Freshwater at risk, new WWF-Canada study finds. Here’s why

UPDATE: WWF-Canada published a second edition of the Watershed Reports in 2020, and in 2023, Water Rangers became the new steward of Watershed Reports. To learn about the third edition of the reports, visit

Canadians believe ours is a nation of pristine and abundant freshwater. But years of research published today shows a different reality: Our freshwater ecosystems are at risk, jeopardizing the future of fish, turtles, waterfowl, bears, other wildlife — and people too.
WWF-Canada’s Watershed Report captures for the first time the state of all 25 of Canada’s watersheds (made up of 167 sub-watersheds), through separate assessments of both health and the stresses we place on freshwater ecosystems.

The results
The study found significant disturbances to freshwater ecosystems from human activities such as pollution, agricultural runoff, habitat loss, climate change, oil and gas development and hydropower dams. As a result, Canada’s freshwater ecosystems are under tremendous stress. But perhaps even more alarming is the fact that as a nation, we don’t collect enough data to know just how much damage all this stress is causing.
How healthy is our water?
Where data is available it’s not a good picture: Almost two-thirds of sub-watersheds with results have fair or poor water quality, all are already impacted by climate change, and more than half have experienced significant habitat loss. But we can’t answer that key health question with certainty for almost two-thirds of Canada’s watersheds until more data is collected and made available.
What it all means
We know our freshwater is at risk. We know Canada is not collecting corresponding health data on a national scale. As a result we are unequipped as a nation to make evidence-based, informed decisions about the one natural resource that Canadians value above all others.
It doesn’t have to be this way
There’s a better path forward. WWF-Canada is calling on the federal government to invest in a standardized national freshwater monitoring system to track the state of freshwater as climate change and increased population put even more pressure on freshwater ecosystems.
In an increasingly hot and thirsty world, freshwater is essential to our health, our economy — indeed, our very survival. The world has already seen an 81 per cent decline in abundance of freshwater wildlife populations in the past 40 years. As home to 20 per cent of the global endowment of freshwater, Canada has a duty to get it right.
You can read Watershed Reports to learn more about the findings and the steps to improve freshwater ecosystems. And, you can explore the state of your own sub-watershed