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

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack mine, 65 km north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack Mine, 65 kilometres north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health reports 20 more COVID-19 cases in outbreak at Brucejack Mine

So far, 42 people have tested positive, nine cases are active and self-isolating onsite

Fisheries and Oceans Canada released it's 2021 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan Feb. 19. (File photo)
Northern herring opportunities kept to a minimum

2021 management plan caps Prince Rupert fishery at 5 per cent

A collaborative genomic research project is underway to map the movements of 118 Northwest sockeye populations to better inform management decisions on at-risk stocks. (File photo)
Genomic study tracks 118 Northwest B.C. sockeye populations

Development of new tool will be used to help harvesters target healthy groups

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

“Support your city” reads a piece of graffiti outside the Ministry of Finance office. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti ‘unacceptable’ says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Most Read