Development of a Biological Monitoring Program to Detect Change in Stream Health Along the Dempster–Inuvik–Tuktoyaktuk-Corridor

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area

Tags: physical sciences, environmental assessment, water quality, infrastructure, stream health

Principal Investigator: Musetta-Lambert, Jordan (2)
Licence Number: 16849
Organization: Wilfrid Laurier University/ECCC
Licensed Year(s): 2021 2020 2019
Issued: Jun 18, 2021
Project Team: Joseph Culp, Nancy Glozier, Stephanie Strachan, Kerry Pippy, Matt Chanyi, Maria Dolan

Objective(s): To determine the impacts of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway roads on stream health and to assess the impacts of the Highway on stream function and changes in aquatic health parameters.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.4981.

The main goal of this project is to establish a stream biomonitoring program along the Dempster-Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Corridor (DITC) to understand the current environmental conditions associated with past and newly developed road infrastructure.

Specific objectives are to:
1. Establish a stream biomonitoring program for the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH);
2. Directly involve local stakeholders in the program to provide the training required for communities to undertake the stream-monitoring program in the future;
3. Determine the impacts (if any) of the ITH roads on stream health;
4. Provide information on the importance of stream invertebrates to fish; and,
5. Assess the impacts of the ITH on stream function and changes in aquatic health parameters (e.g., water chemistry changes) compared to reference condition and legacy effects of past road development along the Dempster corridor.

A total of 20 candidate streams (15 “impacted” sites along ITH, 5 “legacy impact” sites along the Dempster highway, reference conditions will be considered upstream reaches at all “impacted” and “legacy impact” sites) will represent the core group of sites sampled in this study. Study sites will be selected based upon information from decision-makers with the Gwich’in Renewable Resource Councils (RRCs) and Inuvialuit Hunter and Trapper Committees (HTCs) prior to sampling and will include streams such as the Diamond Point Creek along the ITH, which connects the Husky Lakes, which are important to angling and have high fish diversity. The research team propose to study streams due to their importance as spawning habitat and critical refuge for juvenile fish. The combination of these 3 site types will allow the team to assess the severity of stream impacts associated with newly developed and existing roads in the Arctic.

The research team plan to use a scientifically robust approach (several designs to be considered such as the Reference Condition Approach) to compare ITH sites to well-established road sites along the upper Dempster and upstream references sites at all locations. CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network) monitoring techniques (e.g., using macroinvertebrates as bioindicators of environmental condition) will be used to investigate ecosystem responses to disturbance in streams. This method uses a Kick-net (metal wire D-frame, mesh size = 400 um) placed downstream of the collector, against stream substrate. The collector disturbs the substrate for a total of 3 minutes. 3-5 replicate Kick-nets will be collected at each stream. Samples are removed from the net and preserved in 95% ethanol for transport. In the laboratory, macroinvertebrate samples were sorted and identified to lowest practical taxonomic level (typically genus) by a Society for Freshwater Science certified taxonomists. To complement this approach and better understand gaps in current knowledge in Arctic stream ecology as well as threats to the provision of ecosystem services, this study will investigate changes in water quality, habitat characteristics, and ecosystem function (i.e., organic matter processing rates in streams). Water chemistry analyses will be conducted at the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) facility in Saskatoon. Stream function will be measured using decomposition bioassays made of 100% unbleached cotton measuring 5 by 10 cm at all sample sites (n = 7/site). Decomposition bioassays will be repeated in 2020 and 2021 between July and August (~ 5 weeks). Decomposition rates will be calculated as the difference between initial and final weights and will be standardized by stream temperature.

Water quality data will be submitted to the Mackenzie Datastream annually. The results of this project will be presented at the NWT Environmental Research and Monitoring Workshop. Annual meetings to communicate results with Inuvialuit HTC’s and the Gwich'in RRB’s will take place. Aquatic insect, habitat, and water chemistry data will be submitted to the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network. Training opportunities will be made available so that interested community members can become qualified to access data and continue sampling as part of any future biomonitoring opportunities. The researchers are teaming up with other Wilfrid Laurier Researchers associated with Northern Water Futures and the Aurora Research Institute to coordinate workshop opportunities for students in college or mid/high school to conduct some of their own monitoring to present at the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada Promo-Science funded Northern Research Leadership Camp series of On The Land camps taking place in Trail Valley Creek. All publications developed from this research will be made available to community organizations.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 17, 2021 to December 31, 2021.