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Urban Streams Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring What it tells us and why it matters

Our watershed monitoring network involves collecting different types of information to assess environmental health. We maintain a base level of monitoring, and enhance the network when additional information is needed, such as for the development of specific lake and subwatershed management plans.

With established benchmarks, we can detect emerging issues, including threats to surface and ground water resources, while measuring the effectiveness of best management practices on the landscape and current planning and development practices.

The information gathered is used internally within our different programs and services, and provided to government and partner agencies, and educational and community groups.

We regularly partner with various organizations to collect the environmental information. Some of these organizations include the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), local volunteer groups, Fleming College, Trent University, local high schools, and agencies such as the Conservation Authorities Moraine Coalition - a grouping of nine conservation authorities.

One component of our Environmental Technical Service Watershed Monitoring Program is Urban Streams Benthic Macroinvertibrate Monitoring.

By 2031, the City of Kawartha Lakes is expected to grow by 25,000 full-time residents to 100,000 from 75,423 in 2016. That growth is anticipated to take place in predominantly urban areas of the municipality.

In 2016, Kawartha Conservation’s Environmental Technical Services staff launched a five-year Urban Streams Benthic Macroinvertebrate monitoring program. Focused on Lindsay, Port Perry, Bobcaygeon, Omemee and Fenelon Falls, all sites within the Kawartha watershed, staff began the first of what will eventually become a 50 site sampling plan.

Benthic macroinvertebrates are one of the important building blocks of the food chain and are sensitive to changes in aquatic habitat and stream water quality.

When we see major changes to the land use surrounding a stream we often see changes in the community structure of benthic macroinvertebrates.

This can have a cumulative impact on the fish community who rely on benthic macroinvertebrates for food and who may also be under stress by changes in the surrounding land use.

This can be part of other impacts such as reduced biodiversity in the stream and degraded water quality.

Opportunities to improve water quality and instream habitats in the watersheds should be explored and may result in improvement at many stations.

At each site, samples are collected in accordance with the Ontario Benthic Biomonitoring Network transect ‘kick and sweep’ protocol.

The ‘kick and sweep’ protocol involves a staff member in the stream kicking substrates into a net while sweeping the net through the water.

Samples are collected across the width of the stream to ensure consistency in sampling.

Benthic macroinvertebrates are small organisms which live on the bottom of streams. Examples of benthic macroinvertebrates include dragonflies, blackflies, mosquitos, water beetles and leeches. Because benthic macroinvertebrates aren’t able to travel long distances like fish, they provide a good indication of stream health at a specific location.

Each species has a different tolerance level to changes in aquatic ecosystems, with some requiring pristine conditions to survive while others are able to survive in highly degraded areas. Presence of species requiring pristine conditions is a useful indicator of good stream health, while absence of these species indicates poor stream health.

Data is collected on a series of performance metrics for each site to assess stream health

Due to rapid population growth and economic development in urban areas, freshwater ecosystems suffer a decline in biodiversity and ecological functionality through habitat degradation.

The data collected through this program will help determine and identify the urban streams across that are suffering degradation as a result of development pressures across the five communities within the Kawartha Watershed

Urban land pressures including deforestation, land conversion, contaminant pollution, alteration of stream channels, and excessive nutrient input can negatively impact stream habitats and compromise the ecological integrity of freshwater ecosystems.

Through the ongoing monitoring of our urban streams we are able to develop programs and remedial action to help stabilize and improve the degraded conditions through stewardship activities.

Balancing environmental capacity and human need, we can manage natural resource features that are essential for sustaining water quality and quantity, through watershed planning, stewardship, environmental monitoring and research, and management of conservation and natural areas.

Learn more about Urban Stream Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring and our other water quality monitoring programs by visiting

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