Canada Water Act annual report for 2018 to 2019: chapter 2

2 Monitoring

2.1 Water quantity monitoring

The National Hydrometric Program (NHP), a cooperative endeavor between federal, provincial and territorial governments, is responsible for providing critical hydrometric data, information, and knowledge that Canadians and their institutions need to make informed water management decisions to protect and provide stewardship of fresh water in Canada. These data are available on Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Wateroffice website. The Water Survey of Canada, which is part of ECCC’s National Hydrological Service (NHS), is the federal partner and primary operator of the NHP network in Canada. 

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 hydrometric monitoring agreements in each province or territory and one national administrator designated by Canada. Both groups met regularly throughout 2018-2019 to discuss program issues. Regular input from both groups and an annual survey by NAT provide valuable input on program operations, documentation and dissemination practices, and available training resources for the NHP.

In Budget 2018, the Government of Canada committed $89.7 million in new investments over five years to revitalize and modernize the hydrometric program. The funding will focus on four main areas that address deteriorating infrastructure, increase engineering and technical capacity to deal with Boundary Waters Treaty obligations and other transboundary requirements, contribute to technological advancement and innovation, and development of predictive capabilities.

2.1.1 National hydrometric monitoring network

During 2018-2019, the national hydrometric monitoring network of the NHP in Canada consisted of 2,826 hydrometric monitoring stations (see Figure 1 and Table 1). During this period, ECCC operated 2,191 of these hydrometric stations. Of the ECCC-operated stations, 1,134 were fully or partially federally funded. The remaining stations were operated by ECCC on behalf of provincial and territorial governments or a third-party interest, and cost-sharing was based on specific needs and requirements (see Table 1). In Quebec, the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change operated 227 stations, some funded in whole or in part by the Government of Canada.

In 2018-2019, more than 40 of the 336 cableways have been addressed either by repairing, repurposing or replacing the cableways through this new investment. Several cableways have been replaced with alternative technologies. In addition to the cableways, there are 480 known stations across Canada that have creosote stilling wells and require decommissioning. In 2018‑2019, 40 of the 480 stations with creosote stilling well sites were decommissioned. Environmental checklists and best management practices have been prepared to ensure environmental compliance with all construction and decommissioning projects.

Long description

Figure 1 is a map of Canada indicating the location of 2826 hydrometric monitoring stations.

Table 1. Stations within the National Hydrometric Monitoring Network

ECCC-operated (by cost arrangement)
Province/Territory (a)
Federal Cost-shared (b) Province/ Territory Third party Non-ECCC-operated (various cost arrangements) Total by province or territory

Alberta

76

158

160

34

54

482

British Columbia

47

181

206

0

7

441

Manitoba

22

82

111

2

175

392

New Brunswick

17

17

18

0

0

52

Newfoundland

16

32

66

0

0

114

Nova Scotia

11

6

13

0

0

30

Northwest Territories

46

23

20

13

0

102

Nunavut

8

2

13

2

0

25

Ontario

126

68

338

10

46

588

Prince Edward Island

0

5

1

3

0

9

Quebec

16

0

0

0

227

243

Saskatchewan

90

50

13

0

126

279

Yukon

11

24

34

0

0

69

Total

486

648

993

64

635

2,826

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

b Cost-shared stations are those that are partially funded by the federal government, provincial/territorial governments, and third parties. 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 CWA.

There were no significant changes to the size of the national hydrometric monitoring network in 2018-2019, although the network did undergo a number of adjustments, including the following:

2.1.2 Technology development

Hydrometric instrumentation and data collection

The NHP continued investment in new field technologies, including hydroacoustic equipment and advanced deployment platforms, such as bank-operated cableway systems and remote control boats, as manned cableways across the country are being decommissioned.

There were also new investments in the use of site cameras for monitoring site conditions, including the ice effected period. The NHP now operates more than 30 satellite cameras (and a handful of cell modem cameras) at remote stations, typically transmitting one image a day, along with more than 200 time-lapse cameras, from which images are downloaded periodically at the time of a field visit.

The use of electronic Hydrometric Survey Notes (eHSN) to document and upload field visit information and data has become routine; the percentage of eHSN uploads increased from 26% of all field visits uploaded in 2017 to 59% in 2018. The eHSN provides greater quality assurance and consistency of hydrometric information and data.

The NHP is also exploring the possibility of using non-contact technology, such as radars and cameras, for improved water level and flow monitoring, particularly in challenging (high water) conditions, or where the accuracy and timeliness of flow data are critical. The exploration of innovations in hydrometric monitoring is a component of the investment in the NHP. It will accelerate efforts to explore and adapt innovations in hydrometric monitoring, hydrology and hydraulics both in the field and in the office. In 2018-2019, the focus of the innovation component was mainly on the development of project proposals and securing the equipment to test new field technologies such as: large-scale particle velocimetry (LSPIV), radar, drones, dilution gauging and discharge apps.

Surface Water from Space Project

ECCC continued collaboration on the development of space-based monitoring technologies for hydrological monitoring in Canada with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the University of Sherbrooke, the University of California, Los Angeles and other organizations in the United States. Work focused on the Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) hydrology mission, scheduled for launch by NASA in 2021. ECCC continued hydraulic model development in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, as part of the overall strategy in the hydrology plan. Synthetic SWOT images were developed as an operational product for the St. Lawrence River and data assimilation techniques using SWOT in operational models are being looked at. ECCC also presented a plenary at the Canadian Remote Sensing Symposium and continued working with the international SWOT team on satellite calibration and validation issues.

In 2018-2019, ECCC continued to be heavily involved with the University of Saskatchewan, University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and McMaster University through the Global Water Futures Program. This program explores ways to improve hydrometric program delivery through innovative technology such as drones and cameras. This year, NHS working in collaboration with ECCC’s Water Science and Technology Directorate and the University of Saskatchewan, completed development of a new facility, which is designed to develop and test new water sensors and drones for improved monitoring of Canadian water resources.

Data dissemination

After-hour support was provided during the 2018 spring freshet to ensure real-time hydrometric data were available 24/7 during high water periods.

Beginning in July 2018, NHS disseminated real-time images for some stations via the Wateroffice. This enables provincial and territorial partners to view the site situation online for stations that have a real-time camera installed.

The offline historical databases were released four times over the year in April 2018, July 2018, October 2018, and January 2019.

2.1.3 Program development

Quality assurance

In December 2018, a routine surveillance audit was conducted against the Meteorological Service Canada (MSC) Quality Management System (QMS) under the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 9001:2015 standard, following a series of external audits including two hydrometric offices in New Brunswick and Newfoundland. No major non‑conformances were identified at either location. This follows the recertification of the MSC’s QMS to the ISO 9001:2015 standard, which is valid for a three-year period.

Updating of the Water Survey of Canada’sStandard Operating Procedures (SOPs) continued in 2018-2019, in an effort to keep pace with changes in technology in the operational program. This year, work focused on developing new Data Correction and Data Estimation SOPs for the data production process.

Improvements to the quality of real-time data have been developed through the Continuous Data Production Project. Three hydrometric offices piloted the new procedures in 2018-2019, with targeted implementation across Canada by 2021. This innovative approach is also a component of the investment in the NHP.

Hydrometric science and development

Collaboration on hydrology modelling to improve the ability of the NHS to predict flows as part of its federal water management obligations continued. ECCC also continued collaborations with university colleagues in Quebec (L'Institut national de la recherche scientifique) in operationalizing hydrodynamic and ecohydraulic models in rivers of federal significance. The prediction component of the hydrometric investments involves developing the capacity to predict water quantity in five of Canada’s major water basins: the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, the Saskatchewan-Nelson River Basin, the Mackenzie River Basin, the Columbia River Basin, and the Churchill River Basin. The NHS will work in partnership with provinces and territories to develop new flow predictions systems. As an initial step in this effort, the NHS hosted a national workshop on flow forecasting, in which federal, provincial and territorial representatives gathered together with industry and academic experts to discuss development of state-of-the-art flow forecasting systems.

ECCC, in cooperation with the University of Manitoba, University of Victoria, and InnoTech Alberta, continued to support a national pilot project for an operational isotope network, in conjunction with the hydrometric network, which is similar to the existing isotope-hydrometric network in the United States. The goal is to demonstrate the value of systematic collection of river discharge, in tandem with analysis for oxygen-18 (18O) and deuterium (2H) across Canada, since the stable isotope ratios can be used to improve understanding of water sources. ECCC also supported a project with the University of Ottawa investigating the use of remote sensing for characterization of ice conditions.

Outreach

NHS supports openness and interoperability of information and data access across various systems. In September 2018, NHS working with ECCC’s Geospatial Web Service team completed its project to make historical hydrometric data available in Open Geospatial Consortium compliant standards. Historical hydrometric data is now available via the Meteorological Service of Canada’s GeoMet Geospatial web services.

2.1.4 Hydrometeorological modelling and studies

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 hydrometeorological modelling can help improve water resources management.

Great Lakes

ECCC collaborated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Geological Survey to operationalize various modelling systems for historical analysis of the water balance in the upper Great Lakes. In 2018-2019, ECCC continued to improve methods for coupled hydrometeorological 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. After years of development by NOAA, in consultation with ECCC, a statistical model that determines the most likely values for the water balance components is now run every month using input from ECCC‑MSC and other Canadian and U.S. agencies. It is expected that this technique will lead to improved coordinated values of the components of the Great Lakes net basin supply, increase our understanding of the hydrological functions and improve forecasting of Great Lakes water levels.  

Hydrological and atmospheric modelling experts in ECCC continued to develop models to estimate possible scenarios of river flow through ensemble flow forecasting. The operational forecast model is being shared with provincial flood forecasting agencies and initial testing of the model in the Great Lakes continues as researchers strive for a 10-day forecast model. A pilot project was continued in 2018-2019 that provides forecasted flows to Water Survey of Canada staff. The forecasted flows are expected to provide advance information for efficient planning of fieldwork to capture important data for high flow events.

Under the Coordinating Committee on Great Lakes Basin Hydraulic and Hydrologic Data, a comprehensive plan to update the International Great Lakes Datum of 1985 (vertical datum) for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system was developed and the first year of work completed with the deployment of seasonal gauges by the Canadian Hydrographic Service and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This project will take until 2025 to complete.  

International rivers

ECCC, in collaboration with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, worked on an Integrated Ecosystem Response Model for the St. Marys River rapids. The bi-dimensional ecohydraulic model is being used to improve the spawning success of several fish species that use the swift water of the rapids for reproduction. This prototype will be extended to the entire St. Marys River.

ECCC played a lead role in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Study, examining the cause of and possible mitigation measures to flooding issues in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Basin. Activities in 2018-2019 focused on the development of possible flood mitigation measures, both structural and non-structural, and flood inundation maps for the entire bi‑national watershed. Other work included the refinement of a water balance model and net inflow to Lake Champlain, the assembly of a digital elevation model for the Lake Champlain‑Richelieu River system based on several data sources, flow and ice data collection, and the development of several two-dimensional hydrodynamic simulations of potential flood mitigation solutions.

ECCC also continued to play a lead role in the Souris River Study, examining potential improvements to the operation of several dams in Saskatchewan and North Dakota for both flood control and water supply purposes. The workplan for the Study was finalized in 2018-2019 based on an independent review managed through the International Joint Commission, and feedback received from the public. Data collection tasks were completed and included a summary of projects completed since 2013, updated lidar and bathymetry data for the reservoirs, an analysis of the hydrometeorological data network, and data collected for the development of performance indicators. Work began on developing the computer models being used for the study, and a number of workshops and meetings were held to engage the public, regulatory agencies, and indigenous nations. Dam safety was identified as a major issue that will complicate the management of the reservoirs as well as the development of recommendations for improved operations going forward.

Arctic

ECCC leads the Arctic Hydrological Cycle Observing System (HYCOS) initiative, which focuses on assessing freshwater fluxes into the Arctic Ocean. In 2018-2019, work continued to finalize the public web portal, which willdisplay streamflow and other data for all hydrometric stations in the Arctic-HYCOS network, and allow filtering and downloading of the data according to extended metadata criteria. The first phase of the Arctic-HYCOS Project is almost complete.

Global

ECCC contributed internationally 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 hydrometeorology. Specifically, the Department contributed expertise toward the development of techniques for uncertainty analysis in hydrometric measurements and on basic systems.

2.2 Water quality monitoring

2.2.1 Freshwater quality monitoring

Freshwater quality monitoring has been a core ECCC program 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, in addition to fulfilling federal domestic and international commitments and legislative obligations. Much of the program’s monitoring is carried out through federal-provincial/territorial agreements, ensuring cost-effective and non-duplicative program delivery.

The objectives of the federal-provincial/territorial water quality monitoring agreements are to:

Data are also used to support the freshwater quality indicator in the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators.

The Long-Term Freshwater Quality Monitoring Network consists of federal, federal-provincial and federal-territorial sampling sites across Canada (see Figure 2). Water quality samples are routinely collected 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. The National Long-Term Water Quality Monitoring Data are published online.

Figure 2. Long-term water quality monitoring sites

Long description

Figure 2 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.

Since 2010, ECCC’s Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division has utilized the Risk Based Adaptive Management Framework (RBAMF) to optimize its monitoring activities. The RBAMF is defined through a set of established pillars that guide its various components. These pillars include defining monitoring responsibilities, identifying risks to water quality at monitoring sites and across Canada’s drainage basins, optimizing monitoring operations, and ensuring data quality and data access, all of which improves reporting outcomes.

In 2018-2019, existing long-term monitoring sites (Figure 2) were classified under a series of national scale networks, namely Large Rivers, Large Lakes Priority, Transboundary Rivers, Reference, and High Stress where each network included a set of specific national monitoring objectives. Each network was developed to improve comparability of monitoring data, resulting in more effective reporting on water quality issues on a national scale.

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

For more information, please consult the ECCC Freshwater Quality Monitoring website.

Arctic/Athabasca watershed

ECCC monitored 49 sites within the Arctic watershed and across the North: 23 in the Northwest Territories, 14 in Nunavut, 2 in Yukon and 10 in Northern Alberta. The majority of these sites were operated in cooperation with Parks Canada and included eight national parks (Auyittuq, Quttinirpaaq, Ukkusiksalik, Aulavik, Ivvavik, Tuktut Nogait, Nahanni, and Wood Buffalo National Parks). Many of these sites were co-located with ECCC’s gauge stations.

Ten stations in Northern Alberta and one in the Northwest Territories are monitored under the Oil Sands Monitoring Program in partnership with Alberta Environment and Parks. The monitoring work done under this plan was designed to track the cumulative effects of oil sands development in air, water, wildlife, and biodiversity to help inform government and industry decision-making processes.

Many of the high Arctic sites are considered relatively pristine and 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 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).

Pacific watershed

Monitoring was conducted in the Pacific watershed (which includes parts of British Columbia and Yukon) under the Canada-British Columbia Water Quality Monitoring Agreement (PDF) and under operational schedules agreed with the Yukon Government.

In British Columbia, ECCC conducted joint monitoring with the provincial Ministry of Environment at 41 river sites, including 2 automated stations, and 2 lake sites where 1 was automated. The annual water monitoring activities were negotiated and documented in the Canada British Columbia Water Quality Monitoring Agreement Business Plan (2018-2019).

In Yukon, 13 sites were monitored on rivers in collaboration with Environment Yukon, including one automated site.

The Canada-British Columbia automated monitoring site located in the Fraser River Estuary is a monitoring buoy platform providing real-time water quality, meteorological, and grab-sample data to the public on ECCC’s Freshwater Quality Monitoring and Surveillance website. In addition, ECCC in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Okanagan First Nation Alliance and the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, deployed two real-time water quality monitoring buoys in Osoyoos Lake in 2018. Data generated from these automated sites were used to identify important trends and emerging water quality issues from urban, agricultural and industrial activities in the lower Fraser and Okanagan Basins.

In 2018-2019, ECCC, in cooperation with Parks Canada, operated five long-term water quality monitoring sites in the Glacier, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks in British Columbia and Kluane National Park in Yukon. These relatively pristine sites 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.

Hudson Bay watershed

As part of the National Long-Term Freshwater Quality Monitoring Network and in support of the Prairie Provinces Water Board Master Agreement on Apportionment, ECCC monitored 12 sites along the main rivers crossing between the Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba provincial boundaries. This work supported 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 was also used to support the Lake Winnipeg Basin Program. Water quality data are routinely shared with partners and collaborators involved in the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium, including the Manitoba government, other federal departments, universities and institutes working on Lake Winnipeg.

ECCC worked with Manitoba Sustainable Development under the Science Subsidiary Arrangement made pursuant to the Canada-Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin. The agreement, signed in 2012, supports the development of science-related data, indicators, and nutrient targets. Other key transboundary monitoring sites are located on the Red River, Pembina River, Winnipeg River, and Souris River, and on the Milk River-St. Mary River system. The Red River and Souris River, 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 the 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 2018-2019.

All of the transboundary rivers in the watershed were monitored regularly (8 to 12 times per year). During the 2018-2019 open water season, the Red River was monitored more intensively (biweekly to weekly) to address 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. Additionally, ECCC operated an automated station on the Red River at Emerson, Manitoba as a real-time alert system to support water quality and transboundary flood monitoring. Real-time data were used to assess water quality changes and episodic precipitation events. In addition, the Red River was also monitored for a suite of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, carbamates (fungicide) and sulfonyl urea (herbicide) to assess transboundary contamination.

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. Given the continued local and national concerns with noxious and potentially toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms and declining water quality in Lake of the Woods, ECCC continues to intensify its efforts in science and monitoring in the watershed.

Finally, under a Memoranda of Understanding with Parks Canada, sites in Banff, Jasper, and Waterton National Parks were also sampled by ECCC. These sites provided water quality information to Parks Canada and were used as reference sites as part of ECCC’s Long-Term Water Quality Monitoring Program.

Atlantic watershed

In the Atlantic watershed, federal-provincial water quality monitoring is supported through: 

Monitoring results generated by ECCC contribute to indicators assessing the status of the Great Lakes ecosystem for toxic chemicals in water, sediments and fish, as well as indicators on the status of nutrients, water quality and algae.

The Canada-Quebec Water Quality Monitoring Agreement was renewed in 2018 and covers 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 2 automated sites) in the St. Lawrence River Basin. The sites were sampled monthly in 2018-2019 for physical parameters and nutrients, plus metals, pesticides, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) at some of them.

Under the Canada-New Brunswick Water Quality Agreement during 2018-2019, 10 federal‑provincial sites were monitored on international and interprovincial transboundary rivers or their tributaries in the Saint John River (Wolastoq) and Restigouche River watersheds. Four additional real-time automated sites in the Saint John River (Wolastoq) watershed were also maintained by ECCC at the borders of the transboundary Big Presque Isle Stream, Aroostook River and Meduxnekeag River and in the main channel at Evandale.

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 2018 annual report to the IJC.

In 2018-2019, 11 sites were monitored under the Canada-Prince Edward Island Memorandum of Agreement, including one real time (automated) site on the Wilmot River. In addition, pesticide surveillance was conducted during the growing season. The sites are distributed across the province, with data available on the Government of Prince Edward Island’s website.

In 2018-2019, ECCC managed 13 federal sites (including 2 automated sites) in Nova Scotia in support of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicator for water quality. 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, 72 sites across the major drainage areas were sampled 4 to 8 times in 2018-2019. Data and station information from the sites are available on the Newfoundland and Labrador Water Resources website.

2.2.2 Water quality indicator

Water quality

The water quality indicator is reported as part of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) program at ECCC. It provides an overall measure of the ability of river water to support aquatic life (plants, invertebrates and fish). The indicator is calculated using the water quality index, endorsed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, to summarize the status of surface freshwater quality in Canada. This indicator reflects the extent to which water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life are being met at selected river monitoring sites throughout Canada. Water quality at a monitoring station is considered excellent when substances in a river are very rarely measured above their guidelines. Conversely, water quality is rated poor when measurements are usually above their guidelines, sometimes by a wide margin.

The water quality indicator released in January 2019 is based on data collected from 2002 to 2017 at 318 water monitoring stations across Canada and reflects the diversity of watersheds in the country. The data were assembled from 16 federal, provincial, territorial and joint water quality monitoring programs. The national water quality indicator was calculated using a core national network of 175 river sites, selected to be representative of surface freshwater quality across southern Canada where human pressure is most intense (Figure 3a).

Water quality categories

Excellent - Water quality is protected with a virtual absence of threat of impairment; conditions are very close to natural or pristine levels.

Good - Water quality is protected with only a minor degree of threat or impairment; conditions rarely depart from natural or desirable levels.

Fair - Water quality is usually protected but occasionally threatened or impaired; conditions sometimes depart from natural or desirable levels.

Marginal - Water quality is frequently threatened or impaired; conditions often depart from natural or desirable levels.

Poor - Water quality is almost always threatened or impaired; conditions usually depart from natural or desired levels.

For the 2015 to 2017 period, water quality in rivers in Canada was rated fair to excellent at 83% of the monitored sites. More specifically, water quality measured at these river sites across southern Canada was rated as excellent for 8 sites, good for 63 sites, fair for 74 sites, marginal at 25 sites, and poor at 5 sites (Figure 3a). Water quality tends to be worse where there is agriculture, mining, high population density or a combination of these (mixed pressures) (Figure 3b).

Figures 3a and 3b. Water quality in Canadian rivers, 2015 to 2017 period

Long description
Data table for figure 3a

Land use category

Excellent (number of sites)

Excellent (percentage of sites)

Good (number of sites)

Good (percentage of sites)

Fair (number of sites)

Agriculture

0

0

10

6

21

Mining

1

1

8

5

7

Populated

0

0

1

1

4

Mixed pressures

3

2

9

5

27

Undeveloped

4

2

35

20

15

Total

8

5

63

36

74

Data table for figure 3b

Land use category

Fair (percentage of sites)

Marginal (number of sites)

Marginal (percentage of sites)

Poor (number of sites)

Poor (percentage of sites)

Agriculture

12

4

2

0

0

Mining

4

3

2

1

1

Populated

2

2

1

0

0

Mixed pressures

15

14

8

4

2

Undeveloped

9

2

1

0

0

Total

42

25

14

5

3

Note: Water quality was evaluated at 175 sites across southern Canada using the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's water quality index. For more information on land use classification, consult the CESI Water quality indicator’s Data sources and methods.

Source: Data assembled by Environment and Climate Change Canada from federal, provincial and joint water quality monitoring programs. Population, mining, and land cover statistics for each site's drainage area were provided by Statistics Canada and Natural Resources Canada.

Overall, water quality has not changed at a majority of sites across southern Canada between 2002 and 2017. Out of the 175 sites, there was improvement in water quality at 10% of sites, deterioration at 14%, and no change in water quality at 75% of the sites (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Trends in water quality, Canada, 2002 to 2017

Long description

Change

Number of sites

Percentage of sites

Improving water quality

18

10

Deteriorating water quality

25

14

No change in water quality

132

75

Total

175

100

Note: The trend in water quality between the first year that data were reported for each site and 2017 was calculated at 175 sites across southern Canada. A uniform set of water quality guidelines and parameters were used through time at each site for the trend analysis.

Source: Data assembled by Environment and Climate Change Canada from federal, provincial and joint water quality monitoring programs.

2.3 Biological monitoring

In addition to the physical-chemical water quality monitoring detailed above, ECCC also undertook 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 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 organizations across Canada. The continued success of CABIN was a direct result of 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. The CABIN Science Team, consisting of ECCC and external scientists with expertise in large-scale ecological monitoring, provides science advice and recommendations.

Since the early development of the CABIN Monitoring Strategy in the 1980s, data have been collected in over 10,000 locations across the country. In 2018-2019, data were collected at 836 sites in several sub-basins across the country by ECCC and its collaborators (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. CABIN monitoring sites

Long description

Figure 5 is a map of Canada that shows the location of the CABIN monitoring sites across the country. In 2018-2019, data were collected at 836 sites in several sub-basins across the country by Environment and Climate Change Canada and its collaborators.

Pacific watershed

In British Columbia, CABIN monitoring is conducted jointly under the Canada-British Columbia Water Quality Monitoring Agreement. Under the Agreement, ECCC and the provincial Ministry of Environment collaborate on data collection for reference model maintenance as well as development and site assessment.

The 11 reference models available to all CABIN users to conduct biological assessments in watersheds in British Columbia and Yukon were developed collaboratively by federal, provincial and territorial agencies (i.e. Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Coast Guard, Parks Canada, British Columbia Ministry of Environment, and Government of Yukon). Models are available for the Yukon River Basin, Fraser River/Georgia Basin, Skagit River Basin, Okanagan Basin, British Columbia Central/North Coast, Northeastern British Columbia and Rocky Mountains national parks models. In 2018-2019, ECCC collected CABIN data from 58 stream and river sites in British Columbia: 39 sites for reference model maintenance and development, and 19 sites for assessment of biological condition, co-located at long-term physical-chemical monitoring sites.

Arctic/Athabasca watershed

In the Athabasca watershed, under the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for the Oil Sands, CABIN sampling was conducted at 55 sites in the tributaries of the Lower Athabasca River. The Plan also included biomonitoring sampling at 10 sites with 5 replicates in the mainstream of the Athabasca River using a modified CABIN approach for large rivers. Sampling sites in the Lower Athabasca River and its tributaries range from within the active oil sands development area (potentially impacted sites) to outside the development area as well as beyond any natural exposure of the bituminous geologic formations in the region (reference sites). In 2018-2019, CABIN sampling was also conducted at 3 sites on tributaries of the Peace River as part of an expanded oil sands biomonitoring program that included the Peace River Oil Sands area.

Hudson Bay watershed

In 2018-2019, ECCC revisited five sampling sites in southern Ontario as part of a comparative study with Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate. CABIN sampling was also conducted by ECCC in the Great Lakes using the CABIN Open Water Protocol. Five reference sites for the Great Lakes Reference Study were sampled, as well as 12 sites in the Cornwall Area of Concern (AOC).

Atlantic watershed

In the Atlantic watershed, 212 stream and river sites were monitored by ECCC and certified partners in 2018-2019. Of the 191 sites in the Atlantic Provinces, 48 were monitored by ECCC, 115 by other federal departments or Parks Canada, 12 by provincial governments, and 16 by non-governmental organizations. The 21 sites in Quebec (11 in the St. Lawrence River, 4 in La Mauricie National Park and 6 in the Forillon National Park) were monitored using CABIN sampling protocols. This work supported federal-provincial water quality monitoring agreements with New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. The monitoring allowed partners to conduct assessments in transboundary watersheds (Saint John River [Wolastoq River], St. Lawrence River) and federal lands (i.e. national parks, Indigenous communities, and the Meaford and Gagetown Canadian Forces Bases).

Monitoring data also informed the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Freshwater Quality Indicator. Research in the use of new techniques for assessing the suitability of aquatic habitat to support aquatic life, based on DNA collection was also conducted as part of a collaborative project with the Genomic Research and Development Initiative. In 2018, 167 samples were collected and analyzed for DNA sequencing: 99 from New Brunswick, 34 from Nova Scotia, 28 from Prince Edward Island and 6 from Quebec (Forillon National Park).

2.4 Shellfish Water Classification Program

The Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP) is a federal program administered jointly pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, ECCC, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

The CSSP objective is to provide reasonable assurance that molluscan shellfish are safe for consumption by controlling the harvesting of all molluscs (e.g. oysters, mussels, clams, scallops) within Canadian tidal waters. The mutual concerns of Canada and the United States to protect the public from the consumption of contaminated bivalve molluscs led to the signing of the Canada-United States Bilateral Agreement on Shellfish Sanitation on April 30, 1948, to deal with sanitary practices in the shellfish industries of both countries. This agreement remains in effect to maintain open trade; Canada is subject to periodic audits by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Figure 6. Monitored shellfish growing areas

Long description

Figure 6 is a map showing the number of shellfish growing areas, stations and marine water samples, along with the number of investigations, evaluations and assessments that occurred in the Atlantic region, Quebec and British Columbia.

Region Shellfish growing areas in Canada Sampling stations Marine water samples Growing areas with sanitary shoreline investigation Wastewater systems evaluations Environmental emergency events assessed

Atlantic

236

3,519

17,684

78

6

802

Quebec

113

1,190

3,964

74

4

91

British Columbia

159

2,091

7,677

119

2

1,909

TOTAL

508

6,800

29,325

271

12

2,802

In 2018-2019, 508 shellfish growing areas were monitored in Canada (see Figure 6). Marine water sampling was undertaken through a combination of delivery methods in different portions of each province, including internal ECCC resources, outsourcing to private-sector contractors, federal-provincial water monitoring agreements under the CWA and voluntary agreements with First Nations and stakeholders. Analyses for fecal coliform and salinity content determination were performed in ISO 17025‑accredited laboratories. Across Canada, 29,325 marine water samples were collected at 6,800 stations in the Atlantic region, Quebec and British Columbia (see Table 2).

Table 2. Number of shellfish growing areas, stations and marine water samples, along with the number of investigations, evaluations and assessments that occurred in the Atlantic region, Quebec and British Columbia.

Region

Shellfish growing areas in Canada

Sampling stations

Marine water samples

Growing areas with sanitary shoreline investigation

Wastewater systems evaluations

Environmental emergency events assessed

Atlantic

236

3,519

17,684

78

6

802

Quebec

113

1,190

3,964

74

4

91

British Columbia

159

2,091

7,677

119

2

1,909

TOTAL

508

6,800

29,325

271

12

2,802

In addition to marine water quality determinations, sanitary shoreline investigations of point and non-point pollution sources were performed in 271 shellfish growing areas. Twelve wastewater treatment plants were evaluated or re-evaluated. Work also included the review and assessment of 2,802 environmental emergency events and significant incidents to determine the need for emergency harvest area closures (see Table 2).

For more information, consult the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program.

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