Evaluation of the Hydrological Service and Water Survey: chapter 3

2.0 Context for the Evaluation

2.1 Program Profile

2.1.1 Sub-program 1.2.3

The Hydrological Service and Water Survey (sub-program 1.2.3 of the Environment Canada (EC) Program Alignment Architecture (PAA) and hereafter referred to as “the program”) consists primarily of the Water Survey of Canada (WSC), which is the federal component of the National Hydrometric Program (NHP). The WSC is overseen by EC’s Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC). In addition, sub-program 1.2.3 includes the Hydrological Service, a smaller area of activity of the MSC, which involves hydrological science, applications of hydrological data (including modeling) and related services.

2.1.2 EC’s Mandate, Responsibilities and Key Clients for the Program

In Canada, the provinces, Yukon and Northwest Territories have the primary jurisdiction over most aspects of water management and the protection of water resources. The federal government’s role in water management is established by proprietary rights over navigable waters, fisheries, inter-jurisdictional and boundary waters, federal lands and water, First Nations reserves, resource management in Nunavut, and some aspects of environmental protection. Additionally, the federal government may also intervene in water resources management matters, if it so chooses, using its residual powers under the Constitution. The Minister of the Environment has primary responsibility for leading the federal government’s powers and duties with regard to water management. At the same time, a number of other Ministers and departments have secondary responsibilities for particular aspects of water management, including but not limited to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Natural Resources Canada.

The basis for Environment Canada’s mandate with regard to water quantity measurement is primarily established by the Canada Water Act. The Act specifies that the Minister of the Environment:

  • May enter into collaborative arrangements with provincial governments relating to water resources and their utilization;
  • May conduct, or provide for the conduct of research, collection of data, and establishment of inventories respecting any aspect of water resource management; and
  • Shall directly undertake any water resources program with respect to federal waters, and inter-jurisdictional waters (within Canada) and international or boundary waters where there is a significant national interest.Footnote2

Other key federal legislation, arrangements, and initiatives that have a bearing on water management or require hydrometric data to inform actions include:

  • Fisheries Act, 1985
  • Canada Shipping Act, 2001
  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 1992
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act, 1882
  • Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, 1970
  • International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, 1909
  • International River Improvements Act, 1955
  • Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
  • Federal Action Plan on Clean Water
  • Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators initiative.

The current Federal Water Policy, established in 1987, noted that the need for reliable and cost-effective data gathering systems to support water management had increased, as too had the complexity of managing water resources. The policy included commitments to produce reliable and timely data and information on the quantity of water resources in collaboration with the provinces and territories, and to extend data programs into northern and remote regions of the country.

In November 2011 Environment Canada commissioned the Canadian Water Resources Association (CWRA) to review federal responsibilities and interest in water quantity monitoring and propose a risk-based approach for determining federal water monitoring priorities.Footnote3 The CWRA noted that federal roles in water quantity monitoring are either:

  • Federal - encompassing monitoring requirements as specified in federal legislation, international commitments, and federal priorities requiring water quantity information.
  • Federal/Provincial or Federal/Territorial - encompassing monitoring requirements under federal-provincial or federal-territorial agreements or to satisfy priorities requiring water quantity information.Footnote4

Four criteria were developed by CWRA to guide the review and allocation of federal, federal-provincial/territorial and provincial/territorial designations to water quantity monitoring stations - which then provide the basis for determining the sharing of costs. These criteria are: (1) legal or legislated obligations, (2) global (international) commitments, (3) inclusion in the existing Reference Hydrological Basin Network (RHBN)Footnote5 , and (4) Environment Canada priorities.Footnote6 The WSC proposes to apply these criteria, in collaboration with its P/T partners, to review the current Federal/Provincial/Territorial (F/P/T) designations of water gauging stations and underpin future planning and development of the national network of stations. However, in order to apply the criteria as intended, specific policy guidance from Environment Canada will be needed to clarify the departmental priorities to which the WSC should respond.

The WSC’s hydrometric data are used in the analysis, modelling and forecasting of water flows and levels, and such information is used as an input to the design and management of water-related activities in a wide range of sectors. Common applications include flood planning, floodplain mapping, flood warnings and emergency response management, water resources planning and management, water allocation, infrastructure planning and design, environmental assessments, environmental monitoring and management, analysis of climate change and long-term weather effects, power generation, and navigation and recreational uses of inland waterways.

The primary users of the hydrometric data generated by the NHP are the F/P/T) partners to the bilateral agreements established with Environment Canada. Each of the partners establishes data collection priorities that are based on assessments of data needs of the departments within the respective governments that then form the basis for annual work plans and the apportionment of operating costs. These F/P/T partners are Environment Canada’s key clients for the program.

A significant amount of demand for hydrometric data originates with a secondary group of clients, including municipal governments, non-governmental organizations, private industry, academic researchers and the general public. In many instances, the needs for hydrometric data among these secondary users are a function of regulatory, planning and monitoring requirements established by federal, provincial and territorial governments. Other determinants of demand from secondary users include the planning, monitoring and emergency management needs of local and regional government bodies, data needs for water resources research and modelling, and data to improve planning for recreational uses of waterways. Secondary users are unlikely to be concerned whether the data they use come from a federal, federal-provincial/territorial or provincial/territorial gauging station as their data requirements are typically focused on a particular waterway or basin.

Secondary users are able to access the internet-based hydrometric data dissemination system that was established to serve the primary users. Access to, and data downloading from, the system by the secondary users has a minimal impact on the provision of data to primary users and a minimal cost to the program while leading to significant public benefits.

2.1.3 Operational Activities and Management

Under the authority of the Canada Water Act, the NHP is carried out through bilateral agreements between EC and each of the provinces and Yukon, and with AANDC on behalf of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. The NHP is intended to provide a systematic and standardized approach to the collection, interpretation and dissemination of real-time and historical data on the velocity, discharge, volume and other physical parameters of surface waters and surface water bodies.Footnote7

Under the bilateral agreements, established in 1975 and now in the process of being updated, water quantity data collection and dissemination are co-funded in accordance with data priorities and the requirements established by the partners to each agreement. Each water gauging station is designated as either federal, federal-provincial/territorial or provincial/ territorial, according to national classification guidelines agreed to by all parties. The federal government pays for the operational costs initially and then recovers the appropriate share from each party based on the station designations. Costs for stations classified as federal/provincial or federal/territorial are shared on a 50/50 basis. The program has been continuously operated, in general, by the federal government (i.e., the WSC) since 1908, except in Quebec, where the province took over the responsibility in 1963.

The WSC operates a network of 2,783 stations in Canada and maintains a database containing historic data for an additional 5,577 inactive (discontinued) stations for the country, in partnership with the provinces, territories and other agencies. Data from the 5,577 inactive stations are stored with the active station data in the national hydrometric database. Most of the active stations are located in the southern half of the country, where the population and economic pressures are greatest. The WSC has a formal Quality Management System (QMS), certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), to guide the planning and management of its operations. Data collected by the NHP are housed in two databases maintained by EC:

  • HYDEX - contains inventory information pertaining to active and inactive water gauging stations in Canada including their locations, equipment and type(s) of data collected.
  • HYDAT - contains all of the water data collected through the NHP for all active and inactive stations listed in HYDEX. These data include daily and monthly mean flow, water level and sediment concentrations for stations across Canada.

Management and delivery of the program is split between regional and headquarters units. At the regional level, the WSC offices in MSC Operations manage relationships with the P/T partners, undertake network planning and operation, serve on inter-jurisdictional committees and control boards, collect and produce data in accordance with national standards, disseminate preliminary and final (archived) data, and respond to user enquiries. At the headquarters level, the Water and Climate Services Division of the MSC provides national leadership for the program, development and maintenance of the QMS and data standards, equipment evaluation and selection, development of hydrological applications and services, website management, data archiving via HYDEX and HYDAT, and asset management services.

2.2 Governance Structure

2.2.1 Internal Governance

Overall accountability for Program Alignment Architecture (PAA) element 1.2.3 rests with the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of the MSC. Headquarters staff (Water and Climate Services Division) report to the Director General (DG) Weather and Environmental Monitoring, while regional staff report through their regional directors to the DG Weather and Environmental Operations. Functional management is provided by the DG Weather and Environmental Monitoring.

2.2.2 External Governance

Under the 1975 bilateral agreements, there is a National Administrators Table (NAT) and coordinating committees for the management of the NHP. The NAT is made up of F/P/T administrators of the bilateral agreements on hydrometric monitoring and one national administrator designated by EC. Administrators (usually federal and provincial civil servants) set up a coordinating committee (with F/P/T representatives) in each province and territory to plan and oversee network operations. The roles and responsibilities of these structures are set out in the agreements. The following provincial, territorial and federal departments participate in the work of the NAT and associated coordinating committees.

Provincial Partners:

  • Alberta - Department of Environment
  • British Columbia - Ministry of Environment
  • Manitoba - Water Stewardship
  • Newfoundland and Labrador - Department of Environment and Conservation
  • New Brunswick - Department of Environment
  • Nova Scotia - Department of Environment
  • Ontario - Ministry of Natural Resources
  • Prince Edward Island - Department of Environment, Energy and Forestry
  • Quebec - Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks
  • Saskatchewan - Watershed Authority

Territorial Partners:

  • Northwest Territories (NWT) - Department of Environment and Natural Resources
  • Nunavut - Department of EnvironmentFootnote1
  • Yukon Territory - Department of Environment

Federal Partner:

  • Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC)

2.3 Resource Allocation

The financial resources and full-time equivalents (FTEs) allocated to the Hydrological Service and Water Survey for the five-year timeframe of this evaluation are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Hydrological Service and Water Survey - 2008-09 to 2012-13 Expenditures
  2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Total
FTEs 212.74 227.43 234.3 219.83 230.23  
Salaries $8,015,953 $9,491,339 $9,117,623 $8,906,437 $8,982,652 $44,514,004
O&M $8,156,666 $8,396,369 $7,434,793 $7,427,771 $6,849,073 $38,264,672
Capital $2,366,124 $3,420,848 $3,724,244 $2,946,344 $1,065,351 $13,522,911
Sub-total $18,538,743 $21,308,556 $20,276,660 $19,280,552 $16,897,076 $96,301,587
VNRFootnote1.1 - Salary $6,926,105 $7,258,799 $7,628,660 $7,304,935 $7,797,741 $36,916,240
VNR - O&M $6,095,753 $6,725,096 $6,326,855 $6,857,074 $7,507,936 $33,512,714
VNR - Capital $229,196 $86,629 $113,843 $335,418 $178,281 $943,367
Sub-total $13,251,054 $14,070,524 $14,069,358 $14,497,427 $15,483,958 $71,372,321
(% of Total) (42%) (40%) (41%) (43%) (48%) (43%)
Grand total $31,789,797 $35,379,080 $34,346,018 $33,777,980 $32,381,034 $167,673,908

Source: Environment Canada, Finance Branch, January 14, 2013 (2008-09 expenditures and FTEs for 2008-09 to 2012-13) and Annual Report - 2012-13, presentation to the NAT by the Director, Water and Climate Services, October 2013 (2009-10 to 2012-13 expenditures).

Description of Table 1

Table 1 presents the number of full-time equivalents and expenditures of the Hydrological Service and Water Survey for each of five fiscal years from 2008-2009 to 2012-2013. The figures for each year are broken down by salaries, operations and maintenance (O&M) and capital expenditures. The table also presents similar figures on vote netted revenue, representing the amounts cost-recovered from the program’s federal, provincial and territorial government partners for each of the five years. Total program expenditures for this five-year period were approximately 167.1 million dollars, 71.4 million dollars (or 43 per cent) of which was cost-recovered.

2.4 Expected Results and Performance Measurement

As a program-specific logic model and performance measurement strategy for the Hydrological Service and Water Survey are not currently available, it was determined in consultation with program management that the program’s performance would be assessed against the existing outputs, outcomes and associated indicators as described below.

The department’s 2012-13 Performance Measurement Framework (PMF) includes performance indicators for one expected result and three outputs for this PAA element:

Expected Result:

  • Canadians and their institutions have the hydrological data, information and knowledge they need to make water management decisions. (Performance indicator: Level of satisfaction of primary users with Environment Canada data and services.)


  • Real-time hydrometric data. (Indicator: % of preliminary water level and discharge data that are available via the Internet for real-time hydrometric stations within 24 hours of occurrence.)
  • Archived hydrometric data and streamflow statistics. (Indicator: % of water level data and estimated flow values for all active hydrometric stations within four months of collection.)
  • Scientific studies and reports related to hydrological requirements for transboundary basins. (Indicator: Number of studies and reports published per year.)

In addition, performance data are collected as part of the MSC’s QMS, which is a requirement of the MSC’s ISO 9001 certificationFootnote8but independent of the departmental PMF. Key QMS objectives are:

  • Canadians have reliable and timely access to hydrometric data and information from across Canada. (Primary indicators are the same as those for the production of real-time and archived data, above.)
  • A credible, sustainable national hydrometric monitoring program is maintained and supported. (Primary indicators: feedback from user communities, focusing on satisfaction among F/P/T partners, and results of ISO and program quality assurance (QA) audits.)
  • The National Hydrometric Program is well managed according to established international operational criteria. (Indicators relate to rate of life cycle management of infrastructure, maintenance of workforce competencies, timeliness of partner contribution arrangements for cost recovery, and timeliness of delivery of annual reports required by the bilateral agreements.)
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