Understanding changes in aquatic ecosystem health and water quality in the Fort Good Hope – Ramparts Area
Principal Investigator: Gurney, Kirsty E. (3)
Licence Number: 16131
Organization: Environment & Climate Change Canada
Licensed Year(s): 2019 2018 2017
Issued: Jul 10, 2017
Project Team: James Caesar (Community Support and Logistics, Fort Good Hope Renewable Resources Council), Jennifer Fresque-Baxter (Protocol Development and Logistics Support, Watershed Programs and Partnerships, GNWT)

Objective(s): To build community partnerships, identify field sites, and develop and implement sampling protocols for long term, community-based, monitoring of wetland ecosystems near Fort Good Hope.

Project Description: This project aims to build community partnerships, identify field sites, and develop and implement sampling protocols for long term, community-based, monitoring of wetland ecosystems near Fort Good Hope.

Whereas some wetlands in the study area have 1) already been, or 2) are likely to be, impacted by a wide range of industrial activities, including development of oil and gas and associated infrastructure, others have been protected from anthropogenic disturbance. The research team propose to select study sites near Fort Good Hope (FGH) that encompass wetlands from each of these disturbance categories, but that control for the influence of different underlying geology and permafrost. The research team will use a stratified random sampling design to provide indices of baseline wetland conditions at each site and will also develop specific monitoring protocols that, when implemented over the long term, will help answer key questions about factors that influence the ecological integrity – including water quality of wetlands around FGH.

In the initial year of the project, the research team will work closely with community partners, other collaborators, and the Sahtu Land and Water Board to select the field sites. Using existing maps and local reconnaissance, sites will be selected to represent three main strata: 1) impacted by anthropogenic change, 2) high likelihood of future impact by anthropogenic change (i.e. high resource density), and 3) reduced likelihood of anthropogenic change (i.e. established and candidate conservation areas). Current feedback from partners suggests that the Ts’ude niline Tu’eyeta Candidate Protected Area (TTCPA) is an ideal site for Category 3 wetlands. Partners at the Fort Good Hope Renewable Resources Council will provide access to TTCPA by boat, and the team will use this opportunity to test collection protocols – including those used by the community-based monitoring programs within the Territory and those recommended by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment – during two sampling periods.

Selection of wetlands:
To guide wetland selection, the research team will use ArcMAP to limit the sampling area and exclude water bodies with diameter > 150 m (surface area > 0.018 km2): because of their smaller volume, wetlands in this size class are unlikely to be thermally stratified, and therefore, may be more susceptible to increases in ambient temperature and other types of environmental change. Within the viable sampling area, the team will create 20 random points. Each random point will provide the means to identify a wetland, with ground truthing and final selection occurring in the field.

Physical characteristics, nutrients, ions, and metals:
Measurements of surface area and depth will be collected at each wetland and percent cover with emergent vegetation will be visually estimated. A portable water quality sensor will be used to collect data on other physio-chemical parameters (conductivity, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, oxidation-reduction potential) at all selected wetlands. To assess additional chemical parameters, a 1-litre grab sample of water will be collected from a random location in each of two key macrohabitats (open water, emergent vegetation). A small subsample will be transferred immediately to a scintillation vial for isotope analyses, with the remainder reserved for analyses of nutrients, major ions, and trace metals.

In a random subsample of these wetlands, the research team will deploy passive samplers to measure hydrocarbons, to compliment data collected by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In addition, data loggers that record continuous information on pressure and temperature will be deployed in this same subset of wetlands to quantify seasonal changes in wetland water levels (i.e. hydroperiod) and temperature. Passive samplers and data loggers will be collected during the second round of sampling, with exact deployment duration being dependent on site access (7 – 8 weeks). Hydroperiod data, in combination with the isotopic data, which helps identify the sources of water for the wetland, will help the team understand the capacity of the wetlands to maintain / recover function following disturbance (i.e. resilience). Such information will be important for refining the study design in subsequent field seasons.

Biological characteristics and secondary production:
Wetland invertebrate communities are spatially and temporally very patchy. To collect representative samples, the research team will use D-frame nets, which measure the abundance of nektonic invertebrates and pre-emerging from the same subset of wetlands where passive samplers and data loggers are deployed. For D-frame nets, samples will be collected from a random location in each of two key macrohabitats (open water, emergent vegetation). Depth will be recorded for each sample, and invertebrates will be preserved in 70% ethanol, to be identified and enumerated at a later date.

The ideas for this project arose primarily from concerns about changes in water quality that were expressed by community members in Fort Good Hope. Subsequent development of the project’s goals occurred in partnership with the Fort Good Hope Renewable Resource Council (James Caesar) and Yamoga Land Corporation, who have provided continued support and input. By sharing the ideas and proposal with the Sahtu Environmental Research and Monitoring Forum (SERMF), the research team have also received feedback more broadly, from community members and Aboriginal organizations within the Sahtu Settlement Area. During development of the work plan, including site selection and collection of samples, the team will continue to partner with these agencies and to communicate through regular meetings and written communications.

Results from this project will be shared regularly, through the community partners and through community meetings, outreach activities, conferences and professional meetings, and will also be published in a timely manner in publicly available research bulletins, and annual and final reports to funding agencies. The team also plan to discuss findings and share results with the broader group of communities and researchers in the Sahtu Region through regular participation (in-person and teleconference meetings). All individuals in the Northwest Territories will also be able to access key data through the NWT Discovery Portal and through Environment and Climate Change Canada Open Data Catalogue, or from team partners.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 11, 2017 to August 31, 2017.