On the Lake: Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper has a new Waterkeeper!

By Chantilly Higbee
Reader Contributor

Hi, my name is Chantilly Higbee, and I recently joined the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper team as the organization’s Waterkeeper. I’ve always had an inherent drive to study and improve the state of impaired local lands and waterways. This drive led me to earn a M.S. in Biology from Eastern Washington University, where I studied the effects of metal pollution on a lake-dwelling macroinvertebrate. During my academic tenure I performed lab- and field-based research projects aimed at understanding the transport, fate and consequences of pollution and invasive species to freshwater ecosystems and human health. For the last two years I conducted stream surveys and fish habitat assessments throughout North Idaho. Now, I look forward to using my technical background to protect the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille watershed at the service of LPOW, Sandpoint, and neighboring communities.

Chantilly Higbee on the lake, where life makes sense. Courtesy photo.

I was driven to work for Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper because I admire the organization’s commitment to protecting local waterways through clean water initiatives and projects based in empirical science and community engagement. The organization’s mission parallels my own lifetime ambitions and I see this opportunity as a chance to do meaningful work with lasting impact.

Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper relies on a strong team of volunteers to monitor the lake for a number of chemical and biological parameters through the Water Quality Monitoring Program. Of LPOW’s many campaigns, I am most excited to run this program next field season (June-October) and to help LPOW obtain the funding needed to implement a complementary Stormwater Monitoring Program by spring 2019. Long-term datasets such as that established by LPOW form a baseline and can aid in early detection of water quality impairments.

While I will spend a good amount of my time as Waterkeeper heading up our water quality monitoring efforts, I also look forward to immersing myself in a number of time-sensitive projects. At the forefront of the organization’s agenda, LPOW is urging the lead federal agency of the BNSF Sandpoint Junction Connector Project (U.S. Coast Guard) to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before BNSF proceeds with the proposed construction. This environmental review is important because increased rail traffic, bridge construction and related activities have the potential to impair the quality and function of our local waterways. You can look for progress updates on this and other projects, as well as opportunities to support LPOW’s efforts in the coming months.

In addition to working on the aforementioned projects, I enjoy helping community members connect with the natural world through scientific exploration, educational activities and outdoor adventures. In the past, I hosted classroom activities exposing elementary school children to the exciting world of macroinvertebrates that live in our local lakes and wetlands. Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper hosts the Watershed Discovery Camp (in July) and hands-on classroom demonstrations for 5th-graders (throughout the school year). These are wonderful opportunities to get children thinking about Lake Pend Oreille’s unique ecosystem, how pollution can degrade the many beneficial uses of the lake and how community members can help keep the lake swimmable, fishable and drinkable for generations to come.

As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, I am always looking for a friend to join me while hiking, cycling, climbing or skiing. I am originally from Spokane, and although I’ve spent much of my time working and recreating in North Idaho, I am new to Sandpoint. Feel free to stop by the LPOW office at 100 A Cedar Street (right next to the Cedar Street Bridge) to say hello and to share any of your favorite local hikes or “must-do” activities. In exchange, I promise to have a warm cup of locally-roasted coffee ready to share with you.

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