Thanks to Living Lakes Canada (LLC) executive director Kat Hartwig and the LLC team, water stewardship in the Kootenays has become a template modelled by many other water stewardship groups in Canada and beyond, and it all started in Kat’s hometown of Invermere, B.C.
“I grew up here and I love it here. This is where I’m from and want to be, so this is the area I work to help protect and maintain quality of life for all of us,” she says.
Kat developed a connection with nature at an early age, but this connection didn’t translate into a career in conservation until later in life, after she earned a degree in commerce, and took over the management of her family’s 10,000-acre ranch while also working at Panorama Mountain Resort. It was during this time that Kat became the volunteer president of the Invermere Wildsight branch, eventually moving into a regional program manager and development director role for Wildsight, overseeing files on eco-tourism including work on Jumbo Valley and mountain caribou, but water stewardship was always close to her heart.
She helped start the Lake Windermere Project, a project developed by Wildsight, the Lake Winnipeg Foundation and the Global Nature Fund in partnership with government agencies, community groups and local citizens, following a 2004 Living Lakes International conference held in Invermere.
“(The Lake Windermere Project) was an opportunity to create a conservation product that was amenable to the business community in Invermere because the lake was, and still is, the economic lifeline to our community,” says Kat.
An award-winning initiative recognized by the federal government as a way to engage the public in community-based water stewardship and monitoring, the Lake Windermere Project eventually morphed into the Lake Windermere Ambassadors (a separate not-for-profit organization which continues the local water monitoring and public outreach for Lake Windermere) and Living Lakes Canada, launched as its own legal entity in 2010.
As Living Lakes Canada’s executive director, Kat continues to advocate for land and water policy and protection mechanisms necessary to support biodiversity, source water protection and climate resilient communities.
“Ironically, working for the not-for-profit ideal of serving civil society, I had not anticipated the degree to which a background in business would be helpful in stewardship work of the ecosystems we all depend on.”
Living Lakes Canada projects currently underway in the Columbia Basin include Sensitive Habitat Inventory Mapping (which was started on Lake Windermere and has been done on 14 other lakes in the region, including Kootenay Lake); working with Environment Canada to offer CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network) a national protocol for stream monitoring; piloting a CABIN project that will now include the Indigenous first language name in a federal database for every stream that is being monitored; and a citizen science community groundwater monitoring pilot program with local and provincial governments.
“We try to collect the best information on Community Based Water Monitoring (CBM) that we can find from across Canada and the U.S., and bring those best practices examples to the Columbia Basin so that we can have some vertical integration from these international and national example to our own grassroots work. This is beautiful work because it is essential that we do not work in silos and that we are able to work collectively on some of the big climate challenges that will impact our watersheds.”
At the 8th annual Canadian Water Summit in Toronto in June, Kat won the Water Steward of the Year award for the work that Living Lakes Canada team has done over the years, as well as the People-NGO category for her work on conducting a national scan in partnership with SFU and U of Acadia, to assess the state of community-based water monitoring across Canada.