Water Monitoring Coordinator at Fraser Riverkeeper
MSc in Ecological Restoration, 2019
“It’s an exciting time to get into restoration and be the guinea pigs. We can make our own mistakes and see our own successes and lead the way in the field.”
Katie completed her Bachelor of Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability. Between her summer jobs and her co-op placements, Katie worked in environmental consulting doing ecological assessments, and at a conservation authority doing aquatic monitoring. Through her coursework and work experience, she got interested in ecological restoration, and enrolled in a diploma program through Waterloo. After learning various restoration techniques through a summer field course in Muskoka, she was hooked. Katie applied to the MSc in Ecological Restoration program intent on pursuing aquatic restoration.
Whetting an appetite for lake restoration and forging lasting connections
After taking a limnology course, Katie heard of a research opportunity on Vancouver Island’s Quamichan Lake. Working with the Municipality of North Cowichan and Vancouver Island Health Authority, she spent her summer sampling and monitoring the lake, which was eutrophic and posed a public health concern, before making a set of recommendations.
Katie enjoyed the program’s ability to cater to the strengths of both SFU and BCIT as institutions, each honed for real-world, practical applications. She particularly liked BCIT’s field school and the aquatic restoration course for its valuable field skills, such as cabling large woody debris in streams, as well as SFU’s project management & policy course for its practice in writing proposals.
The program also proved valuable in fostering industry connections, and Katie’s cohort was the first to assemble a list of organizations who’d partnered with students for research. As well, Katie regularly sees program faculty, alumni, and other contacts at conferences, who’ve connected her with others. “The Vancouver environmental community is small. Once you know a few people, you can get to know everyone,” she explained. The program’s small size also means that faculty members can remember the strengths of individual students. For instance, Katie’s supervisor recommended her to coordinate a lake fertilization project in Kamloops.
Working to protect our freshwater resources
After graduating, Katie was hired as a water monitoring coordinator with Fraser Riverkeeper, an initiative under Swim Drink Fish, a non-profit which uses citizen science and advocacy to help make our freshwater resources swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Fraser Riverkeeper historically focused on advocacy for sockeye salmon, and has recently begun a water quality monitoring program, which Katie coordinates. She monitors recreational water quality for contaminants such as E. coli, and uses citizen science to engage others and teach them how to monitor water quality themselves.
Much of the work involves coordinating volunteers, hosting workshops, and organizing fundraising & community events. Katie has greatly enjoyed the non-profit sector’s dynamic of small teams and highly varied workdays. The outreach work has also been great for her communication and people skills. Her only regret is underestimating how much work it would be to manage volunteers. “Even the adults can be tricky. I feel for teachers now,” she laughs.
Optimism and opportunity in an emerging field
Katie has always wanted to work to benefit the natural world. “At first I didn’t know exactly how,” she says of her journey, “but the more I took field courses and did hands-on things, the more I realized restoration is the perfect way that you can give back and see immediate progress.” With the benefits of ecological restoration increasingly being acknowledged and valued, Katie is optimistic, “It’s an exciting time to get into restoration and be the guinea pigs. We can make our own mistakes and see our own successes and lead the way in the field.”
Although it may seem like we’re moving backwards at times, Katie still sees progress and asserts that people are beginning to realize we have a responsibility to fix the damage that’s accumulated for generations. Her own experience lends credence. Following her research on the Quamichan Lake, the North Cowichan Council moved forward with restoration work. “Some of these projects which seem impossible are actually very doable,” she affirms.
Advice for new students: do your research
For those considering a career in ecological restoration, Katie reminds people to look up relevant professional societies and accreditations, such as the Society of Ecological Restoration (SER) and BC’s College of Applied Biologists. She also recommends people start reading about papers, projects, initiatives, and practitioners in their area and the kind of work they’re doing. SER and their newsletter is a great resource.
For those entering the MSc program, reading the applied research projects of previous students, many of which have opportunities for follow-up or spin-off research questions, is a great place to start. Knowing which area you want to focus on, finding a partner organization, and applying for funding early on will make life much easier.