The Friends of Kootenay Lake Stewardship Society works to improve the health and stewardship of B.C.’s fifth largest lake, and although the COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed much of FoKLSS’ traditional outreach and education programs, Acting Program Manager Camille LeBlanc has been leading the charge on a number of initiatives that are helping keep Kootenay Lake at the forefront of people’s minds.

Camille joined the FoKLSS team in 2019 as the Environmental Manager Intern and hit the ground running planning and implementing education programs and public events such as the Youth Water Festival and the Kootenay Lake Summit. Both events allowed Camille to connect with a network of environmental leaders in the Kootenay Lake area, and learn the fundamentals of running successful community events. At the end of 2019, Camille moved into the Program Manager role.

“I’m just always really flabbergasted that I get to do this kind of work in this place, in this way,” she said. “I’m constantly in awe not only of my natural surroundings but also the people who are doing amazing work on the lake and working hard to help it be a more sustainable ecosystem for the future.”

A new program for FoKLSS is the Friends of Kootenay Lake Podcast Series — Voices of the Lake, designed to expand understanding and awareness of Kootenay Lake. The series has so far produced nine different episodes with Camille and Kayla Tillapaugh, Assistant Program Manager, as the hosts who interview local experts, scientists, historians, advocates, artists, cultural leaders, recreationalists, and storytellers in various fields.

“It was born out of two big realizations, that COVID was going to limit our ability to physically reach out to our membership and that we have this amazing network of knowledge-keepers, around the lake who can help fill in the knowledge gaps that we and some people around the lake might have,” Camille said. “We found that it’s been a great way for us to provide a go-to source that people can keep referring back to for information on any topic that they’re interested in.”

“It is also a celebration of the Kootenay Lake community and all the things that make it great, such as our legacy of conservation ethics and artistic talent.”

Another engagement tool has been the ongoing Lake Watchers Program web tool that FoKLSS enhanced last year with a map, which allows people to pinpoint their location and enter all the information they see as a “Lake Observation” that gets added to the program’s database.

“Lately we’ve been hearing a lot from people noticing derelict docks and derelict boats that are washing up on shore becoming beached. That’s a huge issue that can get really complicated when you’re looking at dealing with different jurisdictions,” said Camille. “Our role as an environmental education organization and stewardship society is not to enforce anything or to remove docks and boats, we are here mainly to direct people to call the RAPP line and start a case. We also want people to submit when they’re seeing instances of pollution or even just a certain wildlife species, a species at risk, an endangered species, then georeference their sighting and submit it through our Lake Observations Page.”

FoKLSS is also expanding a water monitoring network around Kootenay Lake by coordinating CABIN training for their volunteers (CABIN – or Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network – is the federal standard for aquatic health biomonitoring).

“Our Kootenay Lake Watershed Monitoring Program is using CABIN protocol to monitor priority watersheds along the West Arm,” said Camille. “We offer that for free for our volunteers, and all they have to do is come out afterwards with us and do monitoring so we have more boots on the ground. We’re gathering data for three years and want to keep growing this base of trained volunteers.”

Another ambitious new initiative is a Kokanee Habitat Restoration Pilot Project that is just wrapping up Year 1, to gather data on potential restoration options to try and bring the shore spawning Kokanee numbers up. Working in tandem with fish biologists from Fortis and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development, FoKLSS is helping determine if ideal substrate added to a shore spawning site below the low water mark at MacDonalds Landing will entice Kokanee to spawn lower down on the shoreline, instead of above the low water mark which is what they typically do, attracted by groundwater seepage. However, de-watering has been occurring, compounded by the fact that the level of the lake has to be kept low leading up to the spring freshet, when the eggs hatch.

“We are fairly certain the fish are still choosing this (higher) site because it has the most groundwater infiltration. Groundwater tends to seep out with the most velocity the closer to shore you are. The question is will the Kokanee choose this site that’s below the low water mark over the one above the low water mark, where they’re seeing a lot of de-watering happening.”

FoKLSS is also continuing its legacy projects, like the Osprey Monitoring Program, and is organizing a month-long Beach Clean-up on the eastern shore in April for Earth Day (April 22) to address the issue of Styrofoam, plastic pollution and other pollutants that are showing up.

“I think the lake is in really good hands,” said Camille. “We’ve got a lot of issues to face but I think we’re a really strong and engaged and connected community.”

Camille graduated from Selkirk College with an Associate’s Degree in Peace and Justice Studies and a diploma in Integrated Environmental Planning in 2018. In addition to her FoKLSS work, she is also a Program Coordinator for Living Lakes Canada, and has supported the communications and administration of LLC’s ambitious water monitoring and stewardship programs since 2020. She is also co-coordinating a new national citizen science program that will help extend LLC’s reach to citizen scientists and everyday volunteers all over Canada. She happily resides along at the confluence of the Slocan River and the Kootenay River with her husband Travis their two happy dogs who you will see Camille hiking in the surrounding mountain ranges with on her days off.

Further Reading

Visit the Friends of Kootenay Lake website

Learn about the FOKLSS Lake Watchers Program

Listen to a Voices of the Lake podcast episode