Water quality monitoring in the Old Ausable Channel

What do we test for and why?

Beginning in 2006, Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) and Pinery Provincial Park have collected water samples to monitor water quality in the Old Ausable Channel (OAC). These samples are collected monthly from March to November each year, with the exception of one year when funding was not available. Prior to 2006, very little was known about the water quality in the water body. It was assumed that the water quality was “good.” Agencies needed data to assess the actual current conditions of the channel.

Beginning in 2007, the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority has published Watershed Report Cards for each of the 16 subwatersheds located within its jurisdiction, including the Old Ausable Channel. These report cards show the measured conditions for various natural features in the watershed, including water quality, and compares them to the conditions for the entire Ausable Bayfield watershed. The most recent report card (2018) can be reviewed in the figure(s) below. 

Table – Surface Water Quality – Old Ausable Channel – Watershed Report Card – 2018
Surface Water QualityGrade    
A
ResultResult2017 Grade
2017 Grade
Indicator Description20122017Old Ausable ChannelEntire ABCA
Total phosphorus• Total phosphorus is a nutrient. It enhances plant growth. It contributes to excess algae and low oxygen in streams.
• An A grade is a 75th-percentile* total phosphorus concentration of less than 0.020 mg/L.
0.020 mg/L0.016 mg/LAD (0.073)
E. coli (Escherichia coli)• E. coli are bacteria found in human and animal waste.
Their presence indicates water may contain other disease-causing organisms.
• An A grade is a geometric-mean* E. coli concentration of no more than 30 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 mL.
8 cfu/100 mL9 cfu/100 mLAC (104)
Benthic invertebrates• Benthic invertebrates are small animals, without backbones, that live in stream sediments.
• Family Biotic Index (FBI) summarizes the numbers and types of these animals in a sediment sample. Values, from 1 (healthy) to 10 (degraded), reflect stream health.
• An A grade is an average FBI value of no more than 4.25.
N/AN/AN/AC (5.59)
* The complete Ausable Bayfield Watershed Report Card at abca.ca has information on 2007 grades, definitions (such as
75th percentile and geometric mean), methods, and results.

FIGURE – SURFACE WATER QUALITY IN THE OLD AUSABLE CHANNEL:

Table - Surface Water Quality - Old Ausable Channel - 2018

Table – Surface Water Quality – Old Ausable Channel – 2018

It shows that typically water quality conditions in the OAC are better than in the majority of the Ausable Bayfield watershed.

The ongoing collection of water quality data will help to guide management decisions and is also important to track changes over time. For example, the nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus types) could be a very important determinant of plant growth in the OAC. There are species-at-risk fishes that live in the OAC that are dependent upon some of the vegetation types that grow in the channel. Also, the Escherichia coli (E. coli) numbers and nutrient concentrations may help to explain land use decisions (e.g., possible septic system leachate or lawn fertilizer input from the residential areas along the OAC). ABCA, and Pinery Provincial Park, plan to continue water quality sampling each year.

Water samples are analyzed for the following eight indicators:

  • E. coli
  • Total Phosphorus
  • Total Dissolved Phosphorus
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrate
  • Nitrite
  • Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen
  • Total Suspended Solids

 

Definitions of Parameters

E. coli

E. coli refers to a type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in human and animal waste. Their presence in water shows a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination and indicates the potential for the water to have other disease-causing organisms.

Phosphorus (Total Phosphorus and Total Dissolved Phosphorus)

Total Phosphorus (TP) includes dissolved phosphours and forms bound to organic and inorganic material in water. Total phosphorus is an element that enhances plant growth and contributes to excess algae and low oxygen in streams and lakes. In many fresh water aquatic systems, phosphorus is the nutrient limiting primary production (plant growth). When phosphorus is added, the first response is increased primary productivity. Although this may be an aesthetic concern, increased productivity may be beneficial to aquatic life. Excessive enrichment may lead to detrimental effects, such as a decline in water oxygen concentrations upon the decay of the aquatic plants.

Nitrate, Nitrite, and Ammonia

Nitrate is the primary source of nitrogen for aquatic plants. All forms of inorganic nitrogen (nitrite and ammonia) have the potential to undergo nitrification to nitrate. In well-oxygenated systems, increasing concentration of inorganic nitrogen increase the risk of algal blooms and eutrophication. Furthermore, nitrate may also be directly toxic to aquatic organisms. Elevated nitrate concentrations are considered to contribute to eutrophication and its undesirable effects, such as algae and macrophyte blooms, shortened food chains, and changes in the aquatic community.

Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN)

The sum of organic nitrogen and ammonia in a water body. Measured in milligrams per litre (mg/L). High measurements of TKN typically results from sewage and manure discharges to water bodies.

Total Suspended Solids (TSS)

Turbidity and TSS are different parameters that provide complementary information about water quality. Turbidity is a measurement based on optical properties that quantifies the amount of light that is scattered and absorbed rather than transmitted. Total suspended solids (TSS) is a main component of turbidity; however, it is a measure of material suspended in the water column surch as microorganisms, phytoplankton, detritus, clay and other mineral substances. High TSS levels could have a limiting impact of fish communities, especially sensitive fish species that require clear water.

 

 

Archives:

The following is archived content. For most current content please see above paragraphs.

Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority and Pinery Provincial Park collected water samples to test the water quality of the Old Ausable Channel monthly from March – November 2006.  There is a need for water quality data from the Old Ausable Channel (OAC).  Prior to 2006, very little was known about the water quality in this water body.  It was assumed that the water quality was “good’.  However, agencies had no data to indicate the current conditions.

The collection of water quality samples in 2006, showed that water conditions in the OAC were much better than in the surrounding landscape (Figures 1, 2 & 3).  The ongoing collection of water quality data will help to guide management decisions and is also important to track changes over time.  For example, the nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus types) could be a very important determinant of plant growth in the OAC.  There are species at risk fishes that live in the OAC that are dependent upon some of the vegetation types that grow in the channel.  Also the Escherichia coli (E. coli) numbers and nutrient concentrations may help to explain land use decisions (i.e., possible septic system leachate or lawn fertilizer input from the residential areas along the OAC).  Collecting water quality data over a longer time period is necessary to understand potential impacts to the OAC.  The Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority and the Pinery, along with volunteers from local neighborhoods continue to collect water samples in 2007.

The following eight indicators are tested for:

E.Coli
Total Phosphorus
Total Dissolved Phosphorus
Ammonia
Nitrate
Nitrite
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen
Total Suspended Solids

Definitions of Parameters

E. coli

E. coli are a type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in human and animal waste.  Its presence in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination and also indicates the potential for the water to have other disease causing organisms.

Phosphorus (Total Phosphorus and Total Dissolved Phosphorus)

Total phosphorus (TP) includes dissolved phosphorus and forms bound to organic and inorganic material in water.  Total phosphorus is an element that enhances plant growth and contributes to excess algae and low oxygen in streams and lakes.  In many fresh water aquatic systems, phosphorus is the nutrient limiting primary production (plant growth).  When phosphorus is added, the first response is increased primary productivity.  Although, this may be an aesthetic concern, increased productivity may be beneficial to aquatic life.  Excessive enrichment may lead to detrimental effects, such as a decline in water oxygen concentrations upon the decay of the aquatic plants.

Nitrate, Nitrite & Ammonia

Nitrate is the primary source of nitrogen for aquatic plants.  All forms of inorganic nitrogen (nitrite and ammonia) have the potential to undergo nitrification to nitrate.  In well-oxygenated systems, increasing concentrations of inorganic nitrogen increase the risk of algal blooms and eutrophication.  Furthermore, nitrate may also be directly toxic to aquatic organisms.  Elevated nitrate concentrations are considered to contribute to eutrophication and its undesirable effects, such as algae and macrophyte blooms, shortened food chains, and changes in the aquatic community.

Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN)

The sum of organic nitrogen and ammonia in a water body. Measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L). High measurements of TKN typically results from sewage and manure discharges to water bodies.

Total suspended solids (TSS)

Turbidity and TSS are different parameters that provide complementary information about water quality.  Turbidity is a measurement based on optical properties that quantifies the amount of light that is scattered and absorbed rather than transmitted.  Total suspended solids (TSS) is a main component of turbidity, however, it is a measure of material suspended in the water column such as microorganisms, phytoplankton, detritus, clay and other mineral substances. High TSS levels could have a limiting impact on fish communities, especially sensitive fish species that require clear water. 

Sampling Results from the 2006 Season

The following chart shows the results of sampling from March 2006 to November 2006 in the OAC at one location in Pinery Provincial Park.

OAC Water Quality Data

OAC Water Quality Data

DateE. Coli
CFU/
100ml
TP
mg/L
TDP
mg/L
Ammonia
mg/L
NO3
mg/L
TKN
mg/L
TSS
mg/L
Mar40.0060.007NDND0.32
Apr100.020<0.030<0.05<0.10.64
May30.013<0.003<0.05<0.12.32
Jun100.0140.00900.07<0.10.72
Jul<20.016<0.0030<0.05<0.10.62
Aug40.0110.0080<0.05<0.10.82
Sep200.0190.0070<0.05<0.10.6<1
Oct80.0150.0130.14<0.10.7<1
Nov00.009<0.00300.10<0.10.52

 ND= not detected

The water quality sampling location was directly upstream, mid channel of the Pinery dam.

Water Quality in the OAC

Average total phosphorus, nitrate and E. coli results between the OAC and the rest of the Ausable River/Bayfield River watersheds (this data was taken from the ABCA’s Watershed Report Card document) were compared.  Total phosphorus, nitrate and E. coli were chosen because of phosphorus and nitrate’s connection to increased plant growth/algal blooms (which is apparent in the channel) and E. coli’s connection to septic/sewage indication. 

The data comparison showed (Figures 1, 2 & 3) that the levels of these parameters are significantly lower in the OAC compared to the rest of our watershed area.  This was not surprising given the OAC is a closed and isolated system to influences that the rest of the watershed would be receiving, for example agricultural inputs.  There is a lot of vegetation present in the OAC, but water clarity and lack of flow could also be providing the favorable conditions for certain types of vegetation to grow.  Some of the vegetation, such as Chara, doesn’t like a lot of nutrient input which could explain its abundance in the OAC upstream of the Pinery dam.  We will need to continue monitoring the water quality to notice increases or decreases in the parameters, or make conclusions on what is happening. 

Summary

The water quality sampling program in the OAC uses existing resources to provide critical information about the state of the OAC.  Detailed water quality information is required to help guide management decisions of this unique ecosystem.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3