Reflecting on the health of Canada’s waters

We’re checking on the health of all Canada’s waters; 25% of the way along, here’s where we stand.

We all know and appreciate that healthy waters are important, especially in Canada where we’re lucky enough to enjoy such water riches.  But until last September, there was no consistent, science-based way to measure how healthy Canada’s waters are on a national scale.  That’s why, in September 2013, we launched WWF-Canada’s Freshwater Health Assessments, with the ambitious goal of assessing all of Canada’s major water bodies for 2017 – in time for Canada’s 150th birthday.  Today, we’ve made great progress – we’re now a quarter of the way to reaching that goal!

© Tessa MACINTOSH / WWF-Canada
© Tessa MACINTOSH / WWF-Canada

Current trends
Below, we have summarized the overall scores to date, and two key trends have emerged
Positive results: Where we have enough data to determine how healthy a watershed is, the majority of the scores are good or fair – something well worth celebrating.  So far 10 of 17 of the rivers assessed at the basin scale have received positive scores.
Lack of data: Unfortunately, we’re encountering a lot of data deficient situations, where there was not enough monitoring across our four metrics and throughout the watershed to meet our criteria – a very troubling trend.  Currently, 7 of rivers at the basin scale measured have been data deficient.
What do these trends tells us?  First, that where we’re committed to our waters, we’re getting good results.  One of the reasons we’ve had to many positive results is because of the strong support these areas get from local water groups, as well as from key regional policies.  In particular, the dedication to monitoring these waters and using that data to drive decision making clearly gets results.
Second, we see that too many of our waters are not getting the attention they need and deserve.  Without critical information about water flow and quality, as well as bug and fish populations, it’s impossible to know how these waters doing or what we can do to help them thrive.
Understanding the local stories
To understand the local stories of these waters better, we also look at sub-watersheds.  Our results show a broader distribution of scores from poor to very good.  The map below shows a more detailed story of the health of our waters.  In some places the story is good.  In the Skeena River, for example, the sub-watershed is in very good condition largely because it includes some of the last remaining free-flowing rivers.  Some other sub-basins are in poor health, as in the South Saskatchewan River, which is likely due to the high degree of alterations for human use.
What we’ve learned
It would seem, when it comes to managing and protecting our freshwater resources that when we’re good we can be very, very good.  While the Federal Government is reducing the capacity to monitor and address these concerns, local watershed organizations, businesses and citizens are working hard to compensate.  I think, we know it’s our right, our privilege, and our responsibility to protect our freshwater resources for ourselves, the world and future generations and the only thing that Canadians deserve.  Stay tuned while we work hard to reach our milestone for next year, when we aim to have 50% of all waters in Canada assessed – and also be on the path to helping improve the health of our waters.