Shawn MacKay is the environment coordinator for the Fort Resolution Métis Council. Shawn took some time out of his busy schedule this past week to talk to One River News about the Slave Watershed Environmental Effects Program, which has been studying a variety of environmental indicators, including fish and wildlife health, water and ice quality, and more for two years now.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Slave Watershed Environmental Effects Program (SWEEP)? What kinds of researchers are involved SWEEP?
Shawn McKay: The SWEEP team is a partnership between the University of Saskatchewan, GNWT, and communities. There are five of researchers from the U of S, and we have another Jennifer Fresque-Baxter (GNWT), she’s the coordinator. Collaboratively, they take care of the Slave River-Delta Partnership. Karl-Erich Lindenschmidt, he does the ice surveys. He just published one of his articles, on the formation of pockets and layers of compressed air under the ice of the Slave River. One researcher takes care of traditional knowledge. Lorne Doig, he takes care of the invertebrates. Paul Jones, he takes care of the fish studies. Tim Gardine, he does the wildlife and water samples. We work together with the Fort Smith First Nations – the Smith Landing and Salt River First Nations — the Deninu k’ue First Nation, everyone along the Slave River, all the Aboriginal bands and including the Fort Smith Métis Council. What we’re trying to do is to start a baseline of information of how the water is, the bugs and the whole ecosystem, and the health of the animals. Is the water safe to drink, the animals safe to eat?
SWEEP has been going on for the last two years, but I’ve only been doing this for the last six months. What they’re trying to do is train us so we can take over and continue the studies. Usually when they do come to town, Lorne will check his samples and bring them to the school here, and share that information with the students here at the school. Paul Jones, when he does fish studies, he works with the Deninu k’ue First Nation here, and they do fish sampling. We usually try to provide, both the band and ourselves, provide people to gather the fish, or animals, whatever samples are needed. In the next couple weeks we’re expecting Tim Jardine and Lorne’s students, we’re looking forward to getting more samples. Muskrats, moose, as well as water samples.
We also have a youth project where we teach students grade ten and up basic information about bioaccumulation. About how we pollute the land and how industry does, and what we can do to try to prevent that. Once we create baseline information, maybe we can develop some action plans for what we can do if we notice a rise in, say, mercury or something in the animals. What might trigger that and what we can do about it.
What have some of the results from SWEEP been so far?
Shawn McKay: We had a results meeting in May 13-15. That dealt with SRDP background, workshop goals, agenda and format, SWEEP background and activities to date. SWEEP results, presentations, and discussions. The only two that weren’t present at that meeting were Lolita and Tim, they’re schedules were busy that weekend.
From the presentations that they did at the time, they basically told us the fish were still healthy. But at that time we didn’t have any of the basic baseline information, but I asked for it. We need some information for basic comparisons, information from the 1990s if we can find it, so we can compare it to any information they can find and present that the next time they’re up. The next results meeting hasn’t been planned yet, but they’re looking for end of this year, or early 2015.
Do you know if they are they taking samples from the contaminated rail bed?
Shawn McKay: Nope, we haven’t done the rail bed yet. This has been about the water.
I just mentioned to Tim Jardine recently, after looking at white waterfalls over there, I explained that this should be an area of concern. It flows into the Great Slave Lake here. They’re planning on sampling, they’ve taken a sample down by the bridge to the highway, but they want me to take a sample where the waterfalls, near the sulfuric artesian wells. I’m just waiting for him to let me know when the best time to take the sample is, because the time we hold onto it might degrade the sample. I think it’s better to grab it just a couple days before they are ready to pick them up.
Keep posted to One River News for more information on SWEEP’s results, and for a video on the sampling taking place.
Sheldon Birnie grew up in Dawson Creek, BC, and received a bachelor of environmental studies from the University of Manitoba in 2011. He lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he is a freelance writer, and the editor of the Manitoba Eco-Journal.