Lake Windermere Project: International Example of Water Stewardship
The Columbia Valley’s diverse nature, rural lifestyle, and pristine lakes make the region a popular destination place for summer vacationers and second home owners. With 7,000 permanent residents, population in the local communities of Windermere and Invermere grows to 30,000 to 50,000 people during the summer months. While the seasonal influx of people brings important economic vitality to the region, development and settlement activities have devastating effects on Lake Windermere’s wildlife habitats and threaten its integrity as suitable drinking water. By 2004, the burbot had collapsed, and since it is a predatory fish at the top of the food chain its prevalence is an indicator of the health of the ecosystem. Local residents wanted a stewardship initiative on Lake Windermere that addressed the issues of litter, noise pollution, sewage, shoreline degradation, and which protected the fragile ecology of the lake.
Wildsight, an organization that works to protect the ecological values of the Columbia and Southern Rocky Mountains eco- regions, responded to the residents’ pleas for a stewardship initiative on Lake Windermere by pioneering the Lake Windermere Project (LWP). The LWP was framed as five-year pilot program and a model for other lakes in the region through its membership in the East Kootenay Integrated Lake Management Partnership. As a comprehensive strategy the LWP took a two-pronged approach, engaging both the grassroots community and key decision makers.
The LWP made a concerted effort to educate the community about responsible water practices so that the residents would be fully engaged in the solutions. One such initiative is the annual Water Wonders Workshop, which offers learning activities for the entire family, from crafts for children to teaching about lake wildlife to tips for adults on how they can reduce household water consumption. The LWP also annually hosts a day for non-motorized sports on the lake and a shoreline cleanup. “The project is deeply rooted in the community,” says Heather Leschied, Wildsight program manager. “We have more volunteers than opportunities.” Today, the community prides itself on its culture of water stewardship and everyone is invested in the health of the lake.
In addition to community engagement, the other emphasis of the LWP was on collecting scientific data for decision makers to use when determining the future development strategy of the area surrounding Lake Windermere. “Having an understanding of where the sensitive areas are and then providing a level of protection for them is essential for making responsible land use decisions,” Leschied explains. Some of the information-gathering activities included extensive water quality monitoring to develop a basis of knowledge about the health of lake, and inventory and mapping of the important fish and wildlife that exist along the lake’s shoreline, as part of the East Kootenay Integrated Lake Management Partnership. Eight other lakes in BC have modeled Lake Windermere’s undertaking.
The LWP is currently in its final year of the pilot and Wildsight is preparing to hand the project over to the community to continue in perpetuity. “We are scheduled for completion in September and we have met all of the goals laid out five years ago,” explains Leschied. A community group called the Lake Windermere Ambassadors, which is comprised of various stakeholders and volunteers that have been involved in LWP since the outset, will carry on the various projects and ensure the protection of Lake Windermere into the future.
At time of writing, we have supported Wildsight and the LWP with $101,000 in grants since the project began in 2005. While the project emerged from the concerns of the local residents, the LWP has gained national and international recognition for its achievements and innovation in the area of water stewardship. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency recognized the LWP as a national best practices example in environmental monitoring. Parks Canada has inquired about using Lake Windermere as a model for Canada. The Living Lakes Network is also using the LWP as a template for the rest of the world. “For the international water community to be looking at little Lake Windermere in the East Kootenay and what we did here as an example has been a tremendous achievement,” Leschied says proudly.