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

Mary Ellen Campbell, president of the Parksville Museum, visits the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: A chat with Parksville Museum president Mary Ellen Campbell

Podcast: Talk includes plans for 2021, dealing with COVID-19 and more

Eaglecrest Golf Club plans to operate as a nine-hole course starting April 1. (Eaglecrest Facebook photo)
Eaglecrest Golf Club in Qualicum Beach still plans to have course layout reduced to 9 holes

Town council continues to negotiate lease for 18-hole operation

A rendering of a proposed housing development located across from the beachfront in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Multi-residential development planned across from Qualicum Beach waterfront

Residents raise variety of concerns about project

Proprietor of Sweet Truck, Morgan Ray, as she hands off her baked goods to a customer. (Photo courtesy of Avrinder Dhillon Photography)
COVID-19: Qualicum Beach baker eyes move back from food truck to bricks and mortar

Storefront offers more stability amid growth in sales: Ray

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read