© Tessa MACINTOSH / WWF-Canada Water flowing in the Cameron River

Free-Flowing Rivers

WWF-Canada is working to ensure Canada’s wild rivers remain wild for the wildlife and people who depend on them.

Earth’s rivers are the arteries of all life and the lifeblood of human development. Societies have gone to extraordinary lengths to harness the power and advantages of river systems. Unfortunately, these efforts have had negative impacts on the freshwater ecosystems and the wildlife and human communities that the rivers support.

A wild river is a free-flowing river that is not negatively impacted by pollution, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, overuse of water, invasive species, climate change or alteration of flows. A wild river is as close to its natural state as a river can be, unaltered by modern development.

©Tessa MACINTOSH / WWF-Canada Boundary Creek flows through the forest in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

What is the Issue?

Hydropower generation will play a significant role in Canada’s transition to a post-carbon world, which is essential for the health of all ecosystems. However, harnessing hydropower can conflict with nature and the health of river ecosystems.

When a river’s flow is interrupted, through physical barriers or changes in water levels, it impacts beavers, frogs and other species that depend on healthy rivers. It is especially difficult for species with long migration routes, like salmon.

What WWF-Canada is Doing

WWF-Canada works to ensure that hydropower developments and other human activities take into account their impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. We have developed a suite of tools — Watershed ReportsRenewables for Nature and a free-flowing river analysis — which can be used to ensure that hydropower developments consider their impacts on our watersheds. We are bringing these tools to the attention of governments and industry through participation in national dialogues around the future of energy in Canada.

Canada is also calling for legal protection to ensure Canada’s wild rivers remain wild. We identified the 10 longest wild rivers in Canada that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including species deemed threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). We then looked to identify opportunities to safeguard them under the updated environmental legislation which passed into law in 2019, including the amended Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA).

We advocated for more oversight of the longest wild and free-flowing rivers, as well as the Canadian Heritage Rivers, under the CNWA. Based on our recommendations, on October 4, 2019, Transport Canada officially added 25 wild and free-flowing rivers and Canadian Heritage Rivers to the List of Scheduled Waters under the CNWA. This includes six of the ten rivers we prioritized in our wild and free-flowing rivers report. WWF-Canada engaged their supporters to share feedback to Transport Canada in support of making this addition official. Almost 3,400 WWF supporters sent emails to ensure these rivers get the due diligence they deserve.

WWF-Canada continues to advocate for the protection of Canada’s free-flowing rivers. We are also working with communities to safeguard their own lands and waters, through strategies that make sense locally and culturally.

What You Can Do

North American beaver

Adopt a Beaver


Testing Freshwater

Generation Water Technology Challenge

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Shoreline Cleanup Participants


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© Terry Kelly / WWF-Canada landscape of freshwater

Learn More About our Freshwater Work

WWF-Canada is working towards a future where all Canadian waters are in good condition, by building water-resilient communities, bringing big-water data to decision-making tables and creating a culture of water stewardship across the country.

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