By Kelli Saunders
About eight years ago, with coworkers on a boat on Rainy Lake, ideas were brewing around the need to somehow coordinate and harness the energy and dedication of individuals working on water issues in this basin and break down communication barriers. Not long after, the concept of establishing an international watershed coordination program was born - a program that would be supported by partners, for partners. My position as International Watershed Coordinator began, with a focus on three levels of integration that, together, make up the International Watershed Coordination Program (IWCP): international, regional and local. Over the years, the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation has steered this ship by contributing as a funding partner and facilitator, with our longstanding partners from south of the border, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Koochiching Soil and Water Conservation District. Along the way, the province of Manitoba has contributed and, currently, our partners include the International Joint Commission (IJC) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).
The IWCP provides bi-national coordination and communication of research, management and citizen engagement for the shared waters of our basin. The three spheres that the program integrates are:
- International – providing project management services on special projects for the IJC’s International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board (IRLWWB), like developing an adaptive management approach to managing water levels, updating water quality objectives for the basin, building relationships with First Nation communities, Tribes and Métis;
- Regional – facilitating a group of resource managers on issues such as aquatic invasive species, algae blooms and nutrients, research partnerships and monitoring. This group was brought together under the 2009 International Multi Agency Arrangement (IMA);
- Local – developing innovative grass-roots projects with local partners to help spread the word around water stewardship; examples include recruiting volunteer water samplers, working with kids to paint messages beside storm drains that nothing but rain should go down the drain (we’ve painted these in Kenora, ON, Fort Frances, ON, International Falls, MN and Rainier, MN); interviewing people about their values around water; hosting an annual binational lake association gathering and connecting individuals through our Watershed News newsletter and our recently launched website (www.rainylakeofthewoods.org).
This watershed continues to be a very busy one and there is an ongoing need to coordinate across the border, especially as we start to work towards turning science into action. What makes this basin so unique is the willingness to work together on issues wherever possible and it has become a bit of model for cross border collaboration across the Canada/U.S. boundary from coast to coast, of which we are all very proud.
This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation. This story has been compiled from a number of articles from our science partners on our Foundation website blog at https://lowwsf.com/blog.
Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation.