Evaluation of the Hydrological Service and Water Survey: chapter 5


4.0 Findings

For each evaluation question, a rating is provided based on a judgment of the evaluation findings. The rating statements and their significance are outlined below in Table 2. A summary of ratings for all of the evaluation questions is presented in Annex 2.

Table 2: Definitions of Standard Rating Statements
Statement Definition
Acceptable The program has demonstrated that it has met the expectations with respect to the issue area.
Opportunity for Improvement The program has demonstrated that it has made progress to meet the expectations with respect to the issue area, but attention is still needed.
Attention Required The program has not demonstrated that it has made progress to meet the expectations with respect to the issue area and attention is needed on a priority basis.
Not applicable A rating is not applicable.
Description of Table 2

Table 2 displays the rating scale used to summarize the findings for each of the evaluation questions on the relevance and performance of this program. These ratings are: Acceptable, Opportunity for Improvement, Attention Required and Not Applicable.

4.1 Relevance

4.1.1 Continuing Need for Program

Evaluation Issue: Relevance Rating
1. Is there a continued need for the program? Acceptable

There is a continuing, and growing, need for reliable and consistent hydrometric data across Canada. This growth in demand is due to requirements for hydrometric data to inform the planning and management of socio-economic activities (such as, new resource development in more remote areas, expansion of population centres, and agricultural intensification), analysis of extreme weather events, and conduct of climate change analysis and research. Although capabilities to collect hydrometric data do exist outside the program, key informants perceive that these other providers are not equivalent to the Water Survey of Canada (WSC) in that they are unlikely to have the same quality assurance standards or capability to operate in all regions and conditions.

The findings from the document review and the key informant interviews indicate a continuing need for a hydrometric program to provide reliable data on water levels and flows in Canada’s lakes and rivers. Common areas of activity requiring hydrometric data as an input 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.Footnote11In addition, changes in Canada’s climate are occurring but it is not clear how specific watersheds will be affected and the analysis of associated risks, such as, drought and flood issues, depends on the availability of an appropriate breadth and depth of hydrologic data.Footnote12

Key informants also identified a range of factors that are increasing the demand for hydrometric data in these various areas of application. The most frequently cited contributory factors were an increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, the analytical complexity of assessing climate change effects, increased rates of resource development in remote areas, population growth in urban centres giving rise to needs for new and renewed infrastructure, and more intense use of agricultural land. The ability to satisfy these needs depends, according to the key informants, on timely, consistent and reliable data on water flows and levels available at individual water basin levels and, increasingly, at more micro levels, such as sub-basins. Users emphasized that they need both real-time current data and long-term archived data in order to understand and forecast what is happening to water levels and flows.

When asked about the extent to which other providers of hydrometric data collection and dissemination services exist and could provide a similar service to that provided by the WSC, almost all key informants indicated that the program is the only national provider of hydrometric data. Many key informants also indicated that service providers with capabilities to collect hydrometric data do exist outside the program and could potentially be contracted to perform data collection activities. These other providers are not perceived by key informants as being equivalent to the WSC, however, in that they are unlikely to have the same quality assurance standards and quality management systems as the WSC nor do they have the capability to operate in all regions and operating conditions. Typically, these providers are contracted by third parties to collect data for limited term periods in response to specific project needs, for example, in order to prepare environmental assessments.

4.1.2 Alignment with Federal Government Priorities

Evaluation Issue: Relevance Rating
2. Is the program aligned with federal government priorities? Acceptable

The Hydrological Service and Water Survey (HSWS) is aligned with federal government and departmental priorities. It is aligned with two of Environment Canada (EC)’s Strategic Outcomes, relating to the 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.

Within the structure of the Program Alignment Architecture (PAA), two of EC’s three Strategic Outcomes are supported by the HSWS: Canada’s natural environment is conserved and restored for present and future generations, and Canadians are equipped to make informed decisions on changing weather, water and climate conditions.Footnote13

Departmental accountability reports (i.e., Report on Plans and Priorities, Departmental Performance Report) link these Strategic Outcomes to the achievement of the Government of Canada Outcome, A Clean and Healthy Environment. The HSWS also responds to a key dimension of the Federal Water Policy, namely the production of reliable and timely data on the quantity, quality and variability of water resources.Footnote14

Almost all of the program managers and staff who were interviewed agreed that the program is aligned with both of the above departmental Strategic Outcomes. Most felt that the program contributes most directly to enabling Canadians (as represented by users of hydrometric data) to make informed decisions in response to changing weather, water and climate decisions. Hydrometric data were seen as helping users to reduce the level of uncertainty and risks associated with surface water flows and events. The role of monitoring data, such as hydrometric data, was also recognized as being essential to the measurement of trends in the natural environment. In the words of one key informant, “if you don’t know where the water is going you can’t manage it”. Long-term monitoring data were seen to be essential to the achievement of both Strategic Outcomes, whereas more immediate real-time data were more likely to be associated with the second outcome.

Almost half of the gauging stations in the network are designated as federal or shared F/P or F/T stations due to their alignment with federal government priorities. The criteria used to designate stations include specific consideration of statutory obligations, international commitments to monitor discharges from major river basins to the oceans, and EC science policy and research priorities requiring water quantity information.Footnote15

4.1.3 Consistency with Federal Roles and Responsibilities

Evaluation Issue: Relevance Rating
3. Is the program consistent with federal roles and responsibilities? Acceptable

The federal government’s role in water management is established by its responsibilities for navigable waters, fisheries, international and intra-national boundary waters, federal lands, federal facilities, and First Nations reserves as well as duties under the Fisheries Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The role of the WSC in collecting hydrometric data in response to Federal/Provincial/Territorial (F/P/T) needs and priorities was seen as consistent with federal roles and responsibilities by a large majority of the partner and user representatives. More broadly, the core rationale for public sector involvement in the collection of hydrometric data relates to the significant economic value of water and water information, and the difficulty of satisfying needs for water quantity information through private incentives.

Responsibility for water resources is shared between the federal and provincial/territorial governments.Footnote16Federal collection and provision of hydrometric data supports the federal responsibilities for navigable waters, fisheries, international and intra-national boundary waters, federal lands, federal facilities, and First Nations reserves as well as duties under the Fisheries Actand Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The provinces and Yukon have the lead responsibility for water management and protection within their respective boundaries. The Canada Water Act provides an enabling framework for cooperation and collaboration regarding water resources among and between the federal, provincial and territorial governments.Footnote17The Department of the Environment Act assigns national leadership for water management to the Minister of the Environment.Footnote18

The program is delivered under bilateral agreements (first established in 1975) with each of the provinces, Yukon, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), on behalf of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The program also supports the federal government’s role in Canada’s water-related international commitments, primarily to the International Joint Commission and other transboundary water agreements, the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Hydrology and Water Resources Program, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Hydrological Program.

Most program staff, Provincial/Territorial partners and users who participated in key informant interviews saw the provision of hydrometric data services as being an appropriate and (for many) critical role for the federal government to play. In addition to highlighting the statutory obligations of the federal government, the key informants noted that:

  • As a federal government program operating on a national level, the program is able to enjoy economies of scale that would be very difficult for other service providers to achieve and, as such, many key informants feel that the cost to collect and disseminate hydrometric data on par with the quality of WSC-generated data would be more expensive if it were not provided by Environment Canada. Moreover, because water flow is not directly measured and requires hydraulic interpretation, a single agency approach allows for consistency in estimation techniques, systematic improvements to the engineering and national standards for comparison across provinces and territories.
  • Most users feel that having a neutral federal agency perform the collection, interpretation and dissemination of data minimizes the likelihood of variable rates of coverage and maximizes the availability of reliable, consistent and high quality short and long-term data. This federal role is considered to be very important when hydrometric data are used to inform water allocation between provinces.
  • There is some flexibility in the application of the Canada Water Act and the 1987 Federal Water Policy as to what constitutes federal obligations and what is in the national interest with respect to hydrology monitoring in Canada (e.g., whether the federal government is responsible for ensuring that appropriate hydrometric data are in place to support future infrastructure development and environmental assessments).

More broadly, the rationale for public sector involvement in the collection of hydrometric data is strongly supported by the findings from the literature review. Hydrological information has significant economic value, and once produced, can have many users and be readily shared. Private sector producers of such information encounter significant challenges in receiving payment from all users for the cost of producing this information. The existence of such non-payers means that market forces are unlikely to produce the optimal amount of hydrometric information. This failure of market incentives to produce the best quantity of this type of information is the core rationale for government provision of hydrometric data.Footnote19 The value to society of water information and weak incentives for private sector providers to satisfy the demand for such information establishes a sound basis for public sector provision of water information as a public good.Footnote20

4.2 Performance - Efficiency and Economy

4.2.1 Appropriateness of Program Design

Evaluation Issue: Efficiency & Economy Rating
4. Is the program design appropriate for achieving its intended outcomes? Acceptable

The structure and delivery processes of the HSWS are built around a set of core requirements and supporting systems that focus its activities on consistent and comparable data collection, interpretation and dissemination to users, and this design is appropriate for achieving intended outcomes. The shared approach to direction setting and management is strongly supported by the F/P/T partners and program managers, and provides an effective process to integrate national and P/T priorities and directions.

The program does not currently have a logic model that depicts its design in terms of the causal linkages among its key inputs, activities, outputs, intended outcomes. Instead, the design and delivery of the program is built around the achievement of three objectives set in the program’s Quality Management System (QMS), as well as one expected result and three outputs in the departmental Performance Measurement Framework (PMF). These outcomes (listed in Section 2.4) relate to the provision of hydrometric information to Canadians, the maintenance of a credible and sustainable national hydrometric monitoring program, and managing the program well.

According to a number of publications reviewed, an effective hydrometric data program is one that is designed around a set of core activities that ensure appropriate hydrometric data are made available for use in water management decisions. These articles suggest that the core processes in an appropriate hydrometric information lifecycle are as follows:

  • Monitoring and network design;
  • Data sensing and recording;
  • Data validation and archival;
  • Data synthesis and analysis;
  • Information dissemination; and
  • Information usage and decision-making.Footnote21

Key supporting systems and success factors are a formal quality management system, ongoing network design, use of monitoring technologies appropriate to the characteristics of station locations, training of technicians, and sound data management after acquisition.Footnote22The program documents review and key informant interviews with program and partner representatives found that the program is designed to meet the above requirements and incorporates key support systems similar to those cited above.

Almost all of the WSC and F/P partner representatives interviewed strongly supported the shared approach to the management and funding of the National Hydrometric Program (NHP), which also enables it to integrate national and P/T priorities and directions.

Evidence to support this model is also found in the international comparisons. In Australia, the majority of the gauging stations are controlled by state government and non-governmental organizations but legally obligated to share their data with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for use in water monitoring and analysis activities. These data collection organizations independently determine what hydrometric data they will collect, what standards will be followed, and whether gauging stations will be established or discontinued. Variations in data quality, consistency and continuity reportedly arise due to variations in approach. A similar situation applies in New Zealand (NZ), where regional councils (local government entities) operate the majority of gauging stations and determine the extent of gauging activities, outside of the reference network of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). The frameworks for data collection and dissemination in Australia and New Zealand suggest that Canada’s shared approach, combined with the application of national data standards and quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QA/QC) systems, would result in better coordinated priority setting, planning and collection of hydrometric data. Findings from the international interviews indicated that the WSC is perceived to be very effective in ensuring data consistency and data quality.

4.2.2 Clarity, Appropriateness and Efficiency of Governance Structure

Evaluation Issue: Efficiency & Economy Rating
5. To what extent is the governance structure clear, appropriate and efficient for achieving expected results? Acceptable

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. The governance structure for the NHP is widely perceived by program managers and F/P/T partner representatives as being particularly effective, able to provide a national framework while allowing for flexibility in arrangements with individual provinces and territories.

The HSWS’s governance structure is appropriate for the most part. However, approximately half of the WSC representatives noted that the ability to plan and manage in an integrated way across the program is a challenge because responsibilities are split between the Water and Climate Services Division at national headquarters and regional operations through the Weather and Environmental Operations Directorate. The challenge arises because national strategies and priorities for the program are set by headquarters but budget allocation decisions and operational directions are set through the regional operations of the MSC.

The 2010 EC internal audit of the NHP concluded that the governance structure for the program was functioning well with the National Administrators Table (NAT) and National Hydrometric Program Coordinators Committee (NHPCC) providing a sound basis for joint direction setting and oversight of program delivery. Further, responsibilities and authorities for delivering the NHP were found to be clear and consistent among the F/P/T partners and well defined in the bilateral agreements. Comments by almost all program and partner representatives interviewed were consistent with the audit conclusions. They also indicated that the bilateral agreements provide for flexibility in the arrangements with different P/T partners while providing a consistent overall framework.

The 2010 internal audit also identified five aspects of the governance structure that could benefit from improvement, relating to strategic planning, integration of the management of water quantity and quality monitoring, clarification of the respective roles of EC and AANDC regarding water quantity management, strengthening monitoring of client satisfaction, and bringing annual reporting up to date as required by the Canada Water Act.Footnote23The follow-up process of EC’s Internal Audit Directorate, Audit and Evaluation Branch indicates that acceptable progress has been made and all five of these recommendations are now closed. Updated bilateral agreements for the collection, interpretation and dissemination of hydrometric data have also been signed with five provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec) and with AANDC on behalf of Nunavut. Updated agreements with the remaining provinces and territory are pending.

4.2.3 Efficiency and Economy of Program Activities

Evaluation Issue: Efficiency & Economy Rating
6. Is the program undertaking specific activities and delivering products at the lowest possible cost?
How could the program’s activities be more efficient? Are there alternative, more economical ways of delivering program outputs?
Attention Required

The available evidence indicates that the HSWS is efficient and economical in some respects. For example, the program is cost-shared under the bilateral agreements with F/P/T partners and over 40% of program costs were reimbursed by these partners each year. Partners and users also noted that all stakeholders benefit from the economies of scale of a national entity compared to multiple P/T entities. No alternative, more economical program models were identified. The program’s current transition to new data collection technologies and data management tools has made near real-time data dissemination possible and is expected to enable incremental efficiencies in the operation and maintenance of stations in the near future.

Nevertheless, some challenges related to efficiency and economy were identified. Difficulties in recruiting and retaining professional and management staff have limited the program’s ability to deliver key products within targeted timeframes and to undertake needed analytical support tasks and associated reporting. In addition, the program has not been able to fully meet its target of delivering validated, archived data within four months of the calendar year end. User feedback suggests that the efficiency of program delivery and service would improve if the understanding of user needs and demand trends were strengthened and the website updated to improve data access and downloading.

The analysis of the efficiency and economy of activities examined trends in program expenditures and resources, the capacity of the program to undertake required activities, user satisfaction with program activities, and potential opportunities to improve efficiency.

Cost-sharing and trends in program expenditures and resources. The program is cost-shared under the bilateral agreements with its F/P/T partners, which supports an efficient and economical approach to program delivery (e.g., through additional oversight of program operations by partners). Data on the program’s Full Time Equivalent (FTE) levels and expenditures on salaries and operating and maintenance (O&M) costs for the period from 2008-09 to 2012.13 (shown in Table 1, section 2.3) indicate that total annual costs and costs per (FTE) were relatively stable over the period of the evaluation. Over 40% of these costs were reimbursed by F/P/T partners each year and the amounts recovered increased steadily, from $13.3 million in 2008-09 to $15.5 in 2012.13. At the same time, the program was investing in new gauging and data management equipment and tools, reflected in the rate of capital spending, and recruiting and training a significant number of new technicians to address gaps due to retirements and departures.

Capacity to undertake required activities. Deployment of new equipment and tools has enabled the program to increase the timeliness of data availability, which is important to the majority of users, by moving to providing provisional near real-time data for the majority of its stations. Program managers indicated that this change is also expected to lead to incremental efficiencies in operations, for example, by improving the scheduling of station checks and routine maintenance work. Findings from the international interviews indicate that the move to real-time data provision combined with implementation of new data collection and telemetry technologies is considered to be the current state-of-the-art.

Many of the partner and user representatives noted that the joint F/P/T approach to program management and delivery means that all stakeholders and data users benefit from the data consistency and economies of scale provided by a national entity compared to multiple P/T entities. Some cited the arrangement as being an exemplary model for what can be achieved by an effective shared approach. No alternative, more economical program models were identified.

Internal analyses prepared by the program and feedback from key informants indicate that shortages of professional staff (engineers and scientific officers) and gaps in program management, as exemplified by prolonged delays in appointing permanent staff to vacant management positions, are limiting operational performance in a number of key areas. For instance, the program has experienced difficulties in recruiting qualified hydrologists (e.g., due to competition from the oil sands industry in western Canada). These gaps were reported to have limited the program’s capacity in such areas as producing required hydrological reports, meeting transboundary commitments, undertaking critical data analysis projects, providing engineering support for network planning and design, finalizing the program’s new costing model, and supporting the work of technicians.Footnote24

This situation suggests that, building on the current high-level MSC People Plan, a better integrated human resource strategy and staffing plan would help to optimize the recruitment, training and deployment of these categories of staff. Comments by program and partner representatives suggest that, as part of any efforts to strengthen professional resources, the program should review the nature and extent of the analysis and research work they perform and determine, where practical, if an alternative approach would be more efficient, such as taking an integrated program-wide approach to the allocation and conduct of work by professional staff versus looking at needs within each region independently. The approach to training technicians was widely seen to be highly successful; similar thinking may be desirable to support the attraction, deployment and development of professional staff and managers.

Delivering the output on archived hydrometric data and streamflow statistics is a challenge for the program. It has not been able to fully meet its target for archiving final water level and flow data (that is, data that have been validated through QA/QC systems) within four months of the end of each calendar year, as shown in Chart 1. In 2011, resource pressures meant that program technicians did not archive any water level or flow data, as they gave priority to the production and dissemination of real-time data (which is provisional until validated) during the deployment of new equipment and tools and to training significant numbers of newly hired technicians. In 2012, some of the regional offices were able to re-commence archiving work, leading to water flow and level data for only 3% and 4% of stations, respectively, meeting the four-month target. Work on the backlog of prior year data also increased, with 2011 data for 16% of the real-time stations archived by September 2012, 39% by January 2013, and 79% by October 2013.Footnote25

Chart 1: Proportion of Stations for Which Water Level and Flow Data Were Archived Within Four Months of Calendar Year-end - 2010 to 2012

Chart 1: Proportion of Stations for Which Water Level and Flow Data Were Archived

Source: Data extracts provided by Water and Climate Services Division (Monitoring Quality Objectives-for Update (2013.10)_wcsA), October 2013.

Description of Chart 1

Chart 1 presents a bar chart illustrating the proportion of hydrometric monitoring stations for which water level and flow data were archived within four months of the calendar year-end for 2010, 2011 and 2012. For water level data, the percentages are 27.8, 0.0 and 4.2 for these three years. For water flow data, the percentages for the three years are 22.4, 0.0 and 2.7.

User satisfaction with program activities. Secondary users of hydrometric data who participated in the key informant interviews were asked to rate their satisfaction with the delivery of program activities as a means of assessing aspects of program efficiency. The resulting ratings indicate that:

  • The WSC is highly responsive to user-initiated questions about the availability and/or interpretation of hydrometric data. Some users noted, however, that in the absence of established contacts with program staff, the enquiries process (via email requests to a central email address) is not user friendly.
  • The program is less active in proactively communicating with users. Approximately one-third of the users interviewed indicated that they had received no communications initiated by the program.
  • Users exhibited a high degree of satisfaction with the technical knowledge and expertise of program staff. Analysis and application of the data (over and above what is required to support WSC operations) are more likely to be seen as the job of users rather than the WSC.

The ratings of these activities and supporting comments by key informants indicate that the program has limited interactions with the many secondary users of hydrometric data. The WSC has minimal information on the numbers and types of secondary users it serves because they access and download data from the WSC website without having to register on the site and the site does not have any mechanisms to solicit their feedback. Note also that there is some lack of clarity within the program and the MSC in general as to who is assigned responsibility for assessing the needs and satisfaction of these secondary users.

This is in contrast to the regular consultations the WSC has with primary users - its F/P/T partners - via the operation of the National Administrators Table (NAT) and National Hydrometric Program Coordinators Committee (NHPCC), and associated annual work planning processes. Without regular contacts with the many different types of users (beyond the major users), program managers have only a limited understanding of who is using hydrometric data, how the data are being used, and the overall structure of, and trends in, demand and usage. The needs of the majority of these users are focused on specific waterways or basins, and they are not concerned whether the data they use come from a federal, federal-provincial/territorial or provincial/territorial station. The marginal cost to serve these secondary users through the WSC website is minimal and does not compete directly with data access by the primary users.

Opportunities to improve efficiency.Opportunities to improve efficiency and economy suggested by partner and/or program representatives were as follows:

  • Maximize the deployment of stations with real-time data collection and telemetry capabilities.
  • Improve the speed with which potential new data collection technologies and tools are assessed and decisions made regarding adoption and deployment.
  • Update the WSCwebsite and make it easier to access and download data, including the use of a datamart facility to improve the ease and efficiency of storing and transferring large data sets to F/P/T partners.

4.2.4 Collection and Reporting of Performance Data

Evaluation Issue: Efficiency & Economy Rating
7. Are performance data being collected and reported?
If so, is this information being used to inform senior management/ decision-makers?
Attention Required

Measures of performance have been defined for the departmental Performance Measurement Framework (PMF) and the objectives of the QMS but the HSWS is unable to readily generate national data on key performance measures and indicators. With respect to regional data, regional managers and supervisors closely monitor the availability of real-time data and data archiving rates as part of their management and tracking of operational activities.

Key performance measures and indicators for the program’s principal outputs and expected results have been defined and included in the departmental PMF and the program’s QMS objectives. These measures and indicators were presented in section 2.4.

Findings from the document review and key informant interviews with program representatives indicate that the program is not reporting on its overall performance against the indicators for the outputs and expected result in the departmental PMF on a regular basis. In addition, the program does not have a formal performance measurement strategy linked to a program logic model.

With regard to the availability of performance data for specific outputs and outcomes, program managers at headquarters indicated the following:

  • Expected result - Canadians and their institutions have the hydrological data, information and knowledge they need to make water management decisions: Initial information on the key indicator for this outcome - satisfaction among primary users of hydrometric data and services (F/P/T partners) - was unavailable at the time of data collection for this evaluation but planned to be collected by the program using a survey of F/P/Tpartner representatives. Measurement of satisfaction among a wider sample of users is seen to be desirable but is not currently planned due to budgetary constraints. As such, the program was unable to report any survey results on the degree of progress toward this intended outcome.
  • Output - real-time hydrometric data: The current data management system allows program technicians and managers to track the status of preliminary real-time data for individual stations but it is difficult to extract and compile aggregated data showing the extent to which these data are made publicly available within 24 hours of initial collection on a national level. Program managers report that this target is consistently exceeded, in that the majority of the 1,875 real-time stations (67% of the stations in the NHP network) are capable of producing preliminary real-time data within 2.3 hours of initial data capture at these stations.
  • Output - archived hydrometric data and streamflow statistics: Preliminary data on the extent to which the target of producing archived data within four months of calendar year-end are available from the HYDEX database. Data on performance at the national level, summarized in section 4.2.3, show that the program’s performance fell well below target in recent years.
  • Output - scientific studies and reports related to hydrological requirements for transboundary basins: Program managers indicated that resource gaps among professional staff meant that many scientific studies and reports relating to transboundary basins are not being completed within expected timeframes, if at all. Data on the number of such studies completed annually during the timeframe for the evaluation were unavailable.
  • Objectives of the QMS: The performance indicators for the QMS objectives focus on the production of real-time and archived data, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and QA audits of offices and stations, recruitment of technicians and professional staff, and training of technicians, and are intended to provide focus for the operational management of WSC activities at the regional and provincial levels. Regional program managers and supervisors pay close attention to the operational activities that contribute to these objectives as well as comparisons of expenditures to budgets. Periodic reporting on performance against these objectives at a program-wide level has not been implemented, which limits the ability of the HSWS to monitor and report on overall performance.

4.3 Performance - Effectiveness

4.3.1 Achievement of Intended Outcomes

Evaluation Issue: Effectiveness Rating
8. To what extent have intended outcomes, listed below, been achieved as a result of the program?  
(a) Canadians and their institutions have the hydrological data, information and knowledge they need to make water management decisions. Attention Required
(b) A credible, sustainable national hydrometric monitoring program is maintained and supported. Acceptable
(c)The National Hydrometric Program is well managed according to established international operational criteria. Acceptable
  1. Canadians and their institutions have the hydrological data, information and knowledge they need to make water management decisions. Most users of hydrometric data and F/P/T partners are very satisfied with the quality and completeness of currently available hydrometric data. However, they also strongly believe that the network density is insufficient to meet current and emerging needs for more intensive coverage of Canada’s water basins and water flows. Studies of the adequacy of network density, including recent work for EC, indicate gaps in network density for the overall NHP compared to WMO guidelines.

    Findings from the literature, in combination with feedback from the key informants, indicate that the current network of gauging stations is unable to fully meet the objective of satisfying Canadian needs for hydrological data. Key observations include:

    • Studies of network adequacy in different regions of Canada, and at the national level, indicate that network density is not sufficient to meet the needs of users or WMO guidelines on gauge density.Footnote26
    • Feedback from users of hydrometric data indicated that increased numbers of data collection points are considered to be necessary to improve water resources monitoring, planning and forecasting; aid the development and validation of water resources models; and, reduce uncertainties in the design of new and renewed infrastructure. Some users also indicated that data from discontinued stations are now becoming less applicable in light of cyclical and/or climate changes.
    • Organizations undertaking water resources planning and management activities need more information related to risks, uncertainties and better management practices in the use of water (for example, quantity of fresh water resources in less populous areas, water currently used by agriculture and needed for future agricultural purposes).Footnote27
    • Better monitoring information on Canada’s water resources is required, and a better understanding of water interactions with other elements of agriculture is required. This should include a focus on the value of ecosystems services related to land and water interactions.Footnote28

    Secondary users of hydrometric data who were interviewed were asked to rate the performance of the program in collecting, interpreting and disseminating hydrometric data. These findings indicate:

    • High levels of satisfaction with the quality and completeness of data made available from the current network of stations.
    • Moderate levels of satisfaction with the numbers and locations of active gauging stations. Many commented that the distribution and density of stations is insufficient to meet current and emerging demands for hydrometric data in all regions of Canada.
    • Users are generally satisfied with the timeliness of data updates on the WSCwebsite. Many users noted, however, that the time taken to produce archived data is too long for their needs, particularly when they need data on extreme high and low water levels and flows.
    • Most users are “satisfied” or “completely satisfied” with the ease of access to hydrometric data on the WSC website.

    In 2010, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) audit of EC’s water monitoring programs recommended that the department determine the optimum number of gauging stations required across Canada, identify gaps in network coverage, and apply a risk-based approach to establishing new stations.Footnote29The Department accepted this recommendation and commissioned a study to assess the current network density against the WMO’s 2008 guidelines.Footnote30The findings of this study were published in June 2013. The authors concluded that:

    … only about 12% of Canadian terrestrial area is covered by hydrometric networks that meet the WMO (2008) minimum standards, while 49% of the terrestrial area is poorly gauged and about 39% is ungauged. … An estimated total of about 5041 new hydrometric stations is needed to upgrade the CNHN [Canadian National Hydrometric Network] to the WMO (2008) standards.Footnote31

    In addition, they suggested that optimizing the network density and location of stations within ecozones could also lead to some opportunities to relocate stations. The authors also noted that the findings should be treated with some caution due to their reliance on the physiographic unitsFootnote32 used in the WMO guidelines without consideration of social, economic, population density and other factors that influence network planning.

    The ability to attract funding to further develop and optimize the network of gauging stations is a challenge for both WSC and its F/P/T partners. In addition, the program does not have detailed information on the characteristics of the user community and their various needs that could be used to underpin further risk analysis and priority setting for the management of the network. As part of its response to the 2010 CESD audit, the program has developed and is now testing a risk assessment model for water quantity monitoring, and is supporting work at McMaster University to develop a “decision support tool for integrated water monitoring network design and evaluation” to enable the partners in the program to refine the estimates of the number of additional stations that may be desirable. This tool is intended to take into account the different types of needs for, and uses of, hydrometric data as well as the estimates derived from the application of the WMO guidelines in its network planning.

    The evaluation findings suggest that the HSWS and its partners should build on the work responding to the CESD’s recommendation regarding the identification of gaps in network coverage and the application of a risk-based approach to the establishment of new stations by assessing the current and emerging demand for hydrometric data in more detail, to assist in setting priorities for the optimization and development of the network in response to user needs as funding permits.

  2. A credible, sustainable national hydrometric monitoring program is maintained and supported. The effectiveness of current operations and data quality assurance processes underpin the credibility of the program. Some key informants feel that the maintenance of this credibility will depend, to a significant extent, on ensuring the network is able to keep pace with the growth in demand for data and addressing gaps in its professional and management resources.

    Many of the key informants believed that the monitoring program is credible, in that it is producing data that satisfy national standards and QA/Quality Control (QC) requirements and thus are consistent and comparable over time and between different parts of the country. The results of ISO audits also indicate that the program’s QMS is functioning in accordance with requirements and meets ISO certification requirements.Footnote33 Some key informants also noted that the program’s longer-term credibility depends on the extent to which it is, or could be, funded to improve the network’s density, and gaps in the program’s professional and management resources addressed. Key informants also noted that some users are undertaking, or contracting, hydrometric data collection to meet their own specific needs. While hydrometric data collection activities have always been undertaken by some types of users outside of the program, some key informants suggested that the incidence of such work may be increasing.

  3. The National Hydrometric Program is well managed according to established international operational criteria.The program is well managed in the sense that its operations are focused on maintaining a capability to maintain the network, collect raw data and translate these data into information products that meet users’ needs in a timely manner. Key informants also perceived it to be well managed and the governance and funding structure for the NHP is widely viewed by partners as an exemplary approach to delivering services within a shared jurisdiction context. However, the program is experiencing some challenges related to program management (e.g., HR planning, performance reporting) that will need to be addressed.

    The analysis in section 4.2.1 regarding the appropriateness of the program’s design summarized the characteristics of an effective hydrometric data program, based on the capabilities required to design and maintain a network of stations and to collect raw hydrometric data and convert it into timely information products that satisfy users’ needs. The program is focused on meeting these requirements and, as noted, the ISO certification has been successfully introduced and maintained. From this perspective, the NHP is well managed. Findings from the key informant interviews also indicate that the program is well managed. Most partner and program representatives interviewed perceived the performance of the NHP governance structure to be particularly effective. Users of hydrometric data were highly likely to rate the operational activities as being well run, aided by the technical knowledge and expertise of staff and the general responsiveness of the program to partners and users.

    Some of the partner and user representatives also suggested that the gaps in professional and management resources point to opportunities to further improve the program’s performance against this outcome. In addition, as noted in sections 4.2.2 and 4.2.3, the program is experiencing some challenges related to program management (e.g., integration of HSWS planning and management between headquarters and regional operations, human resources planning and performance reporting) that will need to be addressed.

4.3.2 Unintended Outcomes

Evaluation Issue: Effectiveness Rating
9. Have there been any unintended (positive or negative) outcomes? Not Applicable

No significant unintended outcomes were identified.

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