While this article and video focuses on Washington’s Puget Sound the situation is similar here in Canada.

It begins when diver, Laura James, comes across a big black column of black on one particular dive that was billowing non-stop. She found the source: stormwater.

Stormwater is a chemical cocktail of sediment, grease, pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals and everything else that washes from the surface. While many believe stormwater is treated, many times this is not the case.

A project at Washington State University is studying how runoff affects aquatic animals. They collected stormwater and filtered half of the water through soil columns meant to imitate rain gardens. They then put the straight stormwater in aquariums and the filtered stormwater in different aquariums, and gave each aquarium 10 juvenile Coho salmon and waited to see what would happen.

Within 12 hours all of the fish in the straight stormwater had died whereas all the fish in the filtered stormwater survived. The functionality of rain gardens certainly looks promising but this team at Washington State University is working to find out what the best plants to use are, what the best soil mixture is, the lifespan of these gardens and more.

In the meantime, there are actions we can all take to help reduce the toxicity of stormwater or urban runoff. Check out our Water Challenge to see what you can do!

Cutting Down on Phosphorus

Algae Bloom

Image Credit

Content for this article was researched and written by CWF volunteer Connor Reid, with oversight provided by the CWF conservation team.

Phosphorus is the 11th most abundant chemical element in the earth’s crust. Often described as phosphates, it is found in many consumer products including detergents, toothpaste, even pesticides.

Phosphorus is necessary for living organisms. Animals require phosphorus in their diets because it is a key component of healthy teeth and bones. Plants also require phosphorus which is why it is one of the essential ingredients of fertilizers, along with nitrogen and potassium.

However, the saying too much of anything is never good, definitely holds true for phosphorus. When phosphorus levels are too high in a lake or river they can cause an abnormally excessive growth of algae, called an “Algae Bloom”. This in turn causes a process which scientists refer to as eutrophication. When eutrophication occurs algae completely take over an area of nutrient-enriched water causing dissolved oxygen levels in the water to drop significantly, often to the extent that fish, amphibians and other wildlife die.

Aquatic plants can also suffer from algae blooms. When an algae bloom spreads across the surface of a lake it can prevent sunlight from reaching the plant life below. This causes plants on the floor of the lake or river to become sun-deprived, so much so that they can also die.

You can do your part to reduce the amount of phosphorus-based products that enter the environment. When shopping, try to avoid brands of cleansing agents that contain phosphates. Phosphates are widely used in laundry detergents and dish detergents. Buying phosphate-free or phosphorus-free products can help wildlife, as this will decrease the amount of phosphorus entering the environment.

Another way to lessen the environmental risk is to decrease your use of synthetic fertilizer, especially in cases where it could be washed away by rainfall. The best course of action is to mimic nature and use natural means of returning nutrients to the soil, such as composting, mulching and grasscycling. Additionally, plant species that are best suited to the soil and lighting for each area of your garden. More resources can be found on, such as this link on composting.

Love Your Lake Shoreline Project

Have you been voting for the Love Your Lake Shoreline Project?

Last week I had the opportunity to do some training on a lake in Renfrew County for this project and saw first-hand what the shoreline technicians will be looking for as they perform their shoreline property assessments.

They’ll be classifying shorelines; looking at different structures such as decks, boat launches, boat slips, and sheds; also checking out docks; retaining walls; erosion; aquatic cover; and aquatic substrate. Besides noting what property owners are doing well they will also be providing some restoration recommendations that will help improve the health of the lake.

As an example, shorelines can be classified into four categories: natural, regenerative, ornamental and degraded. Below are two examples of different shoreline types:

While you can’t see the entire shoreline, this shoreline was classified as 90% ornamental, 10% regenerative

Ornamental Shoreline

This was an undeveloped section of shoreline so it would be classified as 100% Natural

Natural Shoreline

You can see how great having a portion of your shoreline like this would be for fish and other wildlife!


And I just couldn’t resist taking a picture of these mergansers. Now, that’s a lot of young!

Stream Surveys

Shoreline Surveys

Last week I had an opportunity to go out with a local conservation authority and perform some stream surveys.

While it was incredibly hot the water helped cool things down a bit!

These surveys help gather important physical and biological information on local streams and creeks.

Part of the surveys involved taking different readings such as dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, and both air and water temperatures – as I’m doing in this photo. But we also took some bank and plant measurements, noted plant composition, invasive species, and signs of wildlife (including some very friendly damselflies that kept landing on my shoulders and hat!), as well as noting critical fish habitat and substrate composition.

I was able to see some bobolinks (a COSEWIC Threatened bird), some beaver activity, lots of raccoon tracks, and possibly coyote tracks. It’s always nice to get out in the field!

Urban Runoff and Your Local Stream

Urban Runoff

[Photo Credit]

Did you know that urban runoff is the main source of toxic chemicals for urban streams?

With the warm temperatures many of us experienced last week and will experience in the weeks to come, rain and snow melt will travel over many impermeable surfaces before it reaches a local stream, river or lake.

And as this rain and snow melt travels over driveways, roads, rooftops, parking lots, sidewalks, even our lawns, it will pick up an array of pollutants including fuel, oil, road salt, pesticides, fertilizers, pet wastes and more.

In a more natural landscape runoff is slowed down and is filtered by soil and vegetation. It has time and space to seep into the ground where it can replenish groundwater stocks, reach receiving waters gradually and be filtered from pollutants. But with asphalt and concrete dominating the urban landscape, few natural areas remain and instead this pollution cocktail empties into a local water body contaminating the water itself, the fish and other aquatic organisms.

But there are many things we can do to reduce the effects of urban runoff right on our own properties:

  • Use a rain barrel to collect water. This water can then be used to water your plants.
  • Garden using native plants. These plants are already adapted to our local growing conditions and therefore require less care and water. For help, check out our native plant encyclopedia.
  • Create a rain garden – a depression at the base of a slope that has a variety of plants to catch runoff.
  • Reduce the amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers you use; in fact there are many non-chemical solutions for many pest problems.
  • Wash your car at a car wash rather than in your driveway. Many carwashes use less water and filters and re-uses water. This prevents grease, contaminants and detergents from entering storm drains.
  • Clean up any oil or other fluid leaks from your car with kitty litter.
  • Disconnect your down spouts – so rain doesn’t go directly into the sewers and instead has a chance to penetrate into the ground or be managed on your property (ie.with a rain barrel)
  • Clean up pet wastes. Bacteria in pet wastes can contaminate water.

Let’s see what we can do to help reduce the impacts from urban runoff this spring!

Winter Salt Use

Winter Salt Use

[Photo Credit]

The salt we use around our home in the winter to melt ice and snow can damage our lakes and rivers harming fish, insects, plants and all the other organisms that live in these water bodies.

To reduce your impacts this winter consider:

·         Removing as much snow and ice from your driveway and walkways as possible before applying  de-icer is one of the best actions you can take. Salt and other de-icers work best when there is only a thin layer of ice and snow to melt. Be careful however as shovelling heavy snow and over-exerting yourself can lead to a heart attack.

·         Reducing the amount of salt you apply. If there is salt on your driveway after the snow and ice melts this is a sign that too much salt has been applied.

·         Applying de-icer before snow falls to reduce the amount needed.

·         Urea-based fertilizers are often recommended as an alternative de-icer; however, these contain nitrogen and when washed down driveways and storm sewers can cause harm to fish and other aquatic organisms.

·         Sand or other grit such as fine gravel is a good alternative to chemical de-icers. Use sparingly however, as excess sand can clog storm drains and accumulate in streams.

·         On dry days sweep up any excess salt and de-icer to prevent it from entering water bodies.

·         On extremely cold days (below -20° C) there is no point of applying salt as it will be too cold for it to work.  At this temperature sand or grit is your best option.

·         There are a lot of products claiming to be eco-friendly. The best advice is to read the labels and research the ingredients used in the product.

Click here for more information on winter salt use.