Report to Parliament 2015 to 2016: Canada Water Act: chapter 3

1.1. Water Quantity Monitoring

The National Hydrometric Program (NHP) is responsible for providing critical hydrometric data, information, and knowledge that Canadians and their institutions need to make informed water management decisions that provide protection and careful stewardship of freshwater as a precious shared resource. This hydrometric data is made available on-line.

Hydrometric technologist near Thunder Bay, ON circa 1990. Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada

Hydrometric technologist near Thunder Bay, ON circa 1990

Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)

Formal bilateral hydrometric agreements between most provincial/territorial governments and the federal government provide for the collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of water quantity data. These agreements have been administered cooperatively since 1975.

Under the Partnership Renewal Process initiative, government partners have been reviewing, updating and revising the 1975 bilateral agreements. All agreements except those for Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have been renewed since 2008. In 2015-2016, negotiations for agreements with New Brunswick and Saskatchewan continued and initial talks began with Prince Edward Island. The new agreements allow for the continued collection, processing, publication and distribution of water quantity data and information, using a common national approach and cost-share principles.


The NHP is co-managed by the National Administrators Table (NAT) and the NHP Coordinators’ Committee, both consisting of members responsible for the administration of the hydrometric monitoring agreements in each jurisdiction and one national administrator designated by Canada. Both groups met regularly throughout 2015-2016 to discuss program issues. The NAT continued to support the implementation of ECCC’s Datamart system by the provinces and territories. The system allows agencies to upload hydrometric data directly into their own software systems. Regular input from both groups, and an annual survey of NAT, provide valuable input on program operations, documentation and dissemination practices, and available training resources.

The network

During 2015-2016, the national monitoring network of the NHP in Canada consisted of 2788 hydrometric monitoring stations (see Figure 2 and Table 1). During this period, ECCC’s Water Survey of Canada (WSC) , the federal partner in the NHP, operated 2140 of these hydrometric stations. Out of the ECCC-operated stations, 1146 were fully or partially federally funded, and the remaining were operated by ECCC on behalf of the provincial and territorial partners or a third-party interest, and cost-shared according to specific needs and requirements (see Table 1). In Quebec, the ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques operated 228 stations, some funded in whole or in part by the Government of Canada. ECCC disseminates the Quebec-collected data, along with data from another 420 stations operated by parties other than ECCC across Canada. Note that the increase in contributed stations since 2014-2015 is in part due to the inclusion of 84 stations run by Manitoba Hydro that were not counted last year but are not a new addition to the network.

Figure 2: National Hydrometric Monitoring Network

Figure 2: National Hydrometric Monitoring Network (See long description below)
Description of Figure 2

Figure 2 is a map of Canada indicating the location of 2788 hydrometric monitoring stations (see Table 1).

In 2015-2016, ­ there were no significant changes to the size of the national hydrometric network, although the network did undergo some adjustments, including the following:

  • In addition to five hydrometric stations that were re-established in 2014-2015 at former ECCC sites previously decommissioned in the 1990s, a sixth site was re-established in 2015-2016.
  • Several stations located in British Columbia and Nunavut continue to be operated by the ECCC Yukon office and some paid for by Yukon Energy.
  • Eight new territorial hydrometric stations began operating in 2015-2016, as part of an ongoing multi-year network expansion.
    1. Takhini River above Kusawa Lake
    2. South MacMillan River at Km 407 Canol Road
    3. Hess River above Emerald Creek
    4. Little South Klondike River below Ross Creek
    5. Whitestone River near the Mouth
    6. Hyland River at km 108.5 Nahanni Range
    7. Babbage River below Caribou Creek
    8. Caribou River near the Babbage Confluence
  • One station in Nunavut: Contwoyto Lake at Lupin Mine switched from a Federal-Territorial cost share arrangement to now being funded by the Territorial government.
  • All stations in Nunavut are operated by the ECCC, and funded by a combination of ECCC, Parks Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and the City of Iqaluit.
Northwest Territories:
  • Two new commercial stations were installed in the Northwest Territories in 2015-2016: Mackenzie River near Fort Providence and Yellowknife River above Quyta Lake.
  • Mountain River below Cambrian Creek and Buffalo River at Highway #5 and four other territorially-funded station are being prepared for re-installation next year.
  • A few commercial stations were taken over by federal and territorial governments: La Martre River below outlet of Lac La Martre is now funded federally and Hoarfrost River near the mouth, Tazin River near the mouth and Kakisa River at Outlet of Kakisa Lake are now funded by the Territory. Territorial station Baker Creek at Outlet of Lower Martin Lake is now cost-shared between INAC and the Territory.
  • Reconnaissance for seven new territorially-funded stations began in 2015.
British Columbia:
  • Two provincially-funded stations were added at Carbon Creek near the mouth and Lillooet River at Tenas Narrows, and five provincial and commercial stations (Tsolum River below Murex Creek, Trepanier Creek Near Peachland, Compass Creek Near Kispiox, Five Mile Creek Above City IntakeAnd Camp Creek Near The Mouth) were removed from the network, resulting in a net loss of three stations to the network.
  • 34 hydrometric stations were upgraded to real-time. A total of 372 stations (84%) of the hydrometric network report in real-time.
  • Temporary gauges installed in 2015 are still being used to monitor the flow at stations that were destroyed by a flooding event in June 2013, although one such station is still not operational. Cableways damaged during the 2013 flood have not yet been repaired.
  • Recently 89 of 91 staffed cableways in Alberta are still suspended from operation pending an operational review and engineering inspection.
  • The annual operation of 12 stations operated by the ECCC continued as part of a network of approximately 50 stations in the oil sands region. In addition, ECCC completed a report assessing the state of the hydrometric network operated by contractors in the region, and provided estimates as to the costs necessary to bring the entire oil sands hydrometric network in line with ECCC operation. 
  • Four water quality sensors were connected to ECCC loggers to allow real time information for Alberta Environment at Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program (JOSMP) sites.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan:
  • Monitoring continues to move towards safer alternatives, reduced infrastructure and operational efficiencies by investing in bank-operated cableways, remote control boats and tilting mast stations.
  • In two jointly-funded (federal/provincial) stations ceased operations as replacement stations in new locations were established and became operational within the same year. 
  • Two Federal stations were discontinued in August 2015, after they were deemed to be not required at the International Joint Commission - St. Mary’s/Milk Rivers Eastern Tributary meeting. One station funded by Parks Canada was also discontinued in August. 
  • Two stations were extended from a seasonal operational period to continuous, and one station that currently provides continuous water levels is being investigated for conversion to a flow station by the addition of an Acoustic Velocity Meter.
  • Work is continuing with the Canada-Manitoba Lake Winnipeg Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) steering Committee, by providing regular updates on activities relevant to watershed health of Lake Winnipeg.
  • Note that the increase in “contributed” stations since 2014-2015 is in part due to the inclusion of 84 stations run by Manitoba Hydro that were not counted last year but are not a new addition to the network.
  • To support the Ontario Ministry of the Environment study of small basins and contaminants (Southern Ontario Multi-Watershed Study), six additional stations were installed and instrumented in 2015-2016 in southern Ontario, bringing the total to ten stations
  • One new discharge gauge was installed at the request of the City of Hamilton, to fulfill their mandate for source water protection understanding.
  • One gauge at a minor outlet of the Lake of the Woods (known as Mink Creek) was discontinued, as discharge computations were taken over by the Lake of the Woods Control Board.
  • One gauge in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area was discontinued due to a decade of excessive sediment load downstream of the Niagara escarpment.
  • A permanent location for the jointly-funded Turkey Creek gauge was located and installed.  The previous site was successfully decommissioned, with soil testing by the Contaminated Sites Group showing complete remediation in relation to previous mercury manometer operations.
  • Temporary gauge installations were used at various times throughout the year at 3 locations
  • Five stations were improved with new or re-installed station infrastructure for bank stabilization, more sustainable look-in installations, and ground screws for stabilization of very shallow well installations.
  • Two control structures in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area were improved/repaired to increase predictability in the stage-discharge relationship during low-medium water levels and repair erosion resultant from extreme high water events.
  • Two stations were relocated to improve safety and reliability of access year-round and to increase data quality.
  • Two bank operated cableways were inspected and support structures were load-tested. The use of load-failure devices is recommended and will be implemented prior to further use.
  • Four northern remote locations were enhanced with satellite transmission cameras at the request of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
  • A provincial effort, supported by the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, continues to increase the number of stations using satellite telemetry to transmit real-time data and increase the number of stations using solar power. 
  • In Quebec, 228 stations (3 less than in 2014-2015) are run by the province and data are contributed to the NHP database. An additional 17 stations (one more than in 2014-2015) are run by the ECCC in Quebec to address federal data needs.
  • Four stations previously provincially funded are now federally funded (but still operated by Quebec) and 3 are now funded by a Federal-Provincial cost share. Conversely, 3 previously federally-funded stations are now paid for by the Province.
Atlantic Region:
  • No major changes to the network in New Brunswick occurred in 2015-2016. Two stations are listed as “commercial” but are paid for the New Brunswick Department of Transportation (not a NHP partner).
  • In Newfoundland one new provincial station was established (Steady Brook above confluence to Humber River).
  • As of April 1, 2015, a Nova Scotia station, Tusket River at Wilson's Bridge, changed from being requested by Nova Scotia Power (commercial) for dam management, to being paid for by the province at the request of Environment NS.
  • In PEI, one additional commercially-funded station was operated by ECCC in 2015-2016 compared to the year before.
Table 1: Stations within the National Hydrometric Monitoring Network
Province/TerritoryTable notea ECCC-operated
(by cost arrangement) Federal
(by cost arrangement) Cost-sharedTable noteb
(by cost arrangement) Province/ Territory
(by cost arrangement) Third party
(various cost arrangements)
Total by province or territory
British Columbia
New Brunswick
Newfoundand and Labrador
Nova Scotia
Northwest Territories
Prince Edward Island
Yukon Territory

Table note a Hydrometric monitoring stations located within the boundaries of each province, no matter which office operates them.

Table note b Cost-shared stations are those that are partially funded by the federal and the provincial/territorial governments. The cost-share ratio varies by station.

Note: The network also includes a small number of designated International Gauging Stations located in the United States that are not included here as they support International Joint Commission activities not covered under the Canada Water Act.


In addition to its contribution to the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program (see section 1.3), the NHP has integrated the water quantity indicator calculator into its HYDAT interface application, the ECCC Data Explorer (ECDE), thereby making it publicly available in both official languages. The new version of ECDE was delivered internally near the end of 2015-2016 and is expected to be published in early 2016-2017.


The NHP continued its investment in new field technologies, including hydroacoustic equipment and advanced deployment platforms, such as remote bank operated cableway systems and remote control boats, in part to deal with the challenge of decommissioning hundreds of manned cableways across the country. Work continues to refine standard operating procedures and methods to ensure these advanced measurement techniques provide accurate and reliable data, while maintaining and improving safe work practices.

An innovative project began in 2015 involving the in-house design and development of electronic Hydrometric Survey Notes, which aim to modernize how ECCC documents hydrometric field activities, going from a paper-based system to a more standardized digital system.

As part of ongoing efforts to improve the reliability of real-time data collected at hydrometric gauges, the National Hydrological Service began installation of remote surveillance cameras at select locations in the hydrometric network in 2015-2016. The cameras provide near real-time information on current conditions (e.g. ice, flood) which aid in interpretation of hydraulic conditions affecting the observed gauge record.‎ Pictures from the cameras are al‎so proving valuable to assess local site conditions which may impact access to the site due to weather or flood.

Data dissemination

The Hydrometric Data Management Integration and Renewal (HyDMIR) project is well underway to integrate real-time hydrometric data into the ECCC Meteorological Service of Canada data management system. This project aims to build a more efficient, robust dissemination system and to decommission legacy infrastructure and software. Phase 1 and 2 of the project are ongoing and expected to be completed in 2016-2017.

The national WaterOffice web site is being converted to a new web format. The development is near completion, with a final test to be conducted in early 2016-2017. The release of the new site will be coincident with the HyDMIR project release as HyDMIR provides the data source for the new development platform.

The bulk downloading of archive hydrometric data is now available in a higher quality format (.sqlite3), released quarterly with the HYDAT database file.

The North American Water Watch (NAWW) Web page was enhanced with some new features: downloadable Google Earth (KML) format was added; Canadian basins are available in the drop down list; multiple regions can be displayed simultaneously on the map; when a region is selected, a direct switch between the English and French versions is now available; and pop-up messages were added on the main page.

International Organization for Standardization certification and audits

The NHP continued to maintain its International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification during 2015-2016. Six internal Quality Assessment Program office and field audits were performed at various ECCC WSC offices throughout Canada, as required under the ISO process. The results of the audits were positive and resulted in very few calls for corrective actions and/or opportunities for improvement within the program.

ISO-9000-2008 continued to be the quality management standard to which ECCC operates, although work commenced toward adopting the new ISO-9000-2015 standard, which will be implemented over the next 3 years (target date of 2018 for organizational compliance).

Updating of ECCC's WSC Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) continued in 2015-2016, keeping pace with changes in technology in the operational program, and changes to the computational environment with the adoption of the hydrometric workstation over the past several years. A new SOP for rating curve development, a key stage in the data acquisition and approvals process, was adopted by the program in March 2015.


ECCC, in cooperation with the University of Manitoba, University of Victoria, and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF), continues to support the national pilot of an operational isotope network in conjunction with their hydrometric network, similar to the existing isotope-hydrometric network in the United States. The goal is to demonstrate the value in systematic collection of river discharge in tandem with analysis for oxygen-18 and deuterium across Canada.

A multi-year contribution from ECCC to AITF made possible the collection of stable water isotopes at selected ECCC gauging stations across the country during 2015-2017, to gain insight into the sources of streamflow (rain, snow, groundwater, wetlands, glaciers etc.) and their spatio-temporal variability, to characterize open-water evaporation losses and to partition evapotranspiration, to assist in parameterization of isotope-capable hydrological models such as WATFLOOD, and to assist in water quality, ecological studies, and net primary productivity estimation.

1.2. Water Quality Monitoring

1.2.1. Freshwater Quality Monitoring

Freshwater quality monitoring has been a core program function of ECCC since the Department’s inception in the early 1970s. The Department’s monitoring and surveillance activities are critical for assessing and reporting on water quality status and trends, and for fulfilling many federal domestic and international commitments and legislative obligations. Much of the Department’s monitoring is carried out through federal-provincial/territorial agreements, ensuring cost-effective and non-duplicative program delivery.

ECCC scientists in the field at Richardson River, AB. Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada

ECCC scientists in the field at Richardson River, AB

Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada

The objectives of the federal-provincial/territorial water quality monitoring agreements are to achieve a long-term commitment for the acquisition of water quality data; to obtain comparable, scientifically sound water quality data that are reliable to inform water resource management; and to disseminate timely information on water quality to the public, government agencies, industry and the scientific community. Data are also used to support the freshwater quality indicator in the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (see section 1.3). Five federal-provincial water quality monitoring agreements are active.

For more information, please consult the ECCC Fresh Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance website.

The long-term freshwater quality monitoring network consists of federal, federal-provincial and federal-territorial sampling sites across Canada (see Figure 3). Water quality samples are collected routinely at these sites for physical and chemical water quality parameters such as temperature, pH, alkalinity, turbidity, major ions, nutrients and metals. Pesticides and additional parameters of concern are also monitored where site-specific water quality issues exist.

Figure 3: Long-term water quality monitoring sites

Figure 3: Long-term water quality monitoring sites (See long description below)
Description of Figure 3

Figure 3 is a map of Canada indicating the location of long-term water quality monitoring sites. The long-term freshwater quality monitoring network consists of federal, federal-provincial and federal-territorial sampling sites across Canada. They are situated in the following ocean drainage areas: Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Hudson Bay and Pacific Ocean.

The Freshwater Quality Monitoring (FWQM) Program is aligned with Canada’s major watersheds (Pacific, Arctic/Athabasca, Hudson Bay and Atlantic watersheds). This program promotes robust water resource management across Canada.

The FWQM Program has developed a Risk-Based Basin Analysis (RBBA), a geospatial approach to identifying relative risks and priorities in basins (sub-drainage areas) across Canada. Key stressor variables were identified, stressor intensities calculated, and compilation of relevant geospatial layers continued. The RBBA is an “ever-green” analytical tool that is intended to be used in conjunction with statistical power analytical tools to optimize the national monitoring networks such that sampling locations and frequencies are aligned with risks of water quality impairment in Canadian watersheds.

In addition, work is under way to categorize sampling locations by type of water body in order to facilitate the reporting of environmental information across the country.

Pacific Watershed

In the Pacific Watershed (which includes parts of British Columbia and Yukon), monitoring is conducted under the Canada-British Columbia (BC) Water Quality Monitoring Agreement and under operational schedules agreed to with the Yukon government. In British Columbia, under the Canada-BC Agreement, originally signed in 1985, ECCC conducts joint monitoring with the provincial Ministry of Environment at 39 river sites (including 1 automated site). In the Yukon, 11 sites (including 1 automated site) were monitored on rivers in collaboration with Environment Yukon.

One of the Canada-British Columbia monitoring sites located in the Fraser River Estuary is a monitoring buoy platform. This automated site provides real-time water quality, meteorological, and grab-sample data to the public on ECCC’s Fresh Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance website. Quality assurance testing procedures for of the automated sampling equipment were developed in 2015. ECCC, in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Ocean and the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, also deployed two real-time water quality monitoring buoys in Osoyoos Lake in 2015. Data generated from automated sites are used to identify important trends and emerging water quality issues from urban, agricultural and industrial activities in the lower Fraser and Okanagan Basins. 

In 2015-2016, ECCC operated five long-term water quality monitoring sites in four national parks, in partnership with the Parks Canada Agency (Glacier, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks in British Columbia and Kluane National Park in Yukon). The sites are relatively pristine and provide important reference information for comparison with sites influenced by human activities. Many of these sites are also located in key areas for assessing climate change.

Arctic/Athabasca Watershed

ECCC undertakes monitoring at 48 sites within the Arctic Watershed and across the North: 24 in Northwest Territories, 10 in Nunavut, 2 in Yukon and 12 in northern Alberta. A majority of these sites are operated in cooperation with Parks Canada and include 8 national parks (Auyittuq, Quttinirpaaq, Ukkusiksalik, Aulavik, Ivvavik, Tuktut Nogait, Nahanni and Wood Buffalo National Parks).  Many of these sites are co-located with Water Survey of Canada gauge stations. In 2015-2016, a total of 147 sampling trips were completed.

Many of the high-Arctic sites are considered relatively pristine and, over time, provide an important baseline and reference for comparison with respect to long-range transport of atmospheric pollutants to high-latitude areas, as well as for any potential future influences from human activities in the North. ECCC also operates water quality sites on major rivers in the North, some of which are associated with transboundary basins (e.g., Mackenzie River, Slave River, Liard River) or are significant northern watersheds (e.g., Coppermine River, Thelon River, Great Bear Lake/River). Additional northern rivers are also monitored in Yukon (see Pacific Ocean Watershed section, above).

Hudson Bay Watershed

In the Hudson Bay Watershed, ECCC conducts water quality monitoring at key interprovincial and international transboundary sites as well as in certain national parks. ECCC also assists the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (Ontario) Water Quality sampling efforts in the far north by collecting samples for analysis - targeting 5 sites, 3 times per year - in the general area of the Ring of Fire.

Monitoring on the Prairies

In support of the Prairie Provinces Water Board Master Agreement on Apportionment, ECCC monitors 12 sites along the main rivers crossing between the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba provincial boundaries. This work supports annual reporting on water quality objectives for nutrient, metal, major ion and pesticide parameters established by Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The water quality data and information obtained is also used to support the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative. Water quality data are routinely shared with partners involved in the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium, including the Province of Manitoba, federal departments, universities and institutes working on Lake Winnipeg.

ECCC continued to work with Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship under the Canada-Manitoba Lake Winnipeg Memorandum of Understanding and its Science Subsidiary Arrangement. The MOU, renewed in 2015, supports the development of science-related data, indicators and nutrient targets.

Other key transboundary monitoring sites are located on the Red, Pembina, Winnipeg and Souris rivers and on the Milk River-St. Mary River system. The Red and Souris rivers, in particular, have encountered many water quality issues over time (nutrients, metals, pesticides, salinity). Water quality and water quantity issues on these rivers are addressed formally through the International Red River Board and International Souris River Board under the International Joint Commission (IJC). Regular monitoring updates were provided to these boards and to a number of institutional partners in 2015-2016.

All of the transboundary rivers in the watershed are monitored regularly (8 to 12 times per year). During the 2015-2016 open water season, the Red River was monitored more intensively (biweekly to weekly) to address continuing concerns related to increased water releases from Devils Lake (North Dakota) crossing the Canadian border, and to improve the nutrient loading estimates for Lake Winnipeg. ECCC also operates an automated station on the Red River at Emerson, Manitoba, as a real-time alert system in the context of transboundary flooding and water quality monitoring. In July 2015, ECCC participated in an international interagency cooperative effort to collect biological data on the Red River that will be used to inform nutrient guideline development for the Red River at the international border.

In 2015-2016, the Red Deer and Battle Rivers near the Alberta and Saskatchewan border and the Assiniboine River near the Saskatchewan and Manitoba border in the Prairies were monitored for neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide that has seen increased use and received significant global attention. Transboundary contamination in the Red River, a key international transboundary waterway, was also monitored for a suite of current use pesticides, including neonicotinoids, carbamates (fungicide) and sulfonyl urea (herbicide).

As an international and interprovincial transboundary waterway, Lake of the Woods is relatively unique in the number of jurisdictions and international organizations, such as the IJC, that have a role to play for successful environmental management. Local and national concerns with noxious and potentially toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms and declining water quality in Lake of the Woods prompted the formation of ECCC’s Lake of the Woods Science Initiative as part of a larger program to assess and remediate deteriorating water quality in Lake Winnipeg. In 2015-2016, as part of the international effort, ECCC conducted an annual monitoring cruise on the lake. This effort is unique because it provides a whole-lake snapshot bi-annually, allowing scientists to assess the spatial inter-lake water quality relationships, an important part of tracking changes in the hydrological system. In addition, the Rainy River, an international boundary river and the major tributary to the lake, was monitored regularly for nutrients and trace metals at several key points along the river.  

Atlantic Watershed

In the Atlantic Watershed, federal-provincial water quality monitoring is supported through the Canada-US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Canada-Quebec Water Quality Agreement, Canada-New Brunswick Water Quality Monitoring Agreement, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Water Quality Monitoring Agreement, as well as the Canada-Prince Edward Island Memorandum of Agreement on Water.

In 2015-2016, a broad range of monitoring activities was undertaken in the Great Lakes targeting water, sediment and fish. The impacts of the 1978 Canada-US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement phosphorus controls and the introduction and explosive spread of non-native mussels are evident in the long-term monitoring record for the Great Lakes. Monitoring results demonstrated which waters have phosphorus concentrations below established targets and which areas may require further nutrient action or controls. Other work in the Great Lakes included monitoring a number of chemical pollutants, as well as the first basin-wide monitoring of flame retardants.

ECCC also conducted water and sediment monitoring in Hamilton Harbour to establish a baseline condition that will be used to measure the effectiveness of scheduled sediment remediation activities at Randle Reef.

The Canada-Quebec Water Quality Monitoring Agreement signed at the end of 2012-2013 comprises 39 sites in the transboundary St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. In addition to the sites covered by this agreement, ECCC operated 10 additional federal sites (including 6 automated) in the St. Lawrence River Basin. The sites were sampled monthly in 2015-2016 for physicals, nutrients, metals, pesticides and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

The Canada-New Brunswick Water Quality Agreement was signed in 1988 and updated in 1995. During 2015-2016, 10 federal-provincial sites were monitored under the Agreement. The sites are located on international and interprovincial transboundary rivers or their tributaries in the Saint John River and Restigouche River watersheds. Two real-time (automated) sites were also maintained by ECCC at the borders of the transboundary Big Presque Isle Stream and Meduxnekeag River.

The International St. Croix River Watershed Board, under the IJC, plays an important role in managing water levels, water quality and fisheries between Maine and New Brunswick. The Board works collaboratively with stakeholders within the watershed by preventing and resolving disputes. ECCC monitored water levels at seven stations in the watershed and real-time (automated) water quality at two stations and provided input to the Board’s 2015 Annual Report to the IJC.

The Canada-Prince Edward Island Memorandum of Agreement on Water was originally signed in 1989 and renewed in 2001. Eleven sites were monitored under the agreement in 2015-2016. One real-time (automated) site was operated on the Wilmot River. The sites are distributed across the province, with data available on the Government of Prince Edward Island’s website.

In 2015-2016, ECCC managed 13 federal sites (including 2 automated sites) in Nova Scotia in support of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators. Nova Scotia Environment provided support on data collection. The sites are located across the province and cover major watersheds within the Maritime Major Drainage Area, including those flowing into the Bay of Fundy. 

In Newfoundland and Labrador, 79 sites across the major drainage areas were sampled 4-8 times in 2015-2016. Data and station information from the sites is available on the Department’s website, as well as on the Newfoundland and Labrador Water Resources website.

For more information, please consult the ECCC Fresh Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance website.

1.2.2. Biological Monitoring

In addition to the physical-chemical water quality monitoring detailed above, ECCC also undertakes biological monitoring using benthic macroinvertebrates to assess the health of aquatic ecosystems. 

The Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) is a component of the Freshwater Quality Monitoring (FWQM) program for assessing the biological condition of freshwater ecosystems in Canada using standardized data collection and analysis methods. This component, based on decades of research and development in many countries, has been adopted by multiple agencies and organizations across Canada. The success of CABIN results from interagency collaboration and data sharing. It is led by ECCC’s National CABIN Team, which provides online data management, assessment tools and models, field and laboratory analysis protocols, certification and training, and ecological research and development. Network partners share their observations within the national database. CABIN partners include federal, provincial and territorial government departments, industry, academia, Indigenous communities, and non-governmental organizations such as community watershed groups. A CABIN Science Team, consisting of ECCC and external scientists with expertise in large-scale ecological monitoring, provides science advice and recommendations for the CABIN component of the FWQM program.

Currently, there are 13 reference models available to assess the biological health of freshwater bodies in Yukon, British Columbia, Nahanni National Park, Rocky Mountains national parks, the Atlantic provinces and the Great Lakes. Two new models were finalized and made available to users in 2015: BC Central-North Coast and Attawapiskat Basin in Northern Ontario. Two additional models are currently being finalized: a preliminary northeastern British Columbia model and a Near-North Ontario model. Quality control evaluations for laboratory processing and taxonomy were published in 2015. Quality assurance evaluations for national program processes and program data were finalized in early 2016.

Since the early development of the CABIN monitoring strategy in the 1980s, data have been collected in over 8070 locations across the country. In 2015-2016, data were collected at 1,108 sites in several sub-basins across the country by ECCC and its partners (Figure 4). The development of a national training program in 2008, in partnership with the Canadian Rivers Institute of the University of New Brunswick, provided a means of promoting the use of national protocols, and expanding data collection and knowledge of biological conditions across the country. In 2015-2016, participation in the online modules included 164 participants. Program trainer capacity was also expanded with five new trainers certified through the CABIN Train-the-Trainer program and three ready for certification in 2016. As the number of CABIN-trained participants increases, the ability to generate new data across the country and assess water quality improves for ECCC and all network partners.

Figure 4: CABIN monitoring sites

Figure 4: CABIN monitoring sites (See long description below)
Description of Figure 4

Figure 4 is a map of Canada that shows the location of the CABIN monitoring sites across the country. In 2015-2016, data were collected at 1,108 sites in several sub-basins across the country by Environment and Climate Change Canada and its partners

Pacific Watershed

In British Columbia, CABIN monitoring is jointly conducted under the Canada-British Columbia Water Quality Monitoring Agreement. Under this agreement, ECCC and the provincial Ministry of Environment collaborate on data collection for reference model maintenance and development and site assessment. Eleven reference models are available to all CABIN users to conduct biological assessments in watersheds in British Columbia and Yukon that were developed collaboratively by federal, provincial and territorial agencies (i.e., Department of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Parks Canada, BC Ministry of Environment, and Government of Yukon). Models are available for the Yukon River Basin, Fraser River/Georgia Basin, Skagit River Basin, Columbia/Okanagan Basin, B.C. Coastal, Skeena Region and Rocky Mountains national parks models. In 2015-2016, ECCC collected CABIN data from 25 stream and river sites: 11 sites for reference model maintenance and development, and 14 sites for assessment of biological condition co-located at long-term physical-chemical monitoring sites. The Fraser River/Georgia Basin and Yukon Territory reference condition bioassessment models were revised and made available through the CABIN website.

Arctic/Athabasca Watershed

CABIN activity in the Arctic Ocean Watershed has been focused in the Athabasca Basin. Under the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for the Oil Sands, CABIN protocols have been applied in the tributaries of the Athabasca River as per recommendations in Phase 2 of the Integrated Monitoring Plan, with a total of 53 sites visited in 2015-2016. The program also included biomonitoring sampling in the mainstem of the Athabasca River, with 11 monitoring reaches along the Athabasca River and multiple stations within each reach representing 110 sampling sites. The sampling sites range from within the active oil sands development area to outside the development area as well as beyond any natural exposures of the bituminous geologic formations in the region. In addition to understanding potential impacts from active bitumen mining, the JOSM freshwater program aims to understand how natural exposure to bitumen shapes biological communities. A reference condition model is currently being developed for the Athabasca Oil Sands Region.   

Further details can be found in section 1.2.2 and on the Canada-Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Information Portal.

Hudson Bay Watershed

CABIN sampling has been focused on the Lake of the Woods, conducted as part of the Lake of the Woods Science Initiative. A preliminary reference model for the lake was developed and will be revised in two years based on additional data collected. Located at the corner of Ontario, Manitoba and Minnesota, Lake of the Woods is the largest lake in the drainage basin upstream of Lake Winnipeg, contributing approximately 6% of the total phosphorus load to Lake Winnipeg via the Winnipeg River.

Atlantic Watershed

In the Atlantic Watershed, 210 stream and river sites were monitored by ECCC and its provincial partners 2015-2016 (193 in the Atlantic provinces, and 17 in Quebec), using CABIN sampling protocols.  This work supported federal-provincial water quality monitoring agreements with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. Monitoring data collected also informed the, Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators. The monitoring allowed partners to conduct assessments in transboundary watersheds (Saint John River, St. Lawrence River) and federal lands (i.e., national parks, Indigenous communities, and the Meaford and Gagetown Canadian Forces Bases). CABIN sampling using lake protocols was also conducted in the Great Lakes.

1.2.3. Marine Water Quality Monitoring

In 2015-2016, ECCC conducted fecal coliform monitoring in 1369 bivalve molluscan shellfish harvesting areas on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to assess the natural and human-induced sanitary contamination of these areas. This work was carried out as part of ECCC’s responsibilities under the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP), a federal food safety program jointly administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and ECCC. The goal of the program is to protect Canadians from the health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated bivalve molluscan shellfish (for example, mussels, oysters and clams) through controls to verify that only shellfish that meet food safety and quality standards reach domestic and international markets.

1.2.4. Water Monitoring in the Oil Sands

In February 2012, the federal and provincial environment ministers announced the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (“Implementation Plan”), committing the two governments to implementing a scientifically rigorous, comprehensive, integrated and transparent environmental monitoring program for the region. The Implementation Plan described a phased implementation of enhanced monitoring activities over three years (2012-2015), and the rationalization and integration of current monitoring activities into a single, government-led program under the joint management of the two governments.

The three-year Implementation Plan sought to make monitoring of the changes due to oil sands development on the ambient environment more comprehensive, with more compounds sampled at more sites with greater frequency, using established scientific standards and protocols. The results are intended to help us better understand the condition of the environment in the oil sands area, and cumulative environmental effects caused by oil sands development activities.

The Implementation Plan called for the monitoring system to undergo external expert peer review after year three, to ensure that scientific integrity is maintained.  In accordance, an independent, external review panel of six internationally recognized scientific experts was established in 2015. In February 2016, the external expert scientific review stated in their report that: “JOSM has made significant advances over the monitoring in place prior to 2012 by establishing more robust and comprehensive monitoring and improving the rigour, transparency and adherence to internationally recognized standards and protocols of the monitoring”.  Progress, the report concluded, had been made since implementation began, with the Review Panel Chair giving the jointly delivered monitoring a “solid B grade”.

ECCC is working with the Government of Alberta on a long-term agreement to continue oil sands monitoring. ECCC continues to monitor the oil sands and is committed to reporting on scientifically rigorous, comprehensive and integrated environmental monitoring of oil sands development. Reporting on the scientific results supports ECCC’s mandate of making science “fully open and available publically” and to the government’s commitment of scientific transparency.

1.3. Hydro-meteorological modelling and prediction

For several years, researchers and scientists at ECCC and many partner organizations have used atmospheric and weather data as input for day-to-day operational forecasting models, and hydrologic data collected under the hydrometric agreements as input for hydrologic models. These models demonstrate how regional hydro-meteorological modelling can help improve water resources management.

ECCC continued to contribute internationally through its leadership as the Canadian hydrological advisor to the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission for Hydrology. This entails providing input and advice to the commission on all matters related to hydrometric monitoring and hydro-meteorology. Specifically, the Department contributed expertise toward the development of techniques for uncertainty analysis in hydrometric measurements and on basic systems. The Department continues to lead the Arctic Hydrological Cycle Observing System initiative, which focuses on freshwater assessment into the Arctic Ocean. In 2015-2016, ECCC organized and chaired the third steering committee meeting held in May 2016 with representatives from hydrological services in the eight Arctic Council nations. The completed year-one deliverables were discussed, and next year’s work plan drafted towards the goal of ensuring data on freshwater fluxes to the Arctic Ocean are made available in a timely fashion.

ECCC continued to play an active role working with universities on water-quality-related research through support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council research initiative, including the Canadian Cold Regions Network led by the University of Saskatchewan, and the FloodNet Canadian Strategic Network led by McMaster University.

Great Lakes

A satellite image shows the Great Lakes from space. Image: © NASA and GeoEye

A satellite image shows the Great Lakes from space.

Image: © NASA and GeoEye

In 2015-2016, ECCC continued to improve methods for coupled hydro-meteorological modelling and prediction under an expanded environmental prediction framework. The model enables an improved understanding of interactions between the atmosphere and land surface, and supports improved water management in the region. ECCC is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S., and the U.S. Geological Survey to operationalize various modelling systems for historical analysis of the water balance in the upper Great Lakes. Under the ‘Coordinating Committee on Great Lakes Basic Hydraulic and Hydrology’, hydraulic numerical modeling of the interconnecting channels are being updated with bathymetry and fine-tuned calibration. Products developed in this modelling system are being analyzed and used to assist in understanding recent and future changes in water levels in the Great Lakes.

Hydrological and modelling experts in ECCC’s Meteorological Service of Canada and the Science and Technology Branch are continuing to develop models to estimate possible scenarios of river flow up to 10 days out through ensemble flow forecasting. A 48-hour forecast model was developed in 2015-2016. This capability is of particular use to the provincial flood forecasting agencies. Initial testing of the model in the Great Lakes continues as researchers strive for a 10-day model.

St. Lawrence River

Activities under the St. Lawrence Action Plan’s numerical environmental predictions working group continued in 2015-2016. The main activities of the group are:

  • modelling and assimilation of surface data covering the watersheds of St. Lawrence River tributaries;
  • hydrological modelling and routing of waters entering via the watersheds of St. Lawrence tributaries;
  • 2D hydrodynamic modelling of the St. Lawrence River, Lac des Deux-Montagnes, Lac Saint-Louis, the LaPrairie Basin, Rivière des Mille-Îles, Rivière des Prairies, and the Sainte-Anne and Vaudreuil channels;
  • modelling of the dynamics of the major St. Lawrence River ecosystems; and
  • modelling of ocean ice in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

These activities are done through the collaboration of federal and provincial partners under the St. Lawrence Action Plan, and they support the main priorities of the plan (biodiversity, water quality and uses).

The hydrodynamic model of the St. Lawrence River between the Port of Montréal and Trois-Rivières has been operating in “experimental mode” at the Canadian Meteorological Centre for more than a year. At present, one simulation per day (nowcasting) is produced automatically. The results are made available online and will eventually be published on ECCC’s Wateroffice website. The performance of the system has been assessed, and the development of the model downstream of Trois-Rivières to Baie Saint-Paul and upstream of Montreal continues with calibrations and activities and optimization for operational use.

Lake of the Woods

In 2015-2016 the Winnipeg River basin hydrological forecasting model was further developed to include better land classes and calibration parameters, increasing its value for low flow conditions.


Ongoing studies have focused on improved understanding of water availability in Canada through the development of new methods for modelling the hydrological cycle at a variety of scales, from small basins to large rivers. Research collaboration continued on the development of models for large-scale simulation of the Saskatchewan River and Mackenzie River basins with the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan. Recent progress includes linking hydrological models with water management models and 1-D hydraulic models, making use of satellite technology to improve predictive ability, evaluating various precipitation estimation tools for the region, improving the representation of physical processes in the models, and exploring new methods of blending modelled and observed streamflow to improve predictive abilities. Progress has also been made in predicting streamflow using the land surface component of ECCC’s weather model.

Other activities

ECCC also provided support to many IJC water boards, committees and special studies in 2015-2016. This support includes establishing plans for special studies and development, testing and implementation of hydrologic and ecosystem models, and the initiation and implementation of an adaptive management framework for the on-going review of lake regulation plans. IJC work is not covered under the Canada Water Act; ECCC’s progress towards work plans is reported internally under the Environment and Climate Change Canada-IJC Memorandum of Understanding.

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