Evaluation of the Hydrological Service and Water Survey: chapter 6

5.0 Conclusions

5.1 Relevance

Hydrometric data are critical to planning for, and management of, water resources. The provision of hydrometric data by public agencies is widely accepted and managed as a public good where the cost involved in making such data freely available is outweighed by the significant value to society of such information, for example, by reducing uncertainties and risks associated with surface water flows and events. All lines of enquiry found there to be a continuing and growing need for timely, consistent and reliable hydrometric data. Factors that contribute to the growth in demand include:

  • An increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, with implications for flood planning and emergency management.
  • The complexity of climate change analysis.
  • Increased rates of resource development, particularly in remote areas.
  • Population growth giving rise to needs for new and renewed infrastructure.
  • More intense use of agricultural land and water resources.
  • Increasing availability of real-time hydrometric data (with almost two-thirds of the water gauging stations in the network now capable of such operation).

Responsibility for water resources is shared between the federal and provincial/territorial governments. Federal collection and provision of hydrometric data supports federal responsibilities for navigable waters, fisheries, international and intra-national boundary waters, federal lands, federal facilities and First Nation reserves as well as duties under the Fisheries Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Note, however, that there is some flexibility in the application of the Canada Water Act and the 1987 Federal Water Policy as to what constitutes federal obligations with respect to hydrology monitoring in Canada. The provision of hydrometric data aligns with the Department’s Strategic Outcomes relating to conservation and restoration of Canada’s natural environment, and enabling Canadians to make informed decisions on changing weather, water and climate conditions. In turn, these outcomes are intended to contribute to the achievement of the Government of Canada Outcome, A Clean and Healthy Environment.

5.2 Performance - Efficiency and Economy

The design of the Hydrological Service and Water Survey (HSWS) is widely considered to be appropriate for achieving its intended outcomes. The program’s design and delivery focuses on a set of core activities that ensure appropriate hydrometric data are made available for use in water management decisions. These core activities and supporting systems, such as the Quality Management System (QMS), are consistent with published commentary regarding the requirements for an effective hydrological monitoring program.

Separation of responsibilities and budgetary authorities between headquarters and the regional operations of the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) presents a challenge for the integration of HSWS planning and management. More broadly, however, at the level of the National Hydrometric Program (NHP), the Water Survey of Canada (WSC) functions as a national organization working on behalf of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial (F/P/T) partners to satisfy the separate and joint needs of the partners in a cost-effective way. This approach enables national and P/T priorities and directions to be integrated. The NHP governance structure is widely perceived as being particularly effective, in that it provides a national framework to integrate national and P/T priorities while allowing for flexibility in arrangements with individual provinces and territories. Data collection and provision by a single national service provider enables economies of scale that could not be achieved by independent F/P/T entities.

The introduction of digital data collection and telemetry technologies, and the deployment of the new hydrometric workstation for managing the production and interpretation of data are transforming the way hydrometric data are collected, interpreted and disseminated. This transition to near real-time data provision is having a major impact on the way the Water Survey of Canada (WSC) operates and is expected to lead to improvements in efficiency, for example, by improving the scheduling of stations checks and routine maintenance work.

Four areas of weakness were identified in the efficiency and economy of the HSWS:

  • Gaps in the program’s professional (engineering and scientific) staff and management/ supervisory ranks are limiting the program’s ability to produce the required hydrological reports, meet transboundary commitments, undertake critical data analysis projects, and provide support for operational activities.
  • Program managers and staff have limited direct contact with secondary users, outside of major users such as the F/P/T partners, and do not have a good understanding of current and emerging needs amongst secondary users of hydrometric data, how and why they are using these data, and overall trends in demand.
  • Key performance measures and indicators for the program’s principal outputs and outcomes have been defined but the program is not producing regular performance data to report on program-wide performance and does not have a logic model that could aid in the selection or confirmation of performance measures and indicators.
  • The program has not been able to fully achieve its target of delivering validated, archived water level and flow data within four months of the end of each calendar year.

5.3 Performance - Effectiveness

Performance in achieving three program outcomes was assessed.

  1. Canadians and their institutions have the hydrological data, information and knowledge they need to make water management decisions. Users of data from the current network of gauging stations are highly satisfied with the quality and completeness of these data, particularly the real-time data. Users of archived data were satisfied but would like to see faster production of such data. At the same time, however, studies of network adequacy and feedback from the key informants indicate that network density is not keeping up with demand. The most recent such study, commissioned in response to a 2010 Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) audit recommendation, compared the current network density of the NHP to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) guidelines. The study concluded that about 88% of Canada’s terrestrial area is either poorly covered by water gauging stations or has no coverage at all. It also noted that network planning and optimization would need to consider ecological, social and economic factors when determining the optimal number and distribution of stations needed.

  3. A credible, sustainable national hydrometric monitoring program is maintained and supported. The program was generally perceived to be credible by many of the program and partner representatives, in that it is producing data that satisfy quality assurance requirements and are consistent and comparable over time and between different parts of the country. The results of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) audits also indicate that the program’s Quality Management System is meeting ISO certification requirements. The ability of the program and its F/P/T partners to maintain this credibility will depend, in part, on the extent to which the network of stations can be optimized and developed in response to current and expected future demand for hydrometric data.

  5. The National Hydrometric Program is well managed according to established international operational criteria. The program is generally perceived to be well managed, as evidenced by the effectiveness of the NHP governance structure and bilateral agreements, the technical expertise and responsiveness of staff, and the effective introduction and maintenance of its ISO certification. However, the HSWS is experiencing some challenges related to program management (e.g., human resource planning, performance reporting) that will need to be addressed.
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