Lake Windermere Ambassadors


Detailed Overview

Origins of the Lake Windermere Ambassadors and Lake Windermere Management Plan 

In 2005, concerns about the ecological health of Lake Windermere motivated a regional environmental non-profit organization, Wildsight, to find ways to help protect watershed health. These concerns were particularly the collapse of the lake’s burbot fishery and increasing intensification of housing development and water recreation that posed a threat to sensitive shoreline ecosystems. Initially Wildsight conducted a lake-use survey with residents and second-homeowners to determine whether residents had concerns about lake health. The survey results indicated widespread public concern about the lake: respondents expressed a need for information on maintaining septic systems and concerns about boat traffic congestion, aquatic plant growth, shoreline and upland development, water conservation and water quality. Similarly, when the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) led public consultation to inform the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan, the process revealed that preserving the lake’s health was a significant issue of public concern. Yet, no one organization was explicitly mandated to consider the numerous interacting contributors to lake health and collect relevant whole-system information to support decisions about land-use planning, development and recreation, and overall lake management. 

In response to these concerns, Wildsight convened lakeshore residents and partner organizations to form the Lake Windermere Project. First Nations, partners from all levels of government, community organizations, stewardship groups and research organizations supported the project, which conducted water quality monitoring in accordance with provincial and federal water monitoring protocols at 16 sites on the lake (and lake tributaries) between 2005 and 2010. The water quality data contributed to updating the high-level provincial water quality objectives for the lake (initially written in 1985). Analysis of this data catalyzed a desire for a longer-term water monitoring program. The Lake Windermere Project also worked with the East Kootenay Integrated Lake Management Partnership to develop shoreline management guidelines for fish and wildlife habitats for Lake Windermere. 

The shoreline management guidelines and water quality data informed the development of the Lake Windermere Management Plan (LWMP), a planning process to address lake-related issues following the adoption of the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan.51 The LWMP planning process was initiated by the RDEK in partnership with the District of Invermere, and included meetings with an advisory group, public meetings and consultation with the Ɂakisq’nuk First Nation. 46 The development of the LWMP was also a precondition for lifting a provincial moratorium on new applications for Crown land tenures (i.e. development proposals) on the Lake Windermere foreshore, including any new docks and marinas.xi The LWMP states that “there are concerns that human-caused impacts on the lake may exceed its ecological carrying capacity and degrade drinking water quality” 46 and notes major concerns about the lake (such as habitat loss, water quality deterioration, motorized uses affecting human enjoyment and the environment, and lack of public access to the lake). The LWMP establishes goals, principles and recommendations. Implementation of the LWMP is the responsibility of the RDEK and District of Invermere, with support from all other agencies that have roles in lake management. The Lake Windermere Project laid the foundation for the Lake Windermere Ambassadors. The Ambassadors formed in 2010 as an independent society to carry out the work and mandate established by the Lake Windermere Project. The Ambassadors continue to be active and lead a number of water initiatives. The Ambassadors also support implementation of the LWMP through their role as a Lake Management Committee.

Activities That Contribute to Watershed Governance 

Water Quality Monitoring 

The Ambassadors continue to operate a water quality monitoring program with a dedicated team of volunteer citizen scientists, following recommendations set out by the Province’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. Water monitoring results are reported through a weekly newspaper column and annually through a public report, and shared through public events. The Ambassadors’ monitoring program has expanded to include bacteria testing at local public beaches and annual aquatic plant surveys. 

Formal Advisory Role in Lake Management 

The LWMP established a Lake Management Committee, which was first appointed to the Lake Windermere Ambassadors in 2011 on a five-year term basis. This agreement was renewed for another five years until 2020. The committee “provides comments to local government on applications for alterations to the foreshore,” thus giving input to government decisions (a key aspect of watershed governance) about whether foreshore development will or will not be permitted at certain locations. The committee also supports community education about the LWMP.

The Ambassadors are working with local governments to evaluate the progress and effectiveness of the LWMP in achieving its goals to date, and discuss strategic priorities and actions for their current term to support the LWMP’s implementation.

Ongoing Community Outreach and Education 

The LWMP also mandates the committee to continue engaging and educating residents of and visitors to the Invermere and Lake Windermere areas about the watershed. Examples of some of these activities include:

  • educational outreach programs, including a green boating guide, watershed-friendly tips for golf courses, school-partnership projects, watershed tours, various lake-focused events, partnering with invasive species expert groups, demonstrating boat washing and mussel inspections, and other public presentations;
  • monthly watershed educational media articles and weekly “Pulse Check” columns providing public accessibility to water quality information about Lake Windermere; 
  • restoration and maintenance projects (e.g. shoreline restoration or clean-ups). 

Role in Watershed Governance 

The primary ways the Lake Windermere Ambassadors engage in governance are through: 

  • contributing to the development of shoreline management guidelines incorporated into the LWMP;
  • formally advising local decision-makers by providing comments on development referrals; leading citizen-science water monitoring projects and sharing information with decision-makers, including industry partners; and 
  • engaging citizens through education and water stewardship projects.