Lake Erie Test Transfer Project

In 2021, ALUS kicked off the Lake Erie Test Transfer Project, an initiative that will provide high-resolution modelling of natural infrastructure and help deliver watershed-scale ecosystem resilience in parts of the Lake Erie basin.

Maintaining Lake Erie’s health is critical to the environment and well-being of the over 12 million people who live within the basin. But over the years, harmful algal blooms have increased in frequency and severity as a result of environmental pollution and climate change. Algal blooms have become an ever-increasing threat to the Lake and its surrounding communities.

ALUS Norfolk was launched in 2007. Since then, ALUS Norfolk and more recently established ALUS communities within the Lake Erie Basin have been leveraging the land management skills and expertise of participating farmers and ranchers to establish and maintain natural infrastructure on their land to create natural reservoirs for agricultural runoff. Hundreds of ALUS projects (including wetlands, grasslands, and riparian buffers) have been established and are preventing phosphorus and other nutrients from entering watercourses that flow into Lake Erie.

ALUS’ Test Transfer project uses Dr. Wanhong Yang (University of Guelph)’s Integrated Modelling for Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices (IMWEBs) to quantify the beneficial impact of all current and future natural infrastructure projects established by ALUS farmers and ranchers. Specifically, the science-based, data-driven IMWEBs hydrological model quantifies changes in water quantity and quality as well as project-level impact for carbon sequestration and biodiversity providing unprecedented insight into how to improve the health of the Lake Erie basin through environmental restoration.

By quantifying existing and proposed natural infrastructure projects, ALUS can demonstrate the value of its program to prospective funders, partners (municipalities and conservation authorities) and participants to generate incremental funding, support, or participation.

ALUS is a charitable organization leading an innovative community-developed and farmer-delivered program that produces, enhances, and maintains ecosystem services on agricultural lands. ALUS provides direct financial and technical support to a network of more than a thousand farmers and ranchers who deliver ecosystem services in more than 34 communities across Canada, such as cleaner air, cleaner water, carbon sequestration, erosion control, flood mitigation, pollinator support and wildlife habitat.

Identifying Actions

The project is supported by RBC Tech for Nature, a multi-year commitment to preserving the natural ecosystem. The funding was secured in 2021, and soon after ALUS began engagement with the partners. This included farmers and ranchers who are by virtue, environmental stewards, as they know and care about the land and understand how it responds to human inputs. For this reason, ALUS participants are so well-positioned to deliver benefits to water quality and watershed health in the Lake Erie basin, leveraging innovative data and analytical tools like IMWEBs. IMWEBs empowers community partners to identify and prioritize natural infrastructure projects, providing enhanced accountability and transparency in ecosystem investments. Communities can evaluate the financial and environmental impact that a constructed wetland, Tallgrass prairie, or riverbank enhancement project can have on in-situ and downstream ecosystems. The ALUS Lake Erie Test Transfer Project builds on these previous field deployments and the power of the IMWEBs tool, bringing it to bear on a larger area of critical environmental concern. Specifically, the Test Transfer Project will be deployed in three Lake Erie sub watersheds: Kettle Creek, Catfish Creek and Big Otter Creek. The main objectives for this project can be summarized as:

  1. Supporting communities and partners with on the ground natural infrastructure projects by identifying and prioritizing key areas where benefits can be maximized.
  2. Continuously providing communities and partners with data based evidence on financial and environmental benefit of their practices and investments
  3. Establishing an enhanced data hub that organized and stored data on numerous indicators related to the Lake Erie Ecosystem and it’s health that can be processed and shared with partners.
  4. Improving the water quality and ecosystem health of the Lake Erie basin, the watershed, the surrounding human and non-human communities


In April 2021, once the RBC Tech for Nature funding was confirmed, communities, conservation authorities and other partners continued engagement to support the project’s progression and implementation. Initial steps included developing a data sharing agreement with local Conservation Authorities to collect the data necessary to support the IMWEB models understanding of landscape processes in the four Lake Erie sub-watersheds. The contributions of RBC Foundation, ALUS and community partners totalled $1M to implement the projects while creating new natural infrastructure on the landscape during the study period.
With the data integration completed, ALUS coordinators worked with farmers and ALUS Communities’ Partnership Advisory Committees throughout the fall and winter of 2021-2022 to identify potential BMP projects that could be implemented in the 2022 growing season.
Dr. Yang’s research team is now working on incorporating this data back into the modelling for evaluating the potential impacts of these projects. ALUS will use this information to provide feedback to funders of wetlands and riparian projects in the region and to inform communications around the benefits of wider natural infrastructure use.
Project deliverables include:
  • Integrating IMWEBs into ALUS planning processes and project implementation
  • Implementing BMPs based on IMWEBs prioritization

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Natural infrastructure projects located in the project’s target sub watersheds will be monitored annually for multiple indicators of ecosystem health. This includes monitoring for water quality, indicator species, and the status of various landowner projects. This annual monitoring is scheduled for the Fall season every year. takes place in the fall.
Some of the challenges faced in this project include:
  • Processes and metrics for valuing the broad suite of benefits produced by natural infrastructure are largely undeveloped within municipalities. Developing these systems is a complex task that requires significant commitment and resources.
  • Fostering collaboration amongst and across different disciplines and jurisdictions that may have different priorities, training, metrics and terminology.

Next Steps

The early results of this initiative underline the importance of natural infrastructure to mitigate nutrient loading in Lake Erie. IMWEBs, and its interface ESAT, are powerful tools in quantifying the water related benefits of natural infrastructure. Scaling natural infrastructure throughout the Lake Erie basin and using IMWEBs to identify priority regions and locations for action and the most effective BMPs is an important strategy to address algal blooms, pollution, and other environmental issues.


Link to Full Case Study

Additional Resources:

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For more information on variables that may be useful in work related to marine management, visit and click “Explore by Variable” for future climate projections related to temperature and precipitation, which can be used to inform marine management.