I went to the Water Rangers meeting last night and can tell you a bit about it.
The Rangers goal seems to be to increase awareness of the river by having people go out and measure it and then report their results on an interactive map at http://waterrangers.ca/. It’s a good spring and summer activity for families with children, to both learn about measuring things and to become aware of what the river is like and what affects it.
The Rangers can provide training sessions (including groups and classes) and can lend some equipment, and have done research into finding out what’s readily available (pool strips from Walmart for measuring water acidity and hardness are much cheaper than similar ones from a scientific supply store, and even a bit more accurate).
We tried some hands-on tests with tools from Kat’s utility bag of river science to sort out some jars of water into ocean, northern lake, uninhabited southern lake, and cottage lake. Electrical conductivity gave away the sea water (very salty, conducts electricity well) and along with pH acidity let us figure out the origin of the rest of the jars. I wonder how my souvenir bottle of Detroit river water would have stacked up 🙂
Of course, these are just measurements of things that are related to river health. The actual health, which you define for your own purposes, could be the number and variety of fish, other people may consider birds, tadpoles, plants and other living things as their sign of river health, or your definition could be water quality safe enough to swim in.
Whatever it is, you can find factors that affect river health and count them, measure them, photograph promising signs and post it all to the Water Rangers map. The idea is that over time you can look at the map and see if things are getting better, using the history of your observations and those from other people.
A lot of this started in Westboro, with concerns about the water quality at their beach. That led to various investigations and eventually was a factor in founding the Ottawa River Keeper. However, some of the work they did does show where the city directly affects the river and water safety e.coli counts – the outfalls of storm water into the river. We have several on our riverside, and Westboro resident and river fan John Almstedt said he’d pass on the map they had which covered our area. It’s from the River Watchers web site at https://sites.google.com/site/ottawariverriverwatch/champlain-park
There are lots of smaller storm drains not shown, like the ones from the parkway road to the river (salty road water!). Or there’s the rusting out culvert going from the north edge of the woods behind the school, under the parkway, to the river edge (near the “o” in “Sir John A.”). They all lead into the river. At least we’re modern enough that it’s storm water, not sewage, going into the river.
Anyway, once the weather turns to summer, it should be quite pleasant (as well as educational) to go out and see how the river is doing.