Ottawa River watershed: report summary
The Ottawa River watershed is home to over two million people and has been inhabited by Indigenous peoples for countless generations. This area is important in part because of its natural beauty, history and recreational activities.
On May 3, 2017, the House of Commons passed private Member’s motion (M-104), asking the Government of Canada to carry out a study on the Ottawa River watershed. In response to this motion, the Ottawa River Watershed Study was initiated by the Government of Canada in May 2017 to:
- understand barriers to the effective management of the Ottawa River watershed
- look at opportunities to enhance watershed management in the future
- examine the need for a watershed council or collaborative body
- gather information related to existing and potential indicators to understand the health of the Ottawa River watershed
- explore natural, historical, economic and cultural values in the Ottawa River watershed and possible threats to those values
In order to respond to the motion, we carried out a broad engagement process including:
- consulting with Indigenous communities and organizations
- an online engagement platform
- town hall events, presentations and workshops
- email outreach.
We received input from many people and organizations:
- Indigenous communities and organizations
- provinces of Québec and Ontario
- watershed and non-governmental organizations
- stakeholder associations
- youth and concerned individuals
Information gathered through our research and from the input received, resulted in a report titled An Examination of Governance, Existing Data, Potential Indicators and Values in the Ottawa River Watershed (PDF). The report contains six chapters:
- Watershed Management approaches
- Data, monitoring and potential indicators
- Significance of the watershed
- Future challenges and opportunities.
This report identifies several best practices and case studies for watershed management. In addition, the majority of participants in the study were in favour of creating a new council or collaborative body to:
- focus on improving trust, coordination and information-sharing among members
- identify priority issues
- support local watershed activities.
Most Indigenous communities and organizations agreed that a council membership, structure and mandate must strongly reflect Aboriginal rights and interests.
We also researched ongoing data collection and monitoring efforts, and reviewed past watershed health assessments. A comprehensive assessment of the health of the watershed was seen as an important first step to identify gaps, priorities and common goals. Some of the ideas include:
- improving the coordination of monitoring activities
- sharing existing information
- supporting community-based monitoring
- improving communication about the watershed.
Indigenous communities and organizations emphasized the importance of including Indigenous Knowledge in watershed health assessments.
This study also made clear that the natural, economic, cultural and heritage values associated with the watershed are connected. It provides a number of benefits that contribute to a high quality of life and a sense of identity for those who live within the area. It also supports many economic activities. People that participated in the engagement process raised concerns about activities that may impact the health of the watershed, such as wastewater.
The Government of Canada is committed to working with others to protect Canada’s fresh water, including the Ottawa River watershed. We are active in protecting the quality and quantity of water resources through policies, programs and regulations. This includes activities such as:
- water quality monitoring
- supporting work in the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg and the St. Lawrence River
We have also established the Indigenous Guardians Pilot Program to provide Indigenous peoples with an opportunity to be involved in protecting their traditional lands, waters and ice. The Kitchissippi Watershed Lake Trout Monitoring Project within the Ottawa River watershed is being funded and includes the incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge from Algonquin Elders and land-users to identify changes over time.
In 2018, we also provided funding to Ottawa Riverkeeper to develop watershed health indicators for the Ottawa River watershed. We will provide funding to support ongoing work on the next part of the watershed health assessment including:
- Data collection for indicators
- Selection of sampling sites
- Support to community-based monitoring efforts
This report will contribute to a better understanding about the Ottawa River watershed and discussions on how to protect it. It will also add to discussions about watershed management and collaboration across Canada.
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