North Okanagan lakes are playing a critical role in a university study focused on water quality.
Researchers at the University of B.C.’s Okanagan campus are working with local ranchers and stakeholders to determine the best way to protect drinking water on cattle grazing lands.
“We have a lot of community outreach built into this project and people are concerned about drinking water,” said Deborah Roberts, Engineering Professor and microbiologist.
“At the same time, while there are best management practices in place — like fencing around a body of water to keep cattle out — water is still becoming contaminated.”
Weekly water samples from Oyama Lake watershed, Vernon Creek, the Duteau Creek water system, and King Edward Lake watershed have been collected over the last two summers by the team of four undergraduate and two graduate students. The current focus is on the Duteau Creek watershed.
The goal is to minimize the health risk for people while balancing mixed uses and recreation in the watershed.
Funding for the $150,000 three-year study has come from the Investment Agriculture Foundation, the Ministry of Forests, and the Regional District of North Okanagan. Other stakeholders include Interior Health Authority, the BC Cattlemen’s Association, and local municipalities.
Researchers are checking turbidity and levels of pathogens such as cryptosporidium and e.coli.
How long pathogens survive in manure, whether rain and meltwater wash them into drinking water sources and the effects of natural contaminants such as leaves, pine needles, and bugs are all being investigated.
As well as testing for water-borne illnesses, the students are taking DNA samples to determine whether pathogens found in the water are from cattle or wildlife.