Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance (New Brunswick)

“A geomorphological marvel”: Science Horizons intern champions programs to bring back life to the Petitcodiac River’s watershed

Brittany next to Little River, New Brunswick.

Science Horizons intern Brittany Cormier in Little River, New Brunswick, during habitat assessments. Photo credit: Darlene Elward.

Now working with the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance (PWA), Brittany Cormier grew up in northeastern New Brunswick near the banks of the Miramichi River with a view of fields and forests “as far as the eye can see.” She was fortunate, she says, to have a forest in her backyard and an early appreciation of nature’s diversity.

A naturally curious person, she considers herself lucky that her first full-time job in environmental science complements the love of nature she experienced as a child. With a degree in international relations and environmental studies from Mount Allison University, Cormier interned in 2019 as a Project Leader for the PWA in Moncton and afterwards was hired fulltime.

“Mentors say you should find work that you really enjoy,” she says. “In this case, everything aligned the right way. I interned, led a couple of projects that were dear to my heart and felt that I made a difference.”

Cormier says that she is also grateful because she is thrilled to be working for a bilingual organization in her home province.

Brittany is performing water quality monitoring during a wetland assessment at Memramcook Lake in New Brunswick.

Science Horizons intern Brittany Cormier performing water quality monitoring during a wetland assessment at Memramcook Lake, New Brunswick. Photo credit: Lindsay Gauvin.

Her internship wage subsidy was secured through the Clean Foundation’s Green Jobs Program financed by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program. Cormier found out about the opportunity while following the Clean Foundation activities and projects, and she suggested the PWA apply for the internship funding.

“She was amazing,” says Darlene Elward, the PWA Project Manager who supervised Cormier’s work. “She knew our projects very well because she had worked with us as a student.”

Elward describes Cormier as hard-working, energetic and an excellent communicator. “She has established a good connection with our partners and knows how to reach out to people,” she says. The internship funding was a big help because it meant Cormier could be hired without compromising the organization’s financial security.

The not-for-profit group has monitored the quality of the 80-kilometre Petitcodiac River since 1997. Of special concern was a dramatic decline in the watershed’s biodiversity after a causeway was built in 1968. Because the river’s natural waterflow was obstructed, several fish species, such as Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon, striped bass, Atlantic tomcod, and American shad, stopped returning to the river to spawn. Canada’s last stronghold of the freshwater dwarf wedgemussel population was also lost.  

Brittany at Humphrey’s Brook in Moncton, New Brunswick, participating in water quality monitoring activities.

Science Horizons intern Brittany Cormier at Humphrey’s Brook, Moncton, New Brunswick, participating in water quality monitoring activities. Photo credit: Nattayada Thongboonmee.

Environmental groups and Indigenous communities sounded the alarm. In 2010 the New Brunswick government opened the causeway’s gates at all times to allow the silt-clogged river to flow more freely. Conditions improved somewhat and some migratory fish species returned. In September 2021, the causeway was replaced by a bridge which is expected to improve the health of the river significantly.

A tidal bore generated by the Bay of Fundy’s dramatic high tides moves up the Petitcodiac River twice a day, bringing energy, fish, salinity and nutrients to the river’s watershed that includes salt marshes. The power of the tidal bore has shaped the lower parts of the watershed which Cormier calls “a geomorphological marvel.”

She was hired to lead the organization’s water-quality monitoring program that runs from May to October. It involves monthly field tests at 21 sites, in-house lab work and data maintenance.

She is also leading its “Water Guardian” project that promotes the use of green infrastructures such as rain gardens and green roofs to help improve stormwater management and climate change resiliency. Her colleagues work on fish monitoring, species-at-risk assessments, flood mapping and planning for climate-change adaptations.

Cormier says it’s a wonderful time to be working for PWA. The historical work done by the alliance and other environmental groups has achieved important results. “The communities and stakeholders involved had a part in the opening of a bridge that allowed the river to flow freely for the first time in 60 years,” she says. “It makes a big difference.”

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