​​​​​​​​Citizen Science Monitoring Programs in Severn Sound

Citizen science involves community members as volunteer scientists, drawing on local knowledge and passion for important places. It helps increase our “eyes on the ground," providing observations over a wider area, and allows for participation in hands-on sampling and data collection. Citizen science is a great tool for scanning a watershed for potential problems, and is an effective way to involve and educate the community about environmental issues. Sampling can include: lake and tributary quality, timing of ice cover, algae bloom occurrences, stream invertebrates, and stream temperature. Existing SSEA monitoring programs can verify the information, making citizen-collected data more reliable and useful.

If you would like to become a citizen scientist and help collect measurements under on​e of the programs below, contact the SSEA office today!

Description of Monitoring Programs​

Results for each program can be found under each panel:​

Community Environmental Monitoring

SSEA is seeking volunteers from community groups to monitor temperature and conductivity in streams, stretches of shoreline along Severn Sound, or any of the lakes within the watershed. Why monitor temperature and conductivity? The temperature of a stream or lake gives a great deal of information about the water body and the sources of water influencing it. For example, a stream that stays cold all year long is likely groundwater fed, and would provide good habitat for cold water fish species like trout. In Severn Sound or an inland lake, a sudden drop in shoreline temperature could indicate upwelling from the bottom water or an influx of cold water from Georgian Bay. Similarly, conductivity tells a great deal about a water body. Sudden changes in conductivity following rain events can indicate a water body that is heavily influenced by surface runoff. Road salt, septic or treated sewage effluent can influence conductivity as can the contribution of groundwater to a watercourse. It is useful to collect data in both impaired and pristine stream locations in order to establish a baseline of conditions to compare against in the future.

​A range of habitats are appropriate for monitoring. Below are some examples that would make suitable monitoring projects:

  • beach outlet and adjoining tributaries, with sampling before, during and after storm events
  • network of forested streams
  • stretch of shoreline with sampling before during and after storm/wind events

If you know of an area that your community would like to learn more about through environmental monitoring, contact your local beach, cottage or ratepayers association and have them contact SSEA with a project proposal. Groups will be given monitoring kits and training.

Training on sampling methods 

Training on sampling methods

Downloading a temperature logger
Downloading a temperature logger

Taking a conductivity reading 

Taking a conductivity reading​

Our Community Environmental Monitoring (CEM) kits include:

  • 10 HOBO Tidbit Temperature loggers, housings and download cable
  • 4 Hanna pH/conductivity/temperature meters
  • Observation sheets
  • Monitoring protocol

CEM kit

Community groups will be expected to provide:

  • Laptop
  • GPS or phone with GPS capabilities
  • Camera or phone with camera
  • Tape measure

The CEM kit was developed through the support of a Go Wild grant from World Wildlife Fund Canada. ​


2017 Community Environmental Monitoring in Copeland Forest Report

2018 Community Environmental Monitoring in Copeland Forest Data ​

Ice Spotters

As average air temperatures rise, the timing of ice formation and ice break-up (known as ice phenology) is changing across our region. Aside from being an indicator of climate change, ice phenology is important in regulating many biological and chemical processes lake:

  • Ice cover provides shelter for fish eggs – early spring break up puts eggs at risk during storms
  • Wildlife depend on consistency in freeze/thaw cycles for migration, hibernation and food sources
  • Length of the ice-free season affects:
    • the extent of oxygen depletion and release of sediment-bound phosphorus in areas that thermally stratify
    • potential for algae bloom growth, particularly blue-green algae
    • growing season for aquatic plants

This report by IceWatch Canada explains how lake ice is changing across Canada. 

Through SSEA's Ice Spotters program, volunteers record ice conditions leading up to ice-on in the fall and ice-off in the spring. Tracking the timing of ice-on/ice-off on inland lakes and Severn Sound embayments can help track climate change effects.

If you are interested in collecting observations in the fall and spring, here is how to make ice observations in a standardized way that will help us keep track of year to year change:

  1. From Dec 1 until full ice-on, and April 1 until full ice-off, and from the same shoreline location each time, record a description of ice cover within your field of view, as illustrated below (examples: no ice; about 50% cover, thin transparent ice; ice only near shore; iced over except near stream outflow; fully iced over). Make particular note of the date of ice-on and ice-off. Ice-on occurs when ice is completely covering the lake/bay; ice-off occurs when ice is completely gone from the lake/bay.

  2. This is what an observation table for ice-off might look like. You can copy this one into Microsoft Word or Excel and update it with your own information, or copy it directly into an email with your observations filled out.




    Ice Status Observation Location Observer Notes
    13/04/2017iceFarlain Lake, on the dock facing northAisha~40% ice cover; the edges look a lot like slush
    14/04/2017 ice-offFarlain Lake, on the dock facing northAishano ice seen from observation point
  3. ​​​​Take a photo with each observation once the ice begins to form in the fall and break up in the spring, noting approximately which direction you are facing.
  4. Submit a GPS point, address or description of your observing location.
  5. ​Submit your photos and ice observations by email to achiandet@severnsound.ca once the lake/bay is fully ice covered in the fall, and ice free in the spring (from the vantage point of your location). 
​ Ice Monitoring on Sturgeon Bay (photo courtesy of Peter Davis)
Ice Monitoring on Sturgeon Bay (photo courtesy of Peter Davis)

Regional and Local Ice Monitoring Links

NOAA's MODIS satellite imagery for Lake Huron

Canadian Ice Service - Great Lakes Ice Concentration and Stage of Development maps, forecasts, historical coverage

Tay Township Water Tower Cam  

Delawana Resort Cam

Honey Harbour Boat Club Cam​

​If you know of a webcam that looks over part of Severn Sound, let us know!


No statistically significant trends in ice-on/ice-off dates have been observed for lakes with sufficiently long datasets, but slight changes have been noted:

  • Ice forming slightly later and going out earlier on Bass Lake
  • Ice going out slightly earlier on Lake Couchiching
  • Ice forming earlier and going out earlier on Hogg Bay
  • Ice going out later on Midland and Sturgeon Bays

Inland Lakes Ice-off Trends 

Inland Lakes Ice-on Trends 

Severn Sound Ice-off Trends 

Severn Sound Ice-on Trends 


Lake Partner Program (LPP)

​This program is run through the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, and involves individuals collecting total phosphorus samples in early spring, and water clarity measurements with a Secchi disk once a month through the summer. With the exception of Little Lake which is monitored annually, inland lakes in the Severn Sound watershed are monitored by SSEA on a roughly 5 year cycle. Citizen science monitoring through the Lake Partner Program fills the data gap in between comprehensive SSEA surveys.

As of 2018, the following inland lakes are being monitored by volunteers: Farlain Lake, Lake Couchiching, and Bass Lake.

The following inland lakes need volunteers to collect measurements: Orr Lake (historical data available), and MacLean Lake (historical data available).

If you are interested in collecting samples for any of the above lakes that are not currently being monitored, please contact the SSEA office and lakepartner@ontario.ca. Visit the LPP website for more details.


Phosphorus, Secchi depth and calcium results for any of the above lakes, as well as various locations sampled historically in Severn Sound and Honey Harbour, can be downloaded here .​


Love your lake? Want to help keep it healthy? Give us more eyes along the shoreline…Become a Shorewatch Volunteer!

​Are you interested in becoming a steward in your bay or lake by collecting water quality data and general observations of aquatic phenomena (click here for examples)? We are looking for volunteers within the Severn Sound watershed, either on one of our inland lakes (particularly Orr, Little, Bass, Farlain, MacLean, and Couchiching), or on the shores of Severn Sound (includes Honey Harbour, see map below). Typical observations could include air/water temperature, water colour, odour and clarity, particles floating in or on the water, and algae growth along the shoreline. We may ask that you bring in plant and/or algae samples from time to time for identification, or to send photos of observed phenomena.

In particular, we are interested in observations of algae growth. Algae blooms can be very short-lived and localized, making them difficult for SSEA staff to monitor. Citizens can notify SSEA of a potential algae bloom, or bring a live sample in a glass jar, along with a completed Algae Identification Request Form. Samples will be identified in-house and verified with experts when necessary. This sampling increases eyes on the ground and helps to identify nuisance algae blooms in timelier manner. Click here for Muskoka Watershed Council's Algae Quick Guide for guidance on recognizing an algae bloom.

If you are interested in the Shorewatch program, please contact Aisha Chiandet achiandet@severnsound.ca with your name, phone number and/or email address, and location of shoreline you intend to “watch." 

If you see your lake name on this map, or your section of Georgian Bay shoreline is in yellow, we'd like to learn more about your area!

Water Level Watchers

Water level fluctuations are a natural part of the functioning of a lake, and can be caused by climate related factors such as rainfall, and timing of winter rains and spring melt. Water levels in Severn Sound are monitored on an hourly basis at the gauge in Midland Harbour​ ​, however levels in the inland lakes in the watershed are only routinely monitored when SSEA completes a water quality survey (approx. 5 year cycle). Having more frequent measurements of inland lake water levels is critical to understanding how climate variables influence lake levels.

At this time, the Water Level Watchers program is only available for Farlain Lake. Through a partnership between SSEA, Township of Tiny and the Farlain Lake Community Association (FLCA), a water level gauge (below) was installed at the public boat launch on Andrew Dr. The gauge is located just offshore at a depth of about 1m, and an instructional sign (below) is located at the FLCA kiosk. Volunteers can submit water level readings and photos of the gauge (to help verify observations) by email to sseainfo@severnsound.ca with “Farlain Lake water levels” in the title. Volunteers are also asked to record weather conditions, whether winds are onshore or offshore, and give an estimate of wave height.

Water level gauge

Sign installed at Farlian Lake

Farlain Lake is unique in that it has no surface outflow, and therefore lake levels respond more drastically to climate factors. Collecting as many data points as possible will allow SSEA scientists to describe the variations in water levels over short and long time periods, and help to determine the causes of these variations, such as rainfall, particularly in the winter, and snowmelt timing. Predictions of future climate indicate an increased likelihood of longer periods of drought followed by more intense storm events, and increased rainfall in the winter months. These changes can lead to wider swings in water levels. Determining patterns in water levels on Farlain Lake will assist shoreline residents in understanding impacts of climate change on the lake, and will help inform appropriate adaptive measures.​


Tabular and graph water level results will be available once data is collected.

 Read the report on Farlain Lake Water Levels