Historical BC water quality information in UVic Dataverse


by: Lara Wilson, Director, Special Collections & University Archivist

Special Collections and University Archives is pleased to advise faculty of the availability of British Columbia historical water quality information through the Dataverse platform.   

In 1971, the Province of British Columbia developed a purpose-built computer data storage and retrieval system, known as EQUIS (Environmental Quality Information System), to manage information related to their permitting system regulating discharges of pollutants to land, air, and water, under the B.C. Pollution Control Act, 1967.

Inflatable zodiax on frozen lake with truck in background
Tie Lake, a small lake east of Cranbrook , BC. The lake was suffering from a Cyanobacterial bloom of great concern to residents living around the lake. (Nov 20, 1980). Photo: Les McDonald

Site data describing geographic and administrative information, including permit conditions, were recorded in relation to scientific test result data recording water quality, air quality, and taxonomic information. This body of data was amassed through the significant efforts of numerous biologists, engineers, and technicians, who carried out their work in often dangerous conditions and harsh weather to gather baseline air, soil, and water quality across the varied landscapes of British Columbia, as well as to sample industrial and municipal discharges and their impacts.

Five people standing in the lake working behind a fence
Setting up a fish trap on the Fording River in May 1998 as part of the first Cutthroat trout selenium impact study that resulted in a journal publication. Photo: Les McDonald

EQUIS data, as well as administrative files, were donated to the University Archives in 2002. Over time the data were migrated from obsolete media, including an AMPEX 836/1600 CPI tape reel, to flat text files, and more recently to Dataverse. The dataset presents these files, which are organized according to site data, test result data, and biological data. Related metadata include data documentation, code tables, and data dictionaries, which are necessary for interpreting data files and reconstructing EQUIS database outputs.

Two men standing near a white truck beside a river bed and a bridge in the background
A major field study tracing the impacts of bulk ammonium nitrate explosive use at The Fording Coal mine on Fording River. Photo: Les McDonald

Many thanks to: the scores of biologists, engineers, and technicians who collected the data; to Diane Yamaguchi, Lynn Bailey, Malcolm Clark, and Jane Turner who preserved it; to Shahira Khair, UVic data curation librarian, for her invaluable assistance in making it accessible online; and to Les McDonald for additional photographs and context.