DOING SCIENCE DIFFERENTLY IN LOCAL CREEKSHEDS: “Stewardship groups are such an underutilized resource right now. My Masters research looked at how governments can better collaborate with stream stewardship groups on environmental monitoring initiatives,” stated DFO’s Nikki Kroetsch, Community Engagement Coordinator with the Pacific Science Enterprise Centre in West Vancouver
Note to Reader:
“SHARE INFORMATION. INFORM DECISIONS.” This soundbite lines up nicely with the mission of Waterbucket eNews which is to help our readers make sense of a complicated world. Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the vision for Living Water Smart in British Columbia to build greener communities and adapt to a changing climate; and embrace “design with nature” approaches to reconnect people, land, fish, and water in altered landscapes.
This edition weaves two themes into an interview-style storyline that will pique the reader’s curiosity. One theme is the payback when governments collaborate with the stream stewardship sector to fill a stream health data gap. The second theme is what it means to have an intergenerational vision to build bridges of understanding from the past to the present and future.
Nikki Kroetsch, a highly motivated young professional with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), is guided by both themes in what she sees as her life’s work. Nikki has a vision for collaboration across generations. Bringing it to fruition is her career mission with DFO. In the interview that follows, her passion for the mission shines through.
EDITOR’S PERSPECTIVE on community-based stream monitoring
“At a moment in history when an attitude of “what’s in it for me, right now” is so prevalent, it is refreshing to meet someone like Nikki Kroetsch who aspires to make a difference through a career commitment. Remarkably, she is already translating her Master’s research into an on-the-ground program that fixes an environmental monitoring need in local creeksheds,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.
A vision for collaboration morphed into a DFO program
“Nikki Kroetsch, working with a team of biologists at PSEC, played a pivotal role in creating the vision for the Community Stream Monitoring project, known by the acronym CoSMo. She is currently tasked with implementing it through DFO’s Pacific Science Enterprise Centre (PSEC). Her story reflects well on those leading PSEC as the following anecdote reveals. “PSEC as a whole is addressing the ‘lack of collaboration’ issue quite simply by embracing and facilitating collaboration,” Nikki told me.”
“Early in our conversation, I asked Nikki whether she envisioned environmental monitoring and collaboration with streamkeeper groups as her career. Without hesitation, Nikki responded. “I sure do! I will be here as long as PSEC allows me to do what I am passionate about. Volunteers need constant support. When I said to PSEC leadership that this is a need and I want to fill it, they agreed and created a position to fix the need,’ she said.”
“What Nikki is doing is really important. Launching CoSMo signifies a once-in-a-generation moment with potentially far-reaching implications. CoSMo is creating a ripple and the rippling will play out over years. “My dream is that the program would expand from Metro Vancouver and become province-wide, and perhaps even Canada-wide one day. That would be my life-long goal, to have hubs in other provinces,” Nikki said.”
A conversation in three parts
“My conversation with Nikki Kroetsch is structured in three parts. It is guided by a WHY, WHAT and HOW mind-map. In Part One, we talk about persistent environmental monitoring gaps that governments alone cannot fill, and the serious implications that result from this situation. In Part Two, we discuss how partnering with stewardship groups can address these gaps and provide a plethora of other benefits.”
“Finally, in Part Three, we focus on where Nikki works at the Pacific Science Enterprise Centre in West Vancouver. PSEC is a case study for collaboration. Nikki elaborates on how PSEC is helping to improve collaboration and communication in local creeksheds through support of environmental monitoring by stream stewardship groups.
“Because PSEC embraces ‘doing science differently’, this made possible the CoSMo project,” says Nikki.”
HISTORICAL PRECEDENT FOR SUCCESSFUL COLLABORATION: Urban Salmon Habitat Program (USHP)
What happens on the land matters to streams was the core principle of the Urban Salmon Habitat Program (USHP) developed in the 1990s by the provincial government. The USHP mission was the restoration of salmon habitat in urban areas within the Georgia Basin. The success of the program was in large part due to the collaboration of the federal, provincial and local governments working in partnership with the stream stewardship sector.
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Doing Science Differently in Local Creeksheds
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PART ONE (WHY) – Current state of environmental monitoring in BC communities is a “call to action”
KIM STEPHENS: Nikki, to help Waterbucket eNews readers understand the burning issue that drives your passion, what is the context for your research? Also, why do local governments and streamkeeper groups need to know about the Community Stream Monitoring project, otherwise known as CoSMo?
NIKKI KROETSCH: “According to the federal, provincial, and local government employees and the stewardship group volunteers I interviewed for my Masters research, data collection is currently siloed and unorganized. Many people are collecting essentially the same data, but because there’s very little communication and data sharing going on between them, it means a lot of duplicated efforts, which is a huge waste of resources given that monitoring is often time consuming and expensive to conduct.”
KIM STEPHENS: Tell us more, Nikki. Why should local government Mayors, Councillors and staff care whether or not data collection is disorganized, or not? Why do you believe that community-based monitoring is important, valuable and essential?”
NIKKI KROESCH: “Why is monitoring important? Well it’s a pretty straightforward answer: you can’t know how much something has changed if you don’t know what it was to begin with! If we don’t have proper baseline data to show what a normal ‘unimpacted’ ecosystem looks like, how on earth are we going to know what effects climate change or development are having on the ecosystem?”
KIM STEPHENS: “Okay, so what is the nature of the disconnect, as you see it, regarding the lack of effective baseline monitoring at a creekshed scale?
NIKKI KROETSCH: “The lack of communication between different government agencies and between governments and stewardship groups is concerning, because what results are persistent environmental monitoring gaps that make it really difficult to answer resource management questions such as should we be concerned about, for example, the health of this urban stream? or which part of the stream would benefit most from restoration work? or, a few very important, related questions, did the restoration project benefit the ecosystem? By how much? Should we do the same type of project elsewhere or should we try something different?”
“If you cannot answer those questions, you risk repeatedly implementing ineffective projects, which is not only a massive waste of time and money, but also does not help the ecosystems you’re trying to improve. In contrast, if you have sufficient environmental monitoring data that allows you to identify trends and properly evaluate your restoration efforts, you can ensure future restoration efforts are just as, if not more, effective and efficient; win-win for the budget and the ecosystem!”
In this photo, a member of the Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation Society is pointing to the location of a temperature logger
PART TWO (WHAT) – Collaborative initiatives would fill data gaps and in so doing would help reconnect people, land, fish and water
KIM STEPHENS: “Interesting, so what can governments and others who conduct monitoring do to help fill these gaps?”
NIKKI KROETSCH: “Work together! Pool resources, or at the very least talk to one another. Believe it or not, governments, stewardship groups, and even industry have many shared goals – we all want to see a thriving ecosystem balanced with a healthy economy – we are just limited in what we can accomplish given our mandates and the time and resources we have available to us.”
“When we make the effort to communicate more effectively and pool the resources we do have, we can achieve a lot more than we currently are.”
“Stewardship groups in particular are such an underutilized resource right now. My Masters research, which looked at how governments can better collaborate with stewardship groups on environmental monitoring initiatives, found that volunteers spend countless hours collecting data, often the same data that government employees state they’re in need of, but the data aren’t being used meaningfully for resource management or decision-making.”
KIM STEPHENS: “Why is that though? If stewardship groups are collecting the data that governments are in need of, why aren’t the data being used?”
NIKKI KROETSCH: “The reason they are not being used often stems from concerns regarding standardization and quality assurance, due to stewardship groups following different protocols and not implementing thorough quality assurance protocols – which is a valid cause for concern!”
“However, according to the volunteers I interviewed, they haven’t received any feedback from government staff regarding why their data are not used or what they should do to improve their data so that the data are deemed suitable for use in management decisions.”
“This seems so silly to me because you have governments struggling to make informed decisions due to data gaps, and you have people who are motivated to help fill the data gaps, but the data gaps are not being filled because there is not proper communication between the two parties. Like I said, just such an underutilized resource.”
In this photo, a member of the Cougar Creek Streamkeepers is pointing to the location of a temperature logger, which is secured inside a PVC endcap and then epoxied to a boulder.
Communication, Relationships, Shared Values and Collaboration Can Lead to Innovative Problem Solving!
KIM STEPHENS: “Well it definitely sounds like there’s some benefits that aren’t being realized, that could be realized if there was more collaboration between governments and stewardship groups”
NIKKI KROETSCH: “Absolutely, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! I’ve touched on the economic and ecological benefits of partnerships between governments and stewardship groups, but I’m a sucker for social science as well, so I feel it’s also worth mentioning that there are a ton of social, socio-economic, and socio-political benefits that accompany these kinds of partnerships as well.”
EXAMPLE #1: “Environmental monitoring collaborations require conversations about goals, motivations, and limitations – including jurisdictional limitations – all of which are great learning opportunities and help improve relationships between community members and governments.”
“It is often easy for people to blame ‘the government’ for whatever problem they see, which creates this unhealthy and unhelpful ‘us versus them’ mentality for some folks. In contrast, when people have the opportunity to ask questions, form relationships, and to have a better understanding of the resource management challenges that governments are trying to address, there’s often a greater sense of empathy and understanding; it’s humanizing!”
“Improved relationships then provide benefits that ripple through the broader community through stewardship groups who, by working with governments, are empowered to spread accurate information and address misinformation that may otherwise cause issues.”
“These partnerships also allow for much better brainstorming and problem solving. A team of government employees may be able to come up with a solution to a problem, but if that same team is part of a community-wide network of diverse individuals with different experiences, educations, backgrounds, thoughts, ideas, and resources, that’s when real, innovative problem solving can occur.”
EXAMPLE #2: “Many of the volunteers I work with are retired engineers, environmental technicians, teachers, lawyers, etc. who all have such a wealth of knowledge. Doing fieldwork with them is the best part of my job because I always learn as much, if not more, from them as they do from me!”
Pacific Science Enterprise Centre, West Vancouver. Site of the former Great Northern Cannery.
PART THREE (HOW) – DFO’s Pacific Science Enterprise Centre (PSEC) is “doing science differently” to improve collaboration and communication
KIM STEPHENS: “This all sounds great in theory, but how does it translate to the work you’re doing at PSEC?”
NIKKI KROETSCH: “Oh boy, where to start! I love my job so much and honestly feel like I work at the best government facility there is because our whole foundation is based on collaboration. It hasn’t always been this way, before my time we were your typical ‘locked-gate’, ‘keep-out’ research facility that conjured up images of mad scientists with unkempt hair and had neighbours wondering what sort of nefarious experiments were being conducted inside.”
“But in 2017 the lab transitioned to the Pacific Science Enterprise Centre, threw open its doors to the community, and embraced the idea of ‘doing science differently’, which has involved partnering with First Nations, academia, not-for-profits, and other stakeholders. Pre-pandemic, we also invited secondary school students to tour, and even participate in science activities, on site; it’s just such a cool place to work!”
“PSEC as a whole is addressing the ‘lack of collaboration’ issue quite simply by embracing and facilitating collaboration, but in my role as Community Engagement Coordinator I’ve also been specifically attempting to address the lack of communication regarding environmental monitoring; albeit slowly and methodically, as I’m only one person!”
“Specifically I’m doing this through the PSEC Community Stream Monitoring project, which we call CoSMo for short. In short, CoSMo is a steam monitoring collaboration between DFO and many stewardship groups in the Metro Vancouver region that has also involved communication with the provincial government and local governments.”
Temperature logger is secured inside a PVC endcap and then epoxied to a boulder.
Community Stream Monitoring Project (also known as “CoSMo”)
KIM STEPHENS: “What kind of monitoring do you do for the CoSMo project?
NIKKI KROETSCH: “Deciding what to focus on was admittedly the hardest part, as there’s so many important things to monitor. I wanted to take a backward approach, so instead of collecting data and then hoping they’d be useful for our intended end-users, I reached out to those who we hope will use the data we collect, such as local governments, and asked them what data they’re in need of.”
“From the list they gave me, I chose the highest priority parameters that were ‘volunteer-friendly’, i.e., didn’t require a Bachelor’s degree or a bunch of really expensive equipment.”
“The parameters we’re focused on at the moment are stream temperature, water level – which we’ll eventually use to calculate flow, and conductivity, which we’re doing in tandem with the Stoney Creek Environment Committee, as part of their Road Salt and Salmon Project.”
KIM STEPHENS: “And how often do volunteers collect these data? Daily? Weekly?”
NIKKI KROETSCH: “No way, that’s way too much effort! We’re using automated loggers to record the data – hourly for temperature and every 5 minutes for conductivity – from which volunteers periodically download the data and email them to me.”
“Using automated loggers not only helps address the issues of standardization and quality assurance, it also doesn’t burden volunteers with a heavy workload or inflexible schedule, which people seem to love so far. This flexibility also makes the project really accessible for those who want to participate but also have jobs, kids, or other things that dictate their schedules.”
KIM STEPHENS: “Well that sounds like a reasonable commitment. What is the data currently being used for?”
NIKKI KROETSCH: “The data we’ve collected to date are being used for research and stewardship by DFO, stewardship groups, a Simon Fraser University Masters student, and will soon be used by faculty from the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology.”
“However, in an effort to make the data freely and widely available, we’re also working with DFO I.T. staff to create a database and webpage that will host the data and allow them to be easily downloaded by anyone who wants access to them. The launch of the database and webpage, in my opinion, will be a huge milestone for the project, given that data-sharing is our main goal.”
“The CoSMo project is still evolving, but it’s my hope that by spreading the word that the current datasets are available, maintaining communication with the intended end-users of the data, and continuously working to meet their needs and fill the gaps they’ve stated that they’re experiencing, we’ll be able to provide a valuable resource that will help fill data gaps, reduce monitoring redundancies, and will show volunteers that we value the time and effort they put into collecting data and stewarding their local ecosystems, because honestly there’s no way governments alone could do what they do; we simply don’t have the capacity.”
KIM STEPHENS: “Do you have any final takeaways or lessons learned from your Masters research or experience working at PSEC that you’d like our readers to know?”
NIKKI KROETSCH: “Well, as far as lessons learned, if anyone is interested, the deliverables for my Masters research included a guidebook titled Improving Environmental Monitoring Collaborations Through Co-development of Data Management Plans: A guide for Resource Management Agencies and Environmental Stewardship Groups as well as a data management plan template that resource management agencies and stewardship groups can use to help guide conversations and develop their own environmental monitoring collaborations. Or, alternatively, people can always send me an email or give me a call! I’m always more than happy to talk about the challenges and benefits of collaborations.”
In this photo, a member of the West Creek Awareness Society is pointing to the location of a temperature logger which is secured using a piece of rebar.
About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC
The Partnership’s guiding philosophy is to help others be successful. When our partners and collaborators are successful, we are successful. The Partnership is led by a team of community-minded and mission-focused elders. Although many on the team are retired from their jobs, they continue their water-centric mission as volunteers.
Conceptual Framework for Inter-Generational Collaboration
Technical knowledge alone is not enough to resolve water challenges facing BC. Making things happen in the real world requires an appreciation and understanding of human behaviour, combined with a knowledge of how decisions are made. It takes a career to figure this out.
The Partnership leadership team brings experience, knowledge, and wisdom – a forceful combination to help collaborators reach their vision, mission, and goals for achieving water sustainability.
The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. However, inter-generational collaboration is a two-way street. Minds must be open and receptive to accepting the inter-generational baton and embracing the wisdom that goes with it. When that happens, decisions will benefit from and build upon past experience.
Application of Experience, Knowledge and Wisdom
The umbrella for Partnership initiatives and programs is the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. In turn, the Action Plan is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Released in 2008, Living Water Smart was the provincial government’s call to action, and to this day transcends governments.
Incorporation of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia as a not-for-profit society on November 19, 2010 was a milestone moment. Incorporation signified a bold leap forward. Two decades earlier, a group of like-minded and passionate individuals, including representatives of three levels of government, came together as a technical committee. Over time, this “water roundtable” evolved into The Partnership.
The Time Continuum graphic (above) conceptualizes the way of thinking that underpins the inter-generational mission of the Partnership for Water Sustainability. Influence choices. Capitalize on the REACHABLE and TEACHABLE MOMENTS to influence choices.
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