It was really nice to read the article on water quantity monitoring, “Keeping Track of Water Flows at Baxter Creek”, in the December issue of The Millbrook Times. After moving to Millbrook 15 years ago, I remember noticing the station booth located next to the Distillery Street Bridge and looking up what was being monitored. While the flow tracking equipment is critical to flood forecasting and floodplain mapping, I thought it would be helpful to explain a bit more about the range of environmental data being collected at this site and across the watershed, as well as the value and use of these datasets.
While Water Survey of Canada is primarily interested in collecting the data for flood forecasting which is also used to develop local floodplain maps, there are other important uses for this type of data.
Officially, the station at Distillery Street is named “Baxter Creek at Millbrook” and its official station identifier is “02HJ007”. The data it collects can be viewed in real time, online at the Water Survey of Canada’s “Water Office” at www.wateroffice.ec.gc.ca. Water level data has been collected at this site since 2005, and since 2006 both water level (in metres precise to the millimetre) and streamflow or discharge (the amount or rate of water flow measured in cubic metres per second) has been collected and recorded automatically every 15 minutes. Both the Water Survey of Canada and our local Otonabee Region Conservation Authority cooperate in collecting data at this site.
Otonabee Conservation also maintains a year-round precipitation gauge at the site for recording rain and snow fall levels. This equipment is located on top of the booth just next to the Distillery Street Bridge and records data every 15 minutes year-round. Both the water level and precipitation data is also retrieved remotely and made available in raw “provisional” format and displayed on the Otonabee Conservation website www.ontonabeeconservation.ca. The Otonabee Conservation precipitation summary is reported for daily total, 3-day accumulated total, as well as month-to-date totals, along with a month-to-date comparison to monthly normal (percentage).
When taken together, these datasets are extremely valuable. In addition to their use in flood forecasting, Otonabee Conservation also uses the data for low water (drought) programming and reporting. This information is critical to a community that relies on groundwater for our drinking water system, as well as for private residential well owners and residents and businesses with permits to take (and use) water across the watershed. The data is also useful for agricultural land managers, as well as land-use planning, drought management planning, protecting in-stream flows for fish, and for tracking changes in streamflow. This is becoming increasingly important for baseline indicators in relation to population growth and climate change as more intense and severe precipitation events become more prevalent.
We are fortunate to have a period of record like this collected in our watershed at a central location in our Township’s population centre within the Millbrook settlement area. It’s one of our keystone datasets helping us understand the Baxter Creek watershed hydrologic cycle.
We are also fortunate to have provincial and regional water quality monitoring stations in our watershed where water samples are collected regularly and analyzed for nutrient and chemical content. These water quality monitoring stations have been managed by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks as part of their Provincial (Stream) Water Quality Monitoring Network (PWQMN). The active PWQMN station is located on Baxter Creek (station ID 17002107702) on Zion 4th Line, just southwest of Millbrook at the bridge west of the entrance to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Fishing and Recreation Area Crown lands. You won’t find equipment there as these water samples are recorded manually by field staff, typically on an annual basis since 1977. There is also an inactive PWQMN station (ID 17002106902) located on Baxter Creek at Cedar Valley, just east of Millbrook at the Hutchinson Road water crossing. While the province first sampled this site in 1972 and hasn’t sampled there since 1990. Fortunately, the Biology Department at Trent University has been actively collecting water quality samples downstream of Millbrook on Baxter Creek for at least the last 10 to 15 years at this location.
Our local Trout Unlimited Millbrook Chapter volunteers have been collecting fish population samples in creeks and tributaries across the Baxter Creek watershed for the last few years, which also shed light on the health of our watershed. Collecting and analyzing these water quantity, water quality, and aquatic animal population datasets together and in context is part of what is called “integrated watershed management”. Monitoring our watersheds is critical to conserving our resources for future generations. It takes many organizations of all kinds to collect this range of data and cooperate and partner in improving our collective understanding of the watershed.
Baxter Creek Watershed Alliance (a federally incorporated community non-profit) is actively acquiring and analyzing much of the above data and collecting additional ecological data to produce a series of local watershed report cards and information products in the coming years. We are also exploring research and grant opportunities to expand environmental monitoring efforts across the watershed so that we can enhance our understanding of the local environment and connecting ecosystems. To learn more, visit our website at www.baxtercreekwatershed.org.
By Craig Onafrychuk, Director, Baxter Creek Watershed Alliance