The Blue Creek restoration in British Columbia is shown in this undated handout photo. Spotty research and inconsistent monitoring has made it impossible to evaluate the health of most Canadian watersheds, a new study has found. “It’s still largely unknown,” said Elizabeth Hendricks of the World Wildlife Fund, which has just released its second evaluation of the condition of Canada’s freshwater environments. (WWF Canada, Eden Toth)

The Blue Creek restoration in British Columbia is shown in this undated handout photo. Spotty research and inconsistent monitoring has made it impossible to evaluate the health of most Canadian watersheds, a new study has found. “It’s still largely unknown,” said Elizabeth Hendricks of the World Wildlife Fund, which has just released its second evaluation of the condition of Canada’s freshwater environments. (WWF Canada, Eden Toth)

Data gaps prevent assessment of most Canadian watersheds: WWF report

There’s enough known about 67 of Canada’s 167 watersheds to assess how well they’re standing up

Spotty research and inconsistent monitoring have made it impossible to evaluate the health of most Canadian watersheds, a study has found.

“It’s still largely unknown,” said Elizabeth Hendricks of the World Wildlife Fund, which has just released its second evaluation of the condition of Canada’s freshwater environments.

Hendricks said the report points to the need for standardized, national water monitoring done by local communities.

The report, the result of two years of study and advice from both academic and government researchers, finds that there’s so little known about most watersheds that no conclusion can be made on their health.

There’s enough known about 67 of Canada’s 167 watersheds to assess how well they’re standing up under the pressures of development, loss of biodiversity and climate change. That’s a slight improvement over 2017.

For those 67, the news is encouraging. Nearly two-thirds are rated good or better, evaluated on the basis of water abundance, quality, invertebrate life and fish health.

“Where we do have information, it’s looking good,” Hendricks said. “What we’re doing seems to be working.”

But for large swaths of the Prairies, the Arctic, northern Ontario, northern Quebec and Nova Scotia, there’s just no way to tell how well rivers, creeks, streams and lakes are doing.

Data on water quantity and quality is mostly available. But when it comes to the health ecosystems, the gaps are large. Assessing the health of fish and other life is only possible in one-third of watersheds.

That’s important information that’s just not there, Hendricks said.

“We’re in the middle of a biodiversity and climate crisis. We feel the climate crisis through water — floods, drought, increasing temperatures of lakes, the flow of water, melting glaciers.”

John Pomeroy,aprofessor at the University of Saskatchewan and head of the Global Institute for Water Security, agreed much of Canada’s fresh water is poorly understood.

“I’m sure we don’t have enough information,” he said.

Water flow can be adequate and contaminants might be below health thresholds, Pomeroy said. But that doesn’t tell you what’s happening over the long term — or in the lake and river beds where bugs and snails and other crucial species live.

“Unless you’re sampling lake sediments, you won’t even know that the lake is slowly accumulating toxic substances.”

Hendricks and Pomeroy suggest consistent, long-term water monitoring has been a victim of government cuts since the 1990s, which have never been fully reinstated.

Both call for a national program — potentially using community-based monitoring — to create a standardized, consistent way to monitor and compare the health of Canada’s freshwaters.

Pomeroy said the responsibility is currently divided between the federal government, provinces, territories and First Nations.

“As a result, water-quality monitoring is terribly fragmented.”

Hendricks said theCanada Water Agency, whichthe federal Liberals recommitted to in the recent throne speech, could provide that framework.

“It will help ensure where investment in monitoring is happening, so you’re not guessing what monitoring has to happen where, (or) where do we begin investing in restoration.

“Without a framework, how are decisions being made?”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Drinking water

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
52 positive COVID-19 cases now associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

Eight cases still active, 44 considered recovered

Northern Health announced on Dec. 1 holiday changes to the medical travel bus schedule for December and January 2021. (Photo: supplied)
Holiday schedule changes for Northern Health Connections bus

N.H. announces transportation time changes from Prince Rupert to Prince George

A Water Quality Advisory is still in affect on Dec. 1 in Prince Rupert after being in place for a month. (Black Press file photo)
Water Quality Advisory still in place for Prince Rupert

High turbidity is creating risky drinking water in Prince Rupert

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read