Project offers free evaluations of shoreline activities for residents

A program designed to help waterfront residents employ environmentally friendly practices on their property is coming back

While filming training videos the four shoreline advisors and their program coordinator Jesse Hitchcock (centre) discussed the Living By Water project and various aspects of the evaluation they perform.

While filming training videos the four shoreline advisors and their program coordinator Jesse Hitchcock (centre) discussed the Living By Water project and various aspects of the evaluation they perform.

A program designed to help waterfront residents employ environmentally friendly practices on their property is coming back to Sylvan Lake for a third straight year.

Living By Water, a project of Nature Alberta, is an educational initiative in which shoreline advisors visit with residents and conduct a home site evaluation to give them tips on how what they’re doing impacts the lake.

The project is promoted by local residents, including Steven Johnson of Birchcliff, who is lining up participants.

“He’s been instrumental in promoting and getting people interested,” said program coordinator Jesse Hitchcock.” We work with people in the community who act as liaisons of the project. In Sylvan Lake we’ve been really successful thanks to them (local residents) mostly.”

This year, Marissa Gutsch will be conducting consultations during the weekends of July 5-7 and July 12-14. These consecutive Thursday to Saturday periods will allow her to talk to 18-24 families.

Already Johnson has lined up 19 sessions. But, he said, if there’s more interest they may be able to get additional time for Gutsch’s work.

The group of advisors are working in nine different lakes this summer, including in two provincial parks, which is a first, said Hitchcock.

“At some lakes we’re there every weekend of the summer. Usually there’s a watershed association or summer village which is promoting the program. That’s what happened at Pigeon Lake.”

“We want to educate them (residents) on their influence,” she said about the educative consultations.

Sylvan Lake is the second most active lake for consultations, Hitchcock said. In its tenth year, the project has worked at 17 lakes in the province and conducted over 400 consultations.

Sylvan Lake’s involvement actually began about six years ago when Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society (SLWSS) distributed about 1,000 copies of the Living By Water book to residents living on the lake’s edge.

“I’ve been inspired to do it for my friend Kent (Williamson),” said Johnson. Williamson was a director and past president of SLWSS. “He was a passionate and dedicated advocate for protecting the lake we all enjoy. His untimely death Mar. 20, 2011 was a great loss to the society and to Sylvan Lake.”

Johnson noted those who complete the consultation will be given a plaque to mount on their property, which states, “Love Your Lake. Watershed Steward. The presence of this marker signifies this property has participated in the “Living by Water” project for the benefit of Sylvan Lake and its many users.” The plaque is sponsored by the Kent Williamson Fund and is provided by SLWSS.

“I’d like to see the lake ringed with these little signs, Watershed Steward,” Johnson said.

The shoreline advisors evaluate five main aspects of lake living. They include buffer zone, yard, house, built structures such as docks, stairs and boat houses, and boating (such things as maintenance and upkeep, cleaning, refueling, cleaning after visiting other lakes, etc.).

Hitchcock said common themes which emerge during the consultations include how to deal with invasive plants, use of chemical products and erosion.

During the consultation the advisors use a chart to make notes, then they later input the information and produce a report for homeowners.

“At the end of the year we compile the data” to determine trends, she said.

While at Johnson’s house, last Wednesday, the group were shooting training videos that can be used in future years.

“We’re trying to create a concise training manual,” said Hitchcock who is leaving the program to begin her master’s degree in Prince Edward Island this fall. “We’re creating a series of training videos to train future staff. They will also be linked to the website so people at lakes farther away can fill out the form based on their own property.”

An offshoot of the project is putting the evaluation form online so people can do their own checks. “We’ve have so many request for home site evaluations we’re working on putting it online,” said Hitchcock.

As with any project that is funded through the organization, keeping statistics is important. That’s why they’ve developed a program to enter data with iPads which can then be captured for end-of-year reports and comparisons.

The program also involves a two year follow-up. “It’s an opportunity to talk about changes they’ve made and haven’t made,” said Hitchcock. “Answer questions. It helps us understand how reasonable we are and whether people are implementing the things we talked about.”

Johnson added he’s had some resistance from people who think the advisors may be “environmental police” but that’s not the case at all. It’s an education process and nothing more.

For more information contact Johnson at 403-748-4700 or Hitchcock at jesseh@naturealberta.ca (780-427-8124).