The City of Vernon is partnering with Genome BC and the University of Victoria on an innovative research project to identify threats to stream health in the community.

Urban streams are of significant community value and the water has a range of uses from recreational to agricultural. Vernon is interested in improving the quality of water in its local streams and the local beaches around Okanagan Lake. The project team will use genetic identification of feces (E. coli) and its source (human, dog, livestock, waterfowl, or other sources) to determine some of the threats to the health of Vernon’s streams. The results of this study will help the city to better plan land use, storm water management, and ultimately develop and prioritize its water quality efforts and investment.

Dr. Asit Mazumder, a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Victoria and leading expert in water quality, will help to identify the bacteria and assess stream health. Dr. Mazumder’s Water Lab at the University of Victoria is globally recognized and has the experience and expertise for genomic identification and detection of animal sources of fecal bacteria. Their technology is state-of-the-art and has revolutionized water quality monitoring for public health protection.

“The partnership between Genome BC and the City of Vernon builds on our existing work gathering baseline samples,” said Mr. Mark Dowhaniuk, manager, Infrastructure Management at the City of Vernon. “In addition to the genomic information provided by Dr. Mazumder, we will work with experts on stream hydrology and water quality to complete field work, provide context with appropriate metadata, and deliver effective monitoring tools.”

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The project will support work in Vernon and also provide a benchmark that will be compared to future data from the same sites to show improvement/deterioration of conditions over time and responses to mitigation strategies. The long-term objective is to create a framework that can be shared with other jurisdictions in their own areas as well as used by public health organizations, such as the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“Genomics will have major utility in future water quality testing,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, chief scientific officer and vice president, Sector Development at Genome BC. “Implementation of the tools developed by this project is assured because the City of Vernon is mandated by provincial legislation to work towards improving watershed health and is financially committed to moving forward with strategies that help meet its goals.”

The research project, Bacterial Source Tracking to improve the health of two urban streams in Vernon, B.C., is valued at $99,000 and was funded equally by the City of Vernon and Genome BC. For more information on Genome BC’s funding programs, visit genomebc.ca.

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