2. Background

2.1. Program profile

The objective of the Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystems Health Program is to provide information on and increase understanding of the impacts and risks posed by human activities on water quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems. The Program is divided into three main activity areas: (i) water quality monitoring; (ii) research activities; and (iii) analytical, laboratory and research support. These activity areas are described in greater detail below.

I. Water quality monitoring

Water quality monitoring activities include three types of monitoring: freshwater quality monitoring, marine water quality monitoring, and oil sands monitoring.

Freshwater Quality Monitoring

The Freshwater Quality Monitoring Program has been delivered by ECCC since the early 1970s. The program monitors and reports on the status and trends of freshwater quality and aquatic ecosystems health on federal lands, in provincial/territorial and international boundary waters, and in other waters of significant federal or national interest.

Most of the monitoring data come from approximately 522Footnote 3 sites managed under cooperative agreements with the provinces and territories and inter-jurisdictional agreements, and some higher risk sites are supplemented with automated monitoring. Additionally, biological samples are collected through the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN).Footnote 4 Monitoring is carried out in collaboration with many partners: provinces and territories, universities, non-governmental organizations, and other federal departments, i.e., Parks Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).

Using the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) and the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Water Quality Index, Program staff submit reports every year and disseminate information on Canada’s water quality performance.

Marine Water Quality Monitoring

The primary role of the Marine Water Quality Monitoring Program is to support ECCC’s mandate under the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP). The CSSP is overseen by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in collaboration with ECCC and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). These three partners work together to:

  1. Protect the public from health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated bivalve molluscan shellfish (e.g., mussels, oysters and clams); and
  2. Fulfill Canada’s commitments to meet exporting countries’ requirements.

ECCC’s primary responsibilities include conducting sanitary and marine water quality monitoring surveys, and assessing pollution sources in order to make recommendations on the appropriate classification for shellfish growing areas. ECCC’s water quality sampling and analysis covers approximately 15,000 km² of marine waters along Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, encompassing close to 1,000 shellfish harvesting areas.

Oil Sands Monitoring

The Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM), announced in February 2012, committed the Governments of Canada and Alberta to carrying out scientifically rigorous, comprehensive, integrated and transparent environmental monitoring of the oil sands region to ensure responsible resource development. The Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystems Health Program supports the JOSM through the implementation of several activities, including collecting and analyzing environmental monitoring data in selected areas facing increased resource development; developing models and other tools to understand and predict the impacts of resource extraction on the environment; and reporting on results.

II. Research activities

The Program’s research activities address three main areas, as described below:

Northern Contaminants Program

The Northern Contaminants Program (NCP) is a multi-disciplinary initiative led by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to co-ordinate Canada’s action on contaminants of concern in the North, including persistent organic pollutants and mercury. The overall objective is to reduce, and where possible eliminate, contaminants in the Arctic environment, while providing information to residents of the North about contaminants in traditional food sources.

Each year, NCP staff publish a call for proposals intended for scientists. ECCC scientists participate in the NCP by monitoring and providing their research findings relative to long-range contaminants in the Arctic.

Grants and contributions (G&Cs)

From 2010–2011 to 2014–2015, ECCC funded a total of 40 G&C projects with a total value of approximately $14M in order to support core research activities related to water quality.Footnote 5 These projects are managed under the authority of ECCC’s umbrella terms and conditions in “Contributions in support of Water Resources and Freshwater Programs.”

Climate change adaptation

Program staff also conduct research to provide foundational knowledge aimed at understanding and predicting the effects of climate change in order to support decision-making related to climate change adaptation.

III. Analytical, research and laboratory Support

ECCC’s operational laboratories provide analytical and technical services that support the Program’s scientific research and water quality monitoring activities, including its work related to the JOSM. The Program’s activities in this area also contribute to other ECCC programs by providing, for example, services to support enforcement investigations and environmental emergencies. Expertise from seven locationsFootnote 6 nationwide is used to provide ISO 17025Footnote 7 accredited products and services to clients in Canada and abroad, including analysis of samples, broader analyses of datasets, data modelling, legal-grade certified sample handling and processing methods, and support for emergency situations.

2.2. Governance and management

Overall accountability for the Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystems Health Program rests with the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM), Science and Technology Branch (STB). The Program is managed by the Director General (DG) of the Water Science and Technology Directorate (WSTD), along with his management team. Within the WSTD, four divisions help to implement this Program:

  1. Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division;
  2. Watershed Hydrology and Ecology Research Division;
  3. Aquatic Contaminants Research Division; and
  4. Emergencies, Operational Analytical Laboratories and Research Support Division.

In addition to the WSTD management team, there are advisory and working-level committees within the Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division that address science and program delivery issues (e.g., the Quality Data Management Task Group).

The Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystems Health Program has close links with several other ECCC programs, including the Water Resource Management and Use Program, for which it provides information on water quality for use by the inter-jurisdictional water management boards; the Hydrometric Services Program, which is responsible for monitoring water quantity; and the various freshwater ecosystem initiatives (e.g., Great Lakes Program, Lake Winnipeg Program and St. Lawrence Program). Scientific research in support of the ecosystem initiatives had previously been conducted as part of this Program, but starting in 2015–2016, these activities and resources were realigned with the individual initiatives they supported.

External governance

Externally, there are multi-stakeholder committees that coordinate the activities of several initiatives in the Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystems Health Program, including the following:

Partners and stakeholders

ECCC works with a variety of partners to deliver components of the Program. Partnerships are usually governed by formal agreements that define roles and responsibilities (e.g., Master Apportionment Agreements for water management boards, Memorandum of Understanding for the CSSP, and federal-provincial-territorial agreements on water quality monitoring). Examples of these partnerships include the following:

2.3. Resources

Table 1 summarizes the Program’s expenditures for the period from 2010–2011 to 2015–2016. About one third of the Program’s expenses are for real estate costs related to the laboratories (e.g., facilities and lease management) which account for a significant portion of the Program expenditures that other comparable scientific research programs generally do not incur. As previously noted, scientific activities in support of the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg and St. Lawrence Programs were part of this program until 2015–2016, when the coding for these activities was transferred to those respective programs. Additionally, ECCC’s hosting and support of the United Nations Environmental Programme's Global Environmental Monitoring Systems (UNEP GEMS) was previously part of this program, but this activity terminated at the end of 2013–2014.

Vote netted revenue (VNR) represents the expenditures for which the Program has cost recovery. These mainly consist of funding received from the Government of Alberta for the JOSM, which was introduced in 2012–2013.

Table 1: Program expenditures, 2010-2011 to 2015-2016 ($000,000s)
  2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Source: Information was extracted from ECCC’s financial system and validated with the ECCC Finance Branch. Numbers may not add up due to rounding.
*Approximately 96% of expenditures in other branches represent laboratory real estate costs that are coded to the Corporate Services and Finance Branch and the Regional Director’s Office. Other ECCC branches with small levels of expenditures coded to this Program include the Environmental Protection Branch, the Meteorological Service of Canada and the Strategic Policy Branch.
Science and Technology Branch (STB)
Salary $36.9 $33.7 $33.2 $32.8 $26.9 $27.2
O&M $17.2 $14.7 $12.9 $10.6 $8.8 $7.0
Capital $4.0 $3.2 $5.7 $3.5 $2.0 $3.1
G&Cs $1.3 $0.9 $1.0 $1.0 $0.9 $0.7
VNR salary $1.1 $0.6 $3.2 $3.1 $2.5 $2.2
VNR O&M $0.7 $0.8 $4.7 $8.7 $8.4 $5.1
STB total $61.2 $54.0 $60.4 $59.8 $49.5 $45.2
Other branches* (primarily represents laboratory lease and facility management expenditures)
Total $21.6 $18.5 $17.6 $17.1 $17.4 $15.9
All branches
Grand total $82.8 $72.5 $78.0 $76.9 $66.9 $61.1

2.4. Intended outcomes

Since there was no formally approved logic model associated with this Program, the evaluation team, together with Program representatives, developed a draft logic model for the purposes of the evaluation. The draft logic model was endorsed by the ADM, STB during the evaluation’s planning phase, and can be found in Appendix 1.

The expected outcomes from the draft logic model, which were used for the assessment of performance, are presented below.

Immediate outcomes

Intermediate outcomes

Final outcome

Through the achievement of the immediate and intermediate outcomes, the Program is expected over the long-term to help mitigate threats to Canada’s water resources and aquatic ecosystems, and maintain their sustainability, thus improving the overall well-being of Canadians.

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