My Summer With the GRCA

My name is Helen Liu and I am in my final year of studies at the University of Guelph in Environmental Science and Ecology (B. Sc. Env. Co-op). This summer, I had the pleasure of working at the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA) as an Assistant Water Resources Technician alongside a field partner in carrying out the GRCA’s various watershed monitoring and flood forecasting programs.

Working under the Water Resources Technician, my daily tasks took me across the watershed from Newcastle to Cobourg, and from the shores of Lake Ontario up to the Oak Ridges Moraine, each day bringing something different. We measured stream flows at a designated set of creeks weekly to biweekly, collecting data that worked towards better understanding storm events, drought conditions, and their impacts on water levels and flow rates in the Ganaraska Region Watershed. Surface water sampling also included coastal wetland monitoring where Wilmot Creek and Graham Creek run into Lake Ontario. As important sites that provide habitat to a variety of species and a place for fish spawning, monthly sampling by canoe allowed us to gather data on the level of turbidity, or murkiness, of the water and how it may impact aquatic health.

As someone who has mainly worked within the GTA, I was blown away by the amount of wilderness and forests conserved within the GRCA, as well as the level of awareness most homeowners show regarding environmental protection. This is especially true when it comes to drinking water protection and groundwater management – something I was also able to gain experience in through provincial groundwater monitoring stations and speaking to locals who rely on groundwater rather than municipal water for their everyday lives. To characterize aquifers and their sustainability in the Wilmot Watershed, I had the chance to meet many residents in Orono, Kendal, and Newcastle and learn about their groundwater wells. I was also able to see springs in the headwaters for the first time, as well as watch Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchyus tshawytscha) swim upstream to spawn for the fall.

I got more than my fair share of new experiences in fish species identification and handling through seine netting along Lake Ontario and backpack electrofishing up Wesleyville Creek, which were both incredibly fun and rewarding, well worth the long hikes and trekking through overgrown fields. I became familiar with many of the smaller fish species that inhabit our creeks and streams, and also saw plenty of frogs and tadpoles in the process. Finally, ending off my list of firsts, I saw sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) up close and personal for the first time at Cobourg Creek during their spawning season earlier in the summer when it was the hottest.

Overall, it has been an overwhelmingly positive summer with the GRCA, where I have gained valuable skills and knowledge that I will be putting into my work in the future. The office and the people in it have created a lovely, encouraging environment to work in, and one that I will definitely miss. I encourage anyone in the Ganaraska Region (and those beyond!) to explore the watershed and the GRCA`s conservation areas – you will most likely find me at either Garden Hill CA or Rice Lake CA taking pictures of mushrooms and plant life whenever you go.