salt Spring Island FreshWater Catalogue project(cf. FWC on Pacific Datastream). The vertical black lines indicate the three sampling events summer (A), fall (B), and winter (C)  2022 – 2023.

2. Coliform

Coliform bacteria were detected in most samples (all streams, all seasons), with highest average counts in the summer (Table 3). Coliform analysis of samples from each site found that the highest average CFUs for E. coli were present in samples collected in the summer (x = 35 ± 7) compared to fall (x = 13 ± 3) and winter (x = 8 ± 2) (Table 3, Figure 4). The same trend was observed for both fecal coliforms and total coliforms (See Figures 11 and 12 in Appendix D). There was no significant difference between mean upstream (aHWM; x = 39 CFUs) and tidally influenced (HWM; x = 29 CFUs) site coliform counts (t-test, p=0.50). A number of apparent pulses in coliform counts were observed during sampling when all data were plotted (Figure 5); outliers were subsequently removed for the regressions depicted in Figure 6. Interestingly, there was a strong relationship between E. coli and fecal coliform counts across the three seasons (Figure 6), but not between E. coli and total coliform counts. 

Table 3: E. coli present in creek waters indicates fecal contamination by warm-blooded animals

The average (± standard error) E. coli (CFU) in samples from each of the seven upstream creek sites adjacent to Fulford Harbour during the three study seasons. The following outliers were removed for data analysis: 250 CFUs at Geralds in summer, 75 CFUs at Soule in fall, 176 CFUs at Ruby Alton in fall, and 600 CFUs at Central Roland in fall.

SiteA. SummerB. FallC. WinterAverage for Site ± SEM
1 Fulford5325427 ± 14
2 Soule368215 ± 10
3 Geralds328013 ± 10
4 Fern2410613 ± 5
5 Larlow9212117 ± 4
6 Ruby AltonNA011 ± 1
7 Central Roland4321319 ± 12
Average ± SEM35 ± 713 ± 38 ± 2

Figure 4: Average E. coli (CFU) for Fulford Harbour creek sites across the three seasons

Average E. coli counts differed across the three seasons (ANOVA; p=3.9×10-6), with summer being higher than the fall (Tukey’s HSD; p=7.4×10-3) and winter (p=3.7×10-4). There was no difference between the mean Fall and Winter values (p=0.65).  The following outliers were removed for this visual presentation of findings, but are nonetheless notable: 250 CFUs at Gerald’s in summer, 75 CFUs at Soule in fall, 176 CFUs at Ruby Alton in fall, and 600 CFUs at Roland Creek in fall.

Figure 5: Does variation in E. coli abundance signal household wastewater infiltration into fish-bearing streams?

Coliform analysis of samples from each creek showed that there was a large amount of variation among samples; no outliers were removed for this graph, effectively illustrating the potential for significant and sporadic coliform discharges into Fulford Harbour. Further work to identify the host species for the coliform detected will be an important part of identifying contamination sources and supporting potential remediation.

Figure 6: There was a strong relationship between E. coli and fecal coliform counts across all three seasons (charts A,C,E).

This relationship was still present in fall (chart D), but did not extend to total coliform abundance in spring and winter (charts B and F). This suggests that while fecal coliforms may be a good proxy for indicating presence of E. coli within a water body, total coliforms may not be. This is consistent with the knowledge that total coliforms include many species of bacteria that are commonly present in soils and vegetation, while fecal coliforms (and E. coli) are not as ubiquitously present in the environment in the absence of fecal contamination of waterways.

3. Metals

Following lab analysis of samples, it was determined that twelve metals were present above detection limits in 70% (or higher) of samples (Table 4). Of these, sodium (Na), calcium (Ca), and silicon (Si) were found at the highest concentrations at upstream (aHWM) sites respectively (Table 5; Figure 8). At tidally influenced (HWM) sites sodium (Na), potassium (K), and calcium (Ca) were found at the highest concentrations. Most metals were present at higher average concentrations at HWM sites than aHWM sites, and HWM sites exhibited a greater variability in concentration than aHWM sites (Figure A1- Appendix A).

Table 4: Summary of metals detected

Samples were analyzed for 33 different metals. Of these, 39% (12 metals) were determined to be present above their respective detection limits in 70% or more of samples. We performed a detection limit substitution for these. If they were present at or below their respective detection limit in less than 70% of samples, they were not considered to be meaningfully present. 

Total Number of metals analyzed% metals detected in all samples% metals not detected at all% metals detected in 70% or more samples

Table 5: Average concentrations (mg/L) of the 12 metals detected in aHWM and HWM sites

Environmental Quality Guidelines for these values can be found in Appendix B and Figure 4B.

Aluminium (Al)0.15  ± 0.020.22  ± 0.04
Boron (B)0.40  ± 0.031.21  ± 0.44
Calcium (Ca)31.5  ± 3.0281.8  ± 28.8
Iron (Fe)0.30 ± 0.120.57  ± 0.26
Magnesium (Mg)6.64  ± 1.1856.0  ± 26.2
Manganese (Mn)0.07 ± 0.050.12 ± 0.07
Phosphorous (P)0.02 ± 00.04 ± 0.01
Potassium (K)1.46 ± 0.1496.7 ± 56.5
Silicon (Si)7.23 ± 0.475.41 ± 1.07
Sodium (Na)175.4  ± 8.082622  ± 1481
Strontium (Sr)0.06  ± 0.010.99  ± 0.56
Zinc (Zn)0.02  ± 0.0020.01 ± 0.002

Figure 7: The seven creeks (aHWM and HWM sites combined) shared similar profiles in metal concentrations, largely reflecting geological sources in these Salt Spring Island watersheds

A logarithmic transformation was done on all metals data as high sodium concentrations at each site skewed the data.

Figure 8: Twelve metals were readily detectable in creek waters upstream of tidal (marine) influences (aHWM) in at least 70% of samples

Sodium (Na), calcium (Ca) and Silica (Si) were the top three metals (on average), while manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn) and phosphorus (P) were among the lowest.

What does it mean?

Observed patterns in water properties data can be largely attributed to seasonal changes in precipitation (Table 2; Figure 3). There was little indication of anthropogenically-driven changes in the measured parameters (Background Reading What is Freshwater Conductivity). The unique basic chemistry “fingerprint” for each creek system is largely derived from an interplay between surface rainwater and watershed specific groundwater inflow (baseflow) chemistries.  All creeks exhibit a dominance of groundwater baseflow during the summer period, and increasing rainwater – groundwater mixing during the fall-to-winter transition. Basic water properties were observed to be consistently within the ranges set out by the BC Environmental Quality Guidelines for Aquatic Life (Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy (2023)).

Fecal coliforms were detected in most samples collected from both the upstream (aHWM) and tidally-influenced downstream (HWM) creek sites. The presence of fecal coliform, and E. coli in particular, suggest that bacterial contamination from mammals, including humans, is being released into Fulford Harbour. This contamination of surface waters with fecal matter could be coming from a wide variety of sources including pet dogs, wild animals such as Canada geese, livestock raised for agriculture, or leaking or overflowing septic systems. While observed average E. coli counts consistently fell below Guidelines for Recreational Water Use (Table 5), in both summer and fall they exceeded the Guidelines for Drinking Water, Raw Drinking Water, and Shellfish Harvesting. However, these average values do not take into account outliers – which represent significant spikes in coliform activity. The coliform count at the freshwater Central Roland site reached one and a half times the single sample maximum Guideline for Recreational Water Use, and over ten times the Guideline for Shellfish Harvest. This seasonally-high count bears consideration, as there is considerable interest in reopening the Sea Gardens which lie in the marine waters immediately to the north-east of the Central Roland creek outfall. Additional research that can determine the host species responsible for this contamination will be critical to building a better picture of the impacts from adjacent land use on the Sea Gardens and provide a roadmap for remediation measures. 

Table 6: Water Quality Criteria for microbiological indicators based on a 100 mL sample (adapted from BC MoE (2021))

Water UseEscherichia coliFecal coliforms
Raw drinking water≤10/100 ml for 90th percentileNA
Treated drinking water (Health Canada 2022)None detectable NA
Livestock (general use)200/100 ml maximum200/100 ml maximum
Irrigation (general use)≤1000/100 ml  geometric mean≤1000/100 ml geometric mean
Irrigation (crops eaten raw)≤77/100 ml  geometric mean≤200/100 ml geometric mean
Recreational use (fresh water; Recreational Water Quality Guidelines 2020)≤200/100 ml geometric mean or ≤400/100 ml single sample maximumNA
Shellfish harvestMedian E. coli MPN ≤14/100 ml and ≤10% of samples may exceed ≤43/100 mlNA

Metal concentrations were below guidelines for both aquatic life (freshwater and marine) and for drinking water quality (Health Canada (2022)). Profiles of metals were similar in upstream (aHWM) and downstream (HWM) sites, but higher concentrations of sodium (Na) and other metals in HWM sites suggest an influence of marine chemistry on water quality. For example, the elevated Na concentrations in the HWM sites sample set are likely to be a direct result of mixing interactions along a shoreline, freshwater –  seawater interface. Overall, the metals profiles reflect a combination of variable groundwater baseflow and may be attributed to a combination of natural and anthropogenic influences (Howe and Allen, 2020 and Larocque et al., 2015):

  • discrete, area dependent in-creek groundwater inflows (baseflows) associated with different aquifer geology (rocks and or sediments), and/or associated with underground (aquifer) residence times and geological influences;
  • variations in natural organic content associated with seasonal changes in vegetative cover and/or with soil erosion; and/or
  • anthropogenic influences originating from land use and contaminants in rainfall, irrigation water fertilizers, roads, and wastewater. 


This pilot study of the seven creeks discharging into Fulford Harbour suggests that: 

  • water properties are within seasonal ranges observed in other FreshWater Catalogue sites across Salt Spring Island, and are consistent with groundwater baseflow and/or rainfall dilution as a function of seasonal changes (Millson, 2020; Howe and Allen, 2020);
  • metal concentrations largely reflect geological origins in watersheds, fall within acceptable ranges, and show no obvious evidence of anthropogenic contamination;
  • fecal coliforms indicate contamination from mammals in adjacent watersheds. The extent to which fecal coliform in our study might be originating from humans through failing septic tanks and/or faulty wastewater connections remains unclear. 

The basic freshwater analysis undertaken in this study did not include pesticides, hydrocarbons, pharmaceuticals, roadway contaminants, and other contaminants of concern. The degree to which local roads, homes, and activities on land and in the Harbour may be impacting these aspects of water quality is not clear. Additional marine water quality work will add value to restoration plans for the Sea Gardens, and afford the opportunity for the integration of knowledge of freshwater and marine ecosystems in the Fulford Harbour area.


This pilot 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 on coliform and metals levels speak to the value of sampling a wider suite of contaminants. The restoration of the Sea Gardens will benefit from a deeper understanding of new and emerging contaminants of concern, from continued monitoring for coliform, and further investigation using Bacterial Source Tracking to identify the host species responsible for the observed contamination, e.g. human, pets, livestock or wildlife. A more focussed effort to study the dominant Fulford Creek watershed for higher resolution contaminant analysis, as was carried out in the Lower Fraser Valley during the floods of 2021 (, would strengthen source identification, risk-based evaluation, and source control opportunities.

We recommend a blended program consisting of:

  1. regular monitoring of the seven streams evaluated herein for coliform levels to establish temporal and seasonal trends,
  2. a Bacterial Source Tracking effort designed to 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. A regular, multifaceted engagement forum that brings First Nations, relevant government agencies, and stewardship organizations together in support of transparency, sharing, and monitoring for threats to water as well as solution opportunities in a changing world.

These four pathways will provide a meaningful basis for the restoration of the Sea Gardens by assisting landowners in the maintenance of wastewater infrastructure, governments in the design of roadway infrastructure, and all stakeholders in the stewardship of land and water to ensure a healthy estuary and marine ecosystem. 

Two people crouched on opposite sides of a small stream while holding water sampling devices.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.


BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy 2000.

BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. 2023. British Columbia Approved Water Quality Guidelines: Aquatic Life, Wildlife & Agriculture. 

BC Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection. 2021. Water Quality Criteria for Microbiological Indicators. 

Elliott, JE, Kezic, R., S.L. Lee, Elliott, K.L. 2023. Temporal trends (1968–2019) of legacy persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in seabird eggs from the northeast Pacific: Is it finally twilight for old POPs? Science of the Total Environment 858: 160084.

Health Canada. 2022. Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality – Summary Tables.

Howe K., & Allen D., 2020 – Linkages between Stream Chemistry and Groundwater Chemistry, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.

Larocque, E.,  Allen, D. M., and  Kirste D., 2015., The Hydrogeology of Salt Spring Island.

McCullough M., 2011., Anadromous Coastal Cutthroat Trout Habitat Reconnaissance 2011. FLNRO.

Millson, J. A., 2020., SSI Foundation Spring 2019 Grant, S2019-11 Water Preservation Society (WPS), SSI FreshWater Catalogue (SSIFWC) 2019-2020 Grant Report.

Mos, L., Jack,J., Cullon,D., Montour,L., Alleyne,C., and Ross,P.S. 2004. The importance of marine foods to a near-urban First Nation community in coastal British Columbia, Canada: Towards a risk-benefit assessment. J. Toxicol. Environ. Health, Part A 67: 1-18.

Recreational water quality guidelines: Guideline summary. (2020). Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. 

Ross, P.S., Noël,M., Lambourn,D.M., Dangerfield,N., Calambokidis,J.C., and Jeffries,S.J. 2013. Declining concentrations of PCBs, PBDEs, PCDEs and PCNs in harbor seals from the Salish Sea. Progress in Oceanography 115: 160-170.

Ross, P.S., Walters, K.E., Yunker, M. and B. Lo. 2022. A lake re-emerges: Analysis of contaminants in the Semá:th X̱ó:tsa (Sumas Lake) region following the BC floods of 2021. Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Sidney BC Canada. ISBN 978-1-9993892-6-0  

WPS, SSIFWC Background Reading What is Freshwater Conductivity

WPS, SSIFWC Watershed Note

Appendix A – Sampling summary tables

Table A1. Summary of field measurements, samples and sample processing.

FIELD SITESampling (chemistry)Sampling (flow)FWC sampling (other)Water quality
Site No.Site NameSite TypepHWater Temp. ()Cond. (µS/ cm)
Technique float, vessel (l/sec)DO (mgl/l)Total coliformFecal coliformE. coliMetalsComments
1Fulford CkFWCYYYN/A*YYYY* cf Fulford Creek province station (08HA0020)
2Fulford Ck at HWMHWMYYYN/AYYYY* cf Fulford Creek province station (08HA0020)
5Geralds CkFWCYYYFloatYYYY
11Ruby Alton CkFWCYYYN/AYYYYfield site sampling limited to -II and -III events owing to time limitations
13Central RolandFWCYYYN/A*YYYY* creek site unsuitable for flow sampling
14Central Roland at HWMHWMYYYN/AYYYY

Table A2. Summary of field measurements, basic water properties and measured flows

[Field devices used in measurements: Oakton “WD-35634-35 PCTS Testr 50” Waterproof Pocket pH, Cond, TDS, Salinity Tester, & YSI Dissolved Oxygen Logger “YSI PRO-ODO

DateSample eventWater propertyFulford CkFulford Ck at HWMSoule CkSoule Ck at HWMGeralds CkGeralds Ck at HWMFern CkFern Ck at HWMLarlow CkLarlow Ck at HWMRuby Alton CkRuby Alton Ck at HWMCentral RolandCentral Roland at HWMCOMMENTS
2022-08-15SummerpH8.278.408.278.157.988.528. summer sample possible at Ruby Alton
2022-11-03First Flush7.928.017.817.997.778.037.837.887.858.008.05
2023-03-09Full flush7.897.507.407.557.457.457.697.527.457.427.507.527.52

2022-08-15SummerCond. (µS/ cm)191.005.20135.50166.20256272215.00209.00209.00206.00N/AN/A304.00No summer sample possible at Ruby Alton
2022-11-03First Flush212.005.13150.20192.60253260228.00227.00239.00209.00348.00118.10
2023-03-09Full flush123.80136.0098.6097.80117.1117.2110.00109.60126.10126.00112.70118.70118.70

2022-08-15SummerWater T (˚C)13.4017.4012.7013.6015.717.211.9015.9015.5015.60N/AN/A13.4019.30No summer sample possible at Ruby Alton
2022-11-03First Flush5.205.705.905.707.27.17.407.307.806.608.60
2023-03-09Full flush4.804.705.

2022-08-15SummerDO (mg/L)9.489.879.439.749.19.379.469.84N/AN/A8.70N/ANo summer sample possible at Ruby Alton
2022-11-03First Flush11.2711.2711.6911.5110.111.3610.8111.0710.6511.5211.6712.30N/A
2023-03-09Full flush12.4012.5012.2812.3912.3312.4312.4412.5312.7612.7812.6212.27N/A

2022-08-15SummerFlow (l/s)N/AN/A1.72N/AN/AN/A0.10N/A0.26N/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANo summer sample possible at Ruby Alton
2022-11-03First FlushN/AN/A4.74N/A1.92N/A0.21N/A0.47N/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
2023-03-09Full flushN/AN/AN/AN/A19.21N/A5.02N/A22.81N/AN/AN/AN/AN/A

Figure A1: Metals Profile Downstream – A similar profile of metals in water collected at the High Water Mark (HWM) downstream, but the sequence differed slightly from upstream

Sodium (Na), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) were the top three metals (on average), while manganese (Mn), phosphorus (P) and zinc (Zn) among the lowest (detected) metals. 

Figure A2: Average total coliforms (CFU) for Fulford Harbour creek sites differed across the three seasons

(ANOVA; p=2.4×10-4), with summer mean higher than the winter (Tukey’s HSD; p=2.2×10-2), and fall mean higher than the winter (p=1.2×10-2) . There was no difference between the mean summer and fall values (p=0.30).

Figure A3: Average Fecal coliform (CFU) for Fulford Harbour creek sites differed across the three seasons

(ANOVA; p=8.9×10-6). With summer means being higher than the  fall means  (Tukey HSD; p=5.5×10-4), and winter (p=8.3×10-6). There was no significant difference between the fall and winter means (p=0.43). Outliers removed. 

Appendix B – Lab results

Figure B1 – Summer MB Lab results (coliforms, 12 sites)

Report sheet showing summer MB lab results

Figure B2 – Fall MB Lab results (coliforms, 14 sites)

Report sheet showing Fall MB Lab results

Figure B3 – Winter MB Lab results (coliforms, 14 sites)

Report sheet showing Winter MB Lab results

Figure B4 – Fall MB Metals Lab results (sites 1-5)

Report sheet showing Fall MB Metals Lab results for sites 1-5

Figure B5 – Metals Lab results (sites 6-10)

Report sheet showing metals lab results for sites 6-10

Figure B6 – Metals Lab results (sites 11-14)

Report showing metals lab results for sites 11-14