Maintaining water quality and availability

Clean and abundant freshwater is fundamental to human health, the environment and the economy. Canada is a water-rich country, with an estimated 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater supply. However, about 60% of the supply flows northward, while most of the population is located in southern regions. Changes in temperature, rainfall and snowfall can cause water quantities in rivers, lakes and reservoirs to rise and fall throughout the year, resulting in flooding or water shortages.

In Canada, natural resource sectors such as thermal power generation, agriculture, oil and gas, and mining account for an estimated 86% of total water use. Water is also used for manufacturing and municipal purposes (for example, drinking water).

Water quality degradation affects both aquatic life and human uses of water. For example, higher concentrations of nutrients may result in uncontrolled plant growth and reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen available for fish and other aquatic animals. They can also foster the growth of algae, some of which can cause health effects in humans and animals. Degraded water quality can also undermine economic activities such as fisheries, tourism and agriculture.

Goal 3: Water quality and water quantity

Protect and enhance water so that it is clean, safe and secure for all Canadians and supports healthy ecosystems.

Progress statements

Over the past decade, freshwater quality and quantity in Canadian rivers has remained generally stable.

In terms of drinking water quality, most boil water advisories were issued as precautionary measures during equipment maintenance or repair rather than due to detection of pathogens in treated water.

Remaining challenges

High levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from sources such as industry, agriculture and urban development continue to affect ecosystems in Canada’s lakes and rivers—for example, in the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay, Lake Winnipeg, and the St. Lawrence River. These nutrients support algal blooms that can affect water quality, create toxins, deprive aquatic life of oxygen and result in shifts of species in the food web.

There were 44 releases of harmful pollutants in the marine environment by identified vessels in 2013–2014, which exceeds the target of 17 releases per year by 2017. Marine pollution harms ocean creatures, ecosystems and resources.

While the agri-environmental performance index on soil quality improved between 1981 and 2006, the water quality agri-environmental performance index declined. This suggests that farming operations in Canada are likely having a greater impact on water quality than in the past.

What we know

Overall, national freshwater quality remained relatively stable between 2003–2005 and 2010–2012. In general, freshwater quality in Canadian rivers is fair to good. However, there are regional water quality issues, particularly near city centres, and in agricultural areas (see Figure 6).

Between 2002 and 2011, water quantity in Canada’s drainage regions generally remained at normal levels. Higher-than-normal water quantity was observed in three drainage regions in 2011, a particularly wet year across the south-central prairies. In the same year, 18 drainage regions were classified as having normal water quantity, and 1 had lower-than-normal water quantity (see Figure 7).

In 2013, 74% of boil water advisories for which data were available were issued on a precautionary basis due to problems with drinking water equipment or processes. By contrast, 8% of boil water advisories were issued due to detection of E. coli in drinking water, and 18% were related to other microbiological water quality parameters, such as the detection of total coliform bacteria or unacceptable turbidity levels (see Figure 8).

To date, six provinces and territories and five First Nations regions have fully implemented or are currently preparing to implement the water advisories system.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 6: National freshwater quality indicator, Canada, change between 2003–2005 and 2010–2012

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[Long description of Figure 6]

The bar graph shows the percentage of sites where freshwater quality was rated excellent, good, fair, marginal and poor between 2003–2005 and 2010–2012. The inset pie chart shows the number of sites where the freshwater quality indicator has improved, where it has deteriorated, and where no change was detected. Between 2003–2005 and 2010–2012, the freshwater quality indicator rankings have improved at 11 sites and declined at four sites. No change was detected at 85 sites.

 

Figure 7: Water quantity in Canada’s drainage regions, 2002 to 2011

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[Long description of Figure 7]

The graph shows the number of drainage regions in Canada with low, normal and high water quantity, on an annual basis, from 2002 to 2011. Over the last decade, Canada’s rivers typically had normal water quantity conditions. In 2011, 18 drainage regions were classified as having normal water quantity. Three had higher-than-normal water quantity and one region had lower-than-normal water quantity.

Figure 8: Causes of boil water advisories, Canada, 2010 to 2013

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[Long description of Figure 8]

The bar chart shows the proportion of causes of boil water advisories in Canada (Water quality - E. coli; Water quality - Other microbiological parameters; and Equipment and process) for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Most boil water advisories issued in Canada between 2010 and 2013 were issued on a precautionary basis due to problems with drinking water equipment or processes.

On-reserve First Nations water and wastewater systems

As with all communities, health in First Nations communities relies on effective water and wastewater treatment and the identification in a timely manner of potential public health risks from drinking water. On reserve lands, First Nations communities own, operate and manage their drinking water and wastewater systems.

The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act came into force on November 1, 2013, enabling the federal government to develop, in partnership with First Nations, enforceable federal regulations to ensure access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water, the effective treatment of wastewater, and the protection of sources of drinking water on First Nations lands.

Target 3.1: On-reserve First Nations water and wastewater systems

Increase the percentage of on-reserve First Nations water systems with low risk ratings from 27% to 50% by 2015. Increase the percentage of on-reserve First Nations wastewater systems with low risk ratings from 35% to 70% by 2015.

Progress statements

The percentage of on-reserve First Nations drinking water systems with low risk ratings increased from 27% in 2009–2011 to 57% in 2014–2015.

Forty-eight percent of on-reserve First Nations wastewater systems had low risk ratings in 2014–2015 compared with 38% in 2009–2011.

What we know

Water and wastewater system risk ratings are based on overall risk associated with system management and operation and take into account an extensive set of factors that could lead to problems with drinking water and wastewater systems. A high-risk system might produce water or wastewater of equal quality to that of a low-risk system but might not be capable of responding adequately in the event of a problem. A risk rating is a measure of overall system risk, not of drinking water or wastewater safety or quality.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 9: Risk ratings for inspected INAC-funded First Nations water and wastewater systems, Canada, from the National Assessment to 2014–2015

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[Long description of Figure 9]

The bar chart shows the number of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada-funded First Nations water and wastewater systems with high, medium and low risk ratings during the National Assessment and yearly from 2011–2012 to 2014–2015. The number of medium- and high-risk systems for 2013–2014 are not shown.

*Data on the number of medium- and high-risk systems for 2014–2015 were not publicly available at the time of production of this report.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

Building on approximately $3 billion in investments between 2006 and 2014 to support First Nations communities in managing their drinking water and wastewater systems, the federal government continues to provide financial assistance to First Nations for the planning, procurement, design, construction, upgrade, renovation, decommissioning, operation and maintenance of water and wastewater systems on reserves, and the provision of drinking water monitoring.

The government is also delivering on its commitment to address drinking water and wastewater issues by extending the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan (FNWWAP) with further investments. For example, water treatment plants were recently completed, upgraded or expanded in the Tallcree South Reserve, Black River First Nation, the Halalt and Penelakut First Nations and Buctouche First Nation communities.

In addition, annual performance inspections are carried out on federally funded systems using pre-defined criteria to assign an overall risk rating to each system. Inspection results form the basis of local action plans to address deficiencies and to help prioritize risk mitigation activities.

The federal government provides support to First Nations community members involved in water–related activities such as monitoring and reporting on drinking water quality. In 2013–2014, as in previous years, all First Nations communities had access to trained personnel to sample and test quality of their drinking water at the tap. These community members, known as the Community-Based Water Monitors, are trained by Environmental Health Officers.

As a result of enhanced First Nations capacity to monitor drinking water quality, the frequency of monitoring drinking water quality at the tap has increased. Since 2012–2013, approximately 53% of on-reserve public distribution systems met the weekly testing monitoring frequency recommended by the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality (GCDWQ). These monitoring rates exclude communities in British Columbia as well as communities in Saskatchewan where environmental public health services have been transferred to a First Nations community.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments respecting their FSDS commitments for this target may be found in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments: INAC (lead), HC.

Drinking water quality

Safe drinking water is essential to the life and health of all Canadians. Contamination of drinking water can result in illness. The federal government works collaboratively with the provinces and territories to develop the GCDWQ, which are used by all jurisdictions in Canada as the basis for their drinking water quality requirements. The development of new or updated guidelines allows jurisdictions to keep up with constantly evolving science.

Target 3.2: Drinking water quality

Help protect the health of Canadians by developing up to 15 water quality guidelines/guidance documents by 2016.

Progress statement

Between 2013 and 2015, 10 new or updated drinking water quality guidelines/guidance documents were approved by provinces and territories, on track to achieve 15 by 2016.

What we know

Health Canada developed 10 new or updated final drinking water quality guidelines/guidance documents that have been approved by provinces and territories—for ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, 1,2-dichloroethane, selenium, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, tetrachloroethylene and boil water advisories—and is on track to meet the government’s 2013–2016 target.

While an average of 5 guidelines/guidance documents are approved each year, at any given time Health Canada is working on 20 to 30 risk assessments, a process that involves multiple partners and stakeholders.

Learn more: visit the Health Canada website.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

The federal government continues to provide expert advice to water programs nationally. Health Canada also continues to work with the provinces and territories to establish the GCDWQ and with national and international standard-setting organizations to develop health-based standards for materials that come into contact with drinking water. These activities are intended to help manage potential risks to the health of Canadians associated with water quality.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of the department respecting the FSDS commitment for this target may be found in its Departmental Sustainable Development Strategy. Responsible department: HC.

Great Lakes—Canadian Areas of Concern

The Great Lakes are a vast shared resource representing a significant portion of the world’s freshwater. In addition to sustaining a rich variety of plants and animals, these lakes are fundamental to the well-being of Canadians and Americans, both as a direct source of drinking water and as a foundation for billions of dollars in economic activity.

The Great Lakes basin is Canada’s most populated region, supporting 9 of Canada’s 20 largest cities. This large population and associated industrial, agricultural and urban development place a strain on the lakes’ capacity to support viable ecosystems.

The Canada–U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) identifies 43 Areas of Concern (AOCs) across the Great Lakes. Of these, 26 are entirely in American waters, 12 are entirely in Canadian waters, and 5 are shared by both countries. All Canadian AOCs have a Remedial Action Plan to guide restoration and protection efforts targeting specific beneficial uses.

Target 3.3: Great Lakes—Canadian Areas of Concern

Take federal actions to restore beneficial uses for delisting of five Canadian Areas of Concern (AOC) and to reduce the number of impaired beneficial uses in the remaining AOCs by 25% by 2018.

Progress statements

Since 2010, no AOC have been delisted. However, a 2014 assessment revealed that ongoing action by the federal government and its partners has decreased the number of beneficial uses considered “impaired” by 33% (from 120 to 80) since each AOC was initially assessed.

What we know

Environmental quality in Canada’s 17 Great Lakes AOCs has improved since the restoration program began in 1987. Three Canadian sites have been assessed as fully restored and have been removed from the list: Collingwood Harbour (delisted in 1994), Severn Sound (2003) and Wheatley Harbour (2010). The Spanish Harbour and Jackfish Bay AOCs were designated as “AOCs in Recovery” when all actions were deemed to have been completed (in 1999 and 2011, respectively). These areas require time for the environment to recover naturally (see Figure 10).

Considerable progress has been made toward restoring most of the remaining Great Lakes AOCs, as reflected in the decreased number of impaired beneficial uses (measures of the environmental, human health or economic impact of poor water quality) observed.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 10: Progress on Canadian Great Lakes Areas of Concern, 1987 to 2014

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[Long description of Figure 10]

The figure shows the number of beneficial uses classified as "Impaired" and as "Requires further assessment" for an Area of Concern’s initial assessment, in 2003 and in 2014 for Canada’s 17 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. During this period, three Areas of Concern have been fully restored and two are classified as Areas of Concern in Recovery.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

Canada and the U.S. negotiated an amended GLWQA in 2012, which came into force on February 12, 2013. The 2012 GLWQA establishes a shared vision, common objectives and specific commitments to address shared environmental issues (AOCs, lake-wide management, chemicals of mutual concern, invasive species, discharges from vessels and climate change impacts).

To ensure the delivery of federal commitments expressed in the GLWQA, the federal government continues to implement the Great Lakes Ecosystem Initiative, which supports coordinating efforts to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. Other federal government programs, such as the Chemicals Management Plan, also contribute to meeting the objectives of the GLWQA.

On December 18, 2014, the governments of Canada and Ontario renewed their commitment to restore, protect and conserve the Great Lakes by signing the Canada–Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health, 2014. This five-year agreement commits Canada and Ontario to take action to address algal blooms; complete actions to clean up historical AOCs; help prevent aquatic invasive species from entering the lakes; protect the lakes from harmful pollutants; conserve important fish and wildlife habitats; and strengthen collaboration within the Great Lakes community.

The Great Lakes Sustainability Fund also supports projects that improve water quality; rehabilitate and protect fish and wildlife habitat; and research and develop contaminated sediment management plans in AOCs. This fund received a $1.5 million contribution in 2014 to support 27 projects in the Canadian Great Lakes AOCs.

A public-private partnership has been established to fund the clean-up of Randle Reef (Hamilton Harbour), the largest contaminated site in the Canadian Great Lakes waters. The site contains sediment contaminated with persistent toxic chemicals and heavy metals, which were deposited over a long period of time from industrial operations that are no longer active. This will improve water quality and reduce contaminant levels in aquatic organisms, making it safer to consume fish caught in the harbour. It will also remove current restrictions on navigation and generate economic returns through the creation of valuable port lands.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments respecting their FSDS commitments for this target may be found in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments and agencies: ECCC (lead), DFO, NRCan.

Great Lakes

Phosphorus and nitrogen are essential plant nutrients; however, when levels in water are too high, aquatic plant growth can become excessive and harmful.

High nutrient levels can lead to toxic algal blooms that can affect the health of animals and humans. Recognizing this, the Canada–U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement supports objectives for offshore phosphorus levels to control algal growth and, as a result, the structure of the lakes’ food webs.

Target 3.4: Great Lakes

Contribute to the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes by developing and gaining binational acceptance of objectives for the management of nutrients in Lake Erie by 2016 and for the other Great Lakes as required.

Progress statements

In 2014, representatives of Canada, the U.S., Ontario, and the eight Great Lakes States agreed to develop phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie by spring 2016. Public consultations were held in summer 2015 on a 40% reduction target for Lake Erie.

What we know

Phosphorus levels remain an issue in the open waters of three of the four Canadian Great Lakes. Between 1970 and 2010, phosphorus levels declined in the central portions of lakes Huron and Ontario, in Georgian Bay, and in the eastern and western basins of Lake Erie. Levels have not changed in Lake Superior or in the central basin of Lake Erie (see Figure 11).

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 11: Status and trends of phosphorus levels in the open waters of the Canadian Great Lakes, 1970–2010

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[Long description of Figure 11]

The map presents the results of the comparison of average spring total phosphorus concentrations in the Canadian Great Lakes (Superior, Huron and Georgian Bay Ontario and the western, central and eastern basins of Erie) to their phosphorus water quality objectives to determine the status of phosphorus concentrations in offshore waters in each lake. Phosphorus levels in the middle of Lake Superior and the eastern basin of Lake Erie currently meet target levels and are classified as good. In Lakes Huron and Ontario and Georgian Bay, phosphorus levels are below target concentrations and are given a caution classification. Levels are above water quality objectives in the western and central basins of Lake Erie. Since 1970, phosphorus levels have declined in all the lakes, except Lake Superior and the central basin of Lake Erie, where they have remained stable.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

Canada is taking action in support of the GLWQA by implementing targeted activities, such as the Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative, that address the problem of harmful algal blooms. The federal government continues to track phosphorus levels and ensure that governments and citizens remain aware of this important aspect of the environmental condition of the Great Lakes.

In December 2014, the governments of Canada and Ontario signed the Canada–Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health. This agreement is an important mechanism for ensuring the coordinated and cooperative efforts of the provincial and federal governments in addressing conservation issues in the Great Lakes basin.

Further to this, in December 2014, representatives of Canada, U.S., Ontario, and the eight Great Lakes States agreed to develop phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie by spring 2016, in accordance with the commitment of the GLWQA. Throughout the summer of 2015, the Government of Canada held consultations and sought feedback from the public that will inform the final targets and the development of phosphorus reduction plans.

Through annual investments of $8 million, the federal government continues to support scientific research and monitoring, lend expertise to partnered projects, consult stakeholders and engage communities, and participate in Great Lakes restoration and clean-up initiatives.

Investments were made over 2012–2016 ($16 million) in the Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative to better understand and address issues related to nearshore water quality and aquatic ecosystem health, including toxic and nuisance algae. While currently focused on Lake Erie, this initiative will produce science and policy approaches that will be transferrable to other Great Lakes and elsewhere in Canada.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments respecting their FSDS commitments for this target may be found in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments: ECCC (lead), DFO.

St. Lawrence River

The St. Lawrence River links the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean and is one of the world’s most important commercial waterways. It is a complex ecosystem of lakes and freshwater reaches, a long estuary and a gulf with marine features. It includes many different habitats and is home to a diverse collection of plants, fish and animals.

Phosphorus and nitrogen from human activity enter the St. Lawrence River through municipal and industrial wastewaters, agricultural runoff, and air pollution. Phosphorus continues to be a concern for water quality.

Target 3.5: St. Lawrence River

Take federal actions to reduce pollutants to improve water quality, conservation biodiversity and ensure beneficial uses in the St. Lawrence River by 2016.

Progress statements

Phosphorus levels at the majority of water quality monitoring stations along the St. Lawrence River exceeded water quality guidelines more than 50% of the time during the period 2010–2012. Nitrogen levels exceeded water quality guidelines more than 50% of the time at only one site.

What we know

Phosphorus levels at the majority of water quality monitoring stations along the St. Lawrence River exceeded water quality guidelines more than 50% of the time between 2010 and 2012. Nitrogen levels exceeded water quality guidelines more than 50% of the time only at the mouth of the Yamaska River for the same period (see Figure 12).

Higher phosphorus and nitrogen levels are found at stations next to agricultural areas along the south shore of the river between the estuary of the Richelieu River and Bécancour.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 12: Phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the St. Lawrence River for the 2010–2012 period

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[Long description of Figure 12]

The map presents the status of phosphorus and nitrogen levels at nine water quality monitoring stations along the St. Lawrence River. The status for each station for 2010 to 2012 is determined by comparing measured phosphorus and nitrogen levels to water quality guidelines at each station. The total phosphorus status is green (less than 10% of samples above guideline) at the Carillon and Saint-Maurice stations, yellow (between 10 and 50% of samples above guideline) at the Québec station, and red (more than 50% of samples above guideline) at the Lavaltrie, Richelieu, Yamaska, Saint-François, Nicolet and Bécancour stations. The total nitrogen status is green (less than 10% of samples above guideline) at the Carillon, Saint-Maurice and Québec stations, yellow (between 10 and 50% of samples above guideline) at the Lavaltrie, Richelieu, Saint-François, Nicolet and Bécancour stations, and red (more than 50% of samples above guideline) at the Yamaska station.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

Between 1988 and 2014, the Government of Canada invested $383 million in projects and concrete actions to clean up the water, protect wildlife and flora, create and restore wetlands and habitats, develop new river access sites, reduce the impact of agricultural activities, and support sustainable management of navigation.

Building on past progress, the St. Lawrence Action Plan 2011–2026 aims to conserve and enhance the St. Lawrence through ongoing strong collaboration and pooling of resources and expertise of the governments of Canada and Quebec. Under this Action Plan, the two governments are working together to implement about 50 projects in three priority areas: the conservation of biodiversity; the sustainable use of the St. Lawrence (for example, for recreation); and the improvement of water quality.

A mapping of wetlands and other habitats has been carried out to slow the loss and alteration of habitats that threaten biodiversity. This mapping will promote better planning and better land use, as well as sustainable management of habitats in southern Quebec. In addition, given that the increasing presence of contaminants in discharged wastewater represents a source of concern, a project aimed at documenting the impacts of the discharge of pharmaceuticals sheds light on their impact on the environment and on human health. Also, the Priority Intervention Zone and Community Interaction initiatives funded under the Action Plan support collaborative efforts and projects aimed at conserving and improving the St. Lawrence ecosystem.

In 2015, the Navigation Coordination Committee, comprising representatives of the marine industry, environmental stakeholders, governments and the public, updated the Sustainable Navigation Strategy for the St. Lawrence. The strategy was first established in 2004 to help the maritime transportation sectors and pleasure boaters use the river in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of the federal department respecting its FSDS commitments for this target may be found in its Departmental Sustainable Development Strategy. Responsible department: ECCC.

Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay

Lake Simcoe is the largest lake in southern Ontario outside of the Great Lakes system. Located north of Toronto, the lake is a major recreational and agricultural area and supplies drinking water to eight municipalities. Rapidly increasing population growth, urban development and more intensive agriculture have resulted in higher-than-normal phosphorus levels in Lake Simcoe. This is causing oxygen levels in the lake to drop, affecting fish and wildlife populations and overall water quality. Scientists estimate that the annual phosphorus load going into the lake has more than doubled since the major settlement and land clearing that took place in the 1800s.

South-eastern Georgian Bay is a major recreational area that supports a significant tourism industry and includes the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization–designated Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. Water quality and ecosystem health in parts of South-eastern Georgian Bay are under threat due to shoreline development, excessive inputs of phosphorus, and nuisance and toxic algae growth.

Target 3.6: Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay

Reduce an estimated 2000 kg of phosphorus loadings to Lake Simcoe by 2017, which will support the Province of Ontario’s target to reduce phosphorus inputs into Lake Simcoe to 44 000 kg/year by 2045. Reduce an estimated 2000 kg of phosphorus loadings to South-eastern Georgian Bay watersheds by 2017.

Progress statements

Phosphorus reduction projects completed by March 2015 under the Lake Simcoe/South-eastern Georgian Bay Clean-up Fund are preventing approximately 4040 kg of phosphorus per year from entering the Lake Simcoe watershed.

Similarly, stewardship projects were preventing an estimated 124 kg of phosphorus per year from reaching South-eastern Georgian Bay and its tributary rivers.

What we know

As of March 2015, stewardship projects supported by the Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay Clean-up Fund were preventing an estimated 4040 kilograms of phosphorus per year from reaching Lake Simcoe and its tributary rivers. Similarly, stewardship projects were preventing an estimated 124 kg of phosphorus per year from reaching South-eastern Georgian Bay and its tributary rivers.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

In January 2013, the Government of Canada announced the $29 million extension (2012–2017) to the Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay Clean-up Fund, building on the previous fund’s success. The fund provides financial and technical support for priority projects aimed at reducing phosphorus inputs, conserving aquatic habitat and species, and enhancing research and monitoring capacity essential to the restoration of the Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay basin watersheds.

The geographic scope of the work has been expanded to include the adjacent drainage basins emptying into south-eastern Georgian Bay, including the watersheds and bays of Nottawasaga Valley, Severn Sound, and the targeted coastal regions west of Highway 400/69 north of Port Severn to the French River.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of the federal department respecting the FSDS commitment for this target may be found in its Departmental Sustainable Development Strategy. Responsible department: ECCC.

Lake Winnipeg basin

Lake Winnipeg is Canada’s sixth-largest freshwater lake and supports a large commercial fishery and a recreational tourism industry. The lake is composed of a large, deeper North Basin and a smaller, shallower South Basin. Its water naturally contains moderate nutrient concentrations and plant growth.

Phosphorus and nitrogen in Lake Winnipeg have been affected by a range of human activities, including agriculture, the draining of wetlands, and growing cities. A century of agricultural and urban development on the Prairies and two decades of high water flows in the Red River have increased the nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the lake to the point where algal growth is approximately 500% greater than it was prior to European settlement.

The federal and Manitoba governments and other partners are working closely to more fully understand the relationships between phosphorus and nitrogen levels and nuisance algal growth in Lake Winnipeg, as well as the impacts of the recent arrival of zebra mussels on the lake.

While this work continues, citizens, scientists, and domestic and international partners are being engaged to reduce phosphorus pollution by supporting stewardship projects such as erecting fencing to prevent livestock from entering lakes and rivers, stabilizing river banks and lake shorelines, restoring wetlands and planting native shrubs, plants and trees.

Target 3.7: Lake Winnipeg basin

By 2017, reduce phosphorus inputs to water bodies in the Lake Winnipeg basin, in support of the Province of Manitoba’s overall plan to reduce phosphorus in Lake Winnipeg by 50% to pre-1990 levels.

Progress statements

As of March 2015, stewardship projects supported by the Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund were preventing an estimated 14 800 kilograms of phosphorus per year from entering Lake Winnipeg and its tributary rivers.

Phosphorus levels in Lake Winnipeg were 100% higher in 2013 than pre-1990: 0.1 milligrams of phosphorus per litre compared with 0.05.

What we know

As of March 2015, stewardship projects supported by the Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund were preventing an estimated 14 800 kilograms of phosphorus per year from entering Lake Winnipeg and its tributary rivers. Annual phosphorus reductions increased by more than 8300 kg between Phase I of the fund (April 2008–March 2012) and Phase II (April 2012–March 2015). In 2013, phosphorus levels in Lake Winnipeg’s North and South Basins and Narrows were above water quality guidelines for the protection of freshwater plants and animals most of the time. Nitrogen levels in each basin were generally below water quality guidelines.

Phosphorus and nitrogen levels were consistently above water quality guidelines for the protection of freshwater plants and animals in the Red River, and always below the guidelines in the Winnipeg River. Just over 44% of phosphorus samples in the Saskatchewan River were above the guidelines for 2011 to 2013, while nitrogen samples were always below (see Figure 13).

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 13: Status of phosphorus and nitrogen levels in Lake Winnipeg, Canada, 2013; and in three tributary rivers, Canada, 2011–2013

[Short description of Figure 13] (See long description below)
[Long description of Figure 13]

The map shows the status of phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the North and South basins and Narrows of Lake Winnipeg for 2013. In 2013, the phosphorus status was red because phosphorus levels in the North and South basins and the Narrows of Lake Winnipeg were above water quality guidelines for the protection of freshwater plants and animals. Nitrogen status was green because levels were at or below water quality guidelines.

The map also shows the status of phosphorus and nitrogen levels in three tributary rivers for the 2011 to 2013 period: the Winnipeg River; Saskatchewan River; and Red River. In the Winnipeg River, fewer than 10% of samples were above the guideline and the phosphorus status was green. The phosphorus status was yellow in the Saskatchewan River because between 10% and 50% of samples were above the guideline. It was red in the Red River because more than 50% of samples were above the guideline. Nitrogen status was green in the Winnipeg and Saskatchewan rivers and red in the Red River.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

The federal government works closely with the province of Manitoba and other partners to more fully understand the relationships between phosphorus and nitrogen levels and nuisance algal growth in Lake Winnipeg. At the same time, water managers work to reduce human sources of nitrogen and phosphorus in the drainage basin.

The Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund supports on-the-ground projects in areas known to have the most influence on water quality in Lake Winnipeg, such as the Red and Assiniboine River basin and the Winnipeg River basin. $5.4 million in grants and contributions have been allocated through the fund to promote stewardship, protect water resources and reduce nutrients. Funded projects include wetland restoration, agricultural water retention projects and pilot projects demonstrating innovative wastewater treatment technology. Since 2013, the fund has leveraged an additional $11.5 million from other funders to support 47 stakeholder-driven projects to reduce nutrient loads in Lake Winnipeg and its basin. It has also provided $1.1 million in targeted support to the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium and the University of Manitoba.

Thirteen scientific research and monitoring projects have been conducted since 2012 in the Lake Winnipeg basin to bridge current knowledge gaps related to the lake’s ecology and nutrient cycling, and to track the sources and transport of nutrients throughout the lake and its basin. These activities inform watershed and nutrient management decision-making and complement actions under way by the Province of Manitoba, other provincial and state jurisdictions, and the federal government.

The federal government continues to conduct research and monitor water quality in Lake Winnipeg and its basin. This information helps the Canadian public and stakeholders across the watershed make informed decisions about how to improve water quality in Lake Winnipeg. For example, the government monitors water quality in the Lake of the Woods, which contributes approximately 6% of the total phosphorus load through the Winnipeg River System.

Federal efforts also focus on domestic and international transboundary water quality issues through work with other governments (federal, provincial and state). For example, the Prairie Provinces Water Board, which represents Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, is developing water quality objectives for waterways that eventually drain into Lake Winnipeg.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of the federal department respecting the FSDS commitments for this target may be found in its Departmental Sustainable Development Strategy. Responsible department: ECCC.

Marine pollution—Releases of harmful pollutants

Canada has the world’s longest coastline, stretching 243 000 kilometres along the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans as well as the Great Lakes. It also has some of the most difficult waters to navigate due to extreme conditions, strong currents and very cold water. Marine activity is increasing in Canada: between 2002 and 2012, total cargo tonnage handled by Canada’s port systems increased by 1.5% per year.

Target 3.8: Marine pollution—Releases of harmful pollutants

Protect the marine environment by an annual 5% reduction in the number of releases of harmful pollutants in the marine environment by vessels identified during pollution patrol from 2013–2016.

Progress statement

With a 70% increase in patrol hours from 2009–2010, 44 spills by identified vessels were detected in fiscal year 2013–2014 compared with 21 in 2009–2010, an average annual increase of 20%.

What we know

More frequent patrols to monitor and detect pollution from ships resulted in over 97% more vessels being monitored in 2013–2014 than in the previous year. On the West Coast, 1000 surveillance hours per year has already been achieved, exceeding initial plans to increase surveillance hours from 500 to 700 hours in the first three years, then to 1200 hours in 2016–2017 and beyond.

In 2013–2014, the National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP) detected 214 marine pollution incidents through 3877 pollution patrol hours. Of these, 44 were detected from identified vessels, an increase from the 21 spills detected from identified vessels in 2009–2010.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

As part of the World-Class Tanker Safety System, additional funding was announced in 2014 for the NASP to increase the number of flights targeted at monitoring and detecting pollution from ships in Canada’s waters. Evidence gathered by the NASP is used to enforce the provisions of Canadian legislation applicable to illegal discharges from ships.

In 2013 and 2014, other measures were taken to prevent spills, to clean them up quickly if they did occur, and to make sure polluters pay. These measures responded to the recommendations of the independent Tanker Safety Expert Panel and on other studies, as well as input from provincial governments, Indigenous groups and marine stakeholders from across Canada. Measures included:

In addition, TC has strong and effective ballast water requirements and has ratified an international convention that will further reduce the risk of aquatic species invasions by ships. See Target 4.6 for more information.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of the federal department respecting the FSDS commitments for this target may be found in its Departmental Sustainable Development Strategy. Responsible department: TC.

Marine pollution—Disposal at sea

Canada regulates disposal at sea through a permit system under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. “Disposal at sea” is defined as the discarding of approved material (via a permit) from a ship, aircraft, platform or other structure at sea. It is illegal without a permit and without managing the material discarded at these sites to prevent marine pollution.

Target 3.9: Marine pollution—Disposal at sea

Ensure that permitted disposal at sea is sustainable, such that 85% of disposal site monitoring events do not identify the need for site management action (such as site closure) from 2013–2016.

Progress statements

Since 2004, the proportion of permitted disposal at sea sites requiring 'no management action' has exceeded the 85% performance target, indicating that Canada’s ocean disposal sites are being used sustainably.

In 2013–2014, the government completed monitoring projects at 11 ocean disposal sites, or 12% of actively used sites.

What we know

A management action is a change to how the waste is managed at a disposal site; it can include changes to timing of disposal, the mechanism by which the waste is deposited at the site, any changes to the site boundaries or even the closing of a site. Management actions have been required only five times since 2004: once in each of 2005, 2011 and 2012, and twice in 2013.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

The federal government continues to monitor representative disposal at sea sites and to verify that permit conditions are being met so that disposal of waste at sea is sustainable. In 2012–2013, monitoring projects were completed at 11 ocean disposal sites nationally (12% of actively used sites).

The federal government also continues to participate in development of international guidance materials, such as guidance on dredged material assessment and best practices for disposal of offshore mining wastes. In 2012–2013, guidance was completed on the assessment of carbon dioxide (CO2) streams for sub–seabed geological storage, and on Action Levels (levels of concern) for fish waste.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of the federal department respecting its FSDS commitments for this target may be found in its Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible department: ECCC.

Agri-environmental performance metrics

Farming in Canada has changed significantly in recent decades in response to market demand and new technologies. Agricultural producers and the public have also become more aware of the pressures that agriculture places on the environment.

Target 3.10: Agri-environmental performance metrics

Achieve a value between 81–100 on each of the Water Quality and Soil Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Metrics by March 31, 2030.

Progress statement

The Soil Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Metric rose from 66 in 1981 to 77 in 2006 as farm management improved. Meanwhile, the Water Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Metric declined from 94 in 1981 to 78 in 2006.

What we know

The shift towards larger, more intensive operations has led to increased awareness of the fundamental links between agriculture and the environment. Recognition that protecting soil quality helps farms produce high-quality crops and the importance of sound farm management for reducing surface and groundwater contamination is growing.

The agri-environmental performance indices for soil and water quality focus on how farming affects the environment. A rating of 81 to100 on the agri-environmental performance indices means that, overall, Canadian farming is working in a manner that protects the environment.

The soil quality agri-environmental performance index combines information about the risk of soil loss, soil contamination by trace elements, the buildup of salt and the reduction in organic matter in the soil.  

The water quality agri-environmental performance index combines information about potential water contamination by nitrogen and phosphorus, bacteria and pesticides from farming operations.

Between 1981 and 2006, changes to how farms are managed have helped improve the soil quality agri-environmental performance index in Canada’s farming regions. Index results are good, and increasing toward the desired level. While still rated as good, the water quality agri-environmental performance index has declined from the desired level (see Figure 14).

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 14: Agri-environmental performance indices for soil and water quality in Canada, 1981 to 2006

[Short description of Figure 14] (See long description below)
[Long description of Figure 14]

The chart shows the evolution of the soil quality and water quality agri-environmental performance indices from 1981 to 2006. The index ranges from 0 to 100 and index results are classified in 5 categories: “undesirable” (0 to 20), “poor” (21 to 40), “average” (41 to 60), “good” (61 to 80) and “desired” (81 to 100). The target for soil and water quality indices is set at the “desired” category. The soil quality agri-environmental performance index results are “good” and increasing towards the “desired” level. The water quality agri-environmental index results are rated “good” but have declined from the “desired” level.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

In collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, the federal government supports farmers through agri-environmental risk assessment and planning, and by providing expertise, information and incentives to increase the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices at the farm and landscape levels.

Up to $204 million in cost-shared funding provided through the federal, provincial and territorial Growing Forward 2 agricultural policy framework is helping agricultural producers and processors become more innovative and competitive in world markets. This initiative will help farmers systematically assess priority environmental risks, plan effective mitigation activities and increase adoption of sustainable agricultural practices such as farmyard runoff controls and erosion control structures. For example:

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments respecting their FSDS commitments for this target may be found in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments: AAFC (lead), ECCC.

Wastewater and industrial effluent

Each year, over 150 billion litres of untreated and undertreated wastewater (sewage) is dumped into Canadian waterways. The federal government, in collaboration with the provinces, territories and engaged municipalities, Indigenous communities and organizations, and other interested parties, established the country’s first national standards for wastewater treatment—the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations (WSER). These regulations reduce threats to fish, fish habitat and human health from fish consumption posed by wastewater.

The federal government also manages risks to the environment and human health from the discharge of industrial effluents using Fisheries Act regulations such as the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) and the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations (PPER). Environmental effects monitoring helps ensure that risks to fish, fish habitat and human health from fish consumption posed by these effluents are understood.

Target 3.11: Wastewater and industrial effluent

Reduce risks associated with effluent from wastewater (sewage) and industrial sectors by 2020.

Progress statements

Regulatory compliance reduces the risks of effluent released to the environment in rivers. The indicators measuring the quality of metal mining and pulp and paper effluent show stable or improved regulatory compliance.

What we know

Since 1985, effluent quality of industrial facilities regulated under the Fisheries Act has substantially improved (see figures 15 and 16).

In 2013, the metal mining sector reported over 99% compliance with authorized limits for metals, cyanide and pH and close to 98% compliance for total suspended solids (TSS). The percentage of self-reported test results that met authorized limits for acute lethality has remained above 95% since 2005.

For the pulp and paper sector, 96.2%, 99.9% and 99.8% of effluent samples for toxicity tests on fish, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and TSS respectively met regulatory requirements.

In 2012–2013, enforcement officers issued 61 written warnings under MMER as well as 11 directions and 30 written warnings under PPER. There were 22 written warnings issued under MMER in 2013–2014. Environment Canada and Climate Change will continue to conduct inspections to verify compliance and take enforcement actions where necessary.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 15: Percentage of regulatory data submitted by metal mines that did not exceed authorized limits, Canada, 2003 to 2013

[Short description of Figure 15] (See long description below)
[Long description of Figure 15]

The line chart shows the percentage of regulatory data that did not exceed authorized limits for deleterious substances (Arsenic; Copper; Cyanide; Lead; Nickel; Radium 226; Zinc; and Total suspended solids), pH levels (pH low; pH high) and acute lethality, from 2003 to 2013. During this period, the percentage of regulatory data that did not exceed authorized limits stayed at 99% or above for pH-level tests and deleterious substances under the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations, except for nickel, cyanide and total suspended solids.

In the case of nickel and cyanide, the percentage of regulatory data that did not exceed authorized limits remained above 98% for the 2003–2013 period. For total suspended solids, the percentage of regulatory data that did not exceed authorized limits varied between 91.8% and 95.7% from 2003 to 2007. However, since 2007, this percentage has increased, with a high of 97.9% in 2013.

Finally, the percentage of test results that met regulatory standards for acute lethality varied between 91.7% and 98.8% from 2003 to 2013.

 

Figure 16: Percentage of regulatory tests passed by pulp and paper mills, Canada, 1985 to 2013 (selected years)

[Short description of Figure 16] (See long description below)
[Long description of Figure 16]

The scatter chart shows the percentage of tests that met regulatory standards for toxicity, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids in 1985, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2012 and 2013. Over this period, the percentage of tests that met regulatory standards has increased. In 2013, toxicity tests, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solid tests met regulatory standards 96.2%, 99.9% and 99.8% of the time, compared to 25%, 68% and 60% of the time in 1985.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

The federal government has undertaken a number of regulatory and other initiatives to reduce the risks associated with effluent from sewage and industrial uses.

In 2013–2014, the government began to administer the WSER through activities and initiatives such as putting in place a Web-based reporting system to collect data and reports required under the regulations, and promoting compliance by developing and disseminating information about regulatory requirements. To reduce duplication and administrative burden, the government is also negotiating agreements with provinces and Yukon for the WSER. An equivalency agreement with Yukon and administrative agreements with New Brunswick and Saskatchewan are currently in place, and discussions with other interested provinces are ongoing.

The federal government supports implementation of the PPER and MMER through continued verification of compliance with regulatory limits and by communicating with regulatees concerning environmental-effects monitoring requirements.

The federal government consulted industry, environmental stakeholders and Indigenous organizations as part of the 10-year review of the MMER. Proposed changes to the regulations include revising existing limits as well as adding new substances, requirements or, potentially, other mining sectors.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of the federal department respecting the FSDS commitments for this target may be found in its Departmental Sustainable Development Strategy. Responsible department: ECCC.

Water resource management

Water resource management is necessary in order to reconcile the competing needs of various users, satisfy basic needs, enable economic development, sustain the natural environment and support recreational activities. Decision-makers use water level, flow and sediment data to resolve issues related to sustainable use, infrastructure planning and water apportionment, and to keep Canadians safe.

Target 3.12: Water resource management

Facilitate sustainable water resource management through the collection of data and the development and dissemination of knowledge from 2013–2016.

Progress statement

Provincial and territorial government clients rated the Government of Canada’s hydrometric program 8 out of 10 on a performance satisfaction survey of their data dissemination.

What we know

Provincial and territorial government partners rated the Government of Canada’s hydrometric program highly. The National Hydrometric Program collects, interprets and disseminates national surface water quantity data that are vital for water management.

Learn more: visit the Water Survey of Canada website.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

The federal government continues to work both domestically and internationally to support water resource management and to advance and communicate water management knowledge.

The government continues to support the International Joint Commission (IJC) as it implements an updated water regulation plan for Lake Superior. The government also provides expertise to support the IJC’s Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee, which was established to coordinate and conduct needed monitoring, modelling and evaluation of the regulation plans for the outflows from Lake Superior and Lake Ontario.

On the East Coast, the Atlantic Ecosystems Initiative provides $1.2 million in funding annually to ecosystem-based projects that address shared federal-provincial priorities, including water quality, throughout the four Atlantic provinces. The majority of projects help enhance water quality and watersheds through collaborative initiatives such as identifying and addressing threats to water resources, conducting water quality monitoring and research, and developing ecosystem management tools and management plans.

The federal government also launched an initiative under the National Conservation Plan to enhance collaboration, facilitate research and improve knowledge-sharing to support conservation and sustainable development in the transboundary Gulf of Maine. This initiative helps address common federal, provincial and stakeholder priorities, including water quality and sustainable water resource management.

Ongoing efforts to improve groundwater management have included holding a national workshop on emerging groundwater issues of national interest and providing stakeholders with access to tools and methods to assess groundwater resources through the Groundwater Information Network.

Regional initiatives have included collaborating with the Okanagan Basin Water Board and the Province of British Columbia to install four new monitoring wells, and with First Nations communities to characterize and disseminate information on the health of the Salish Sea ecosystem. The federal government also continues to work with the Province of Alberta and local stakeholders to implement the Joint Canada–Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring.

The National Hydrometric Program provides critical water level and flow information to Canadians through a federal, provincial and territorial cost-shared network that includes approximately 2750 hydrometric stations. Between May 2012 and October 2014, the number of stations transmitting data in near real time increased by approximately 70 per year. Information collected under the National Hydrometric Program helps provincial and territorial emergency management organizations keep Canadians safe when flooding is a risk.

In 2015, Statistics Canada released new biennial estimates on water use in manufacturing, thermal-electric power, mining, drinking water treatment plants and agricultural irrigation. Updated estimates on household behaviour with regard to water consumption and conservation were also released. These data are used to track water usage in multiple sectors and to provide an economy-wide perspective on water use.

The federal government passed the Transboundary Waters Protection Act in 2013 to protect Canadian waters within federal jurisdiction from bulk water removals. This act created new powers for inspection and enforcement, introduced new penalties for violations, and expanded protection to rivers and streams that cross borders.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments and agencies respecting their FSDS commitments for this target may be found in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments and agencies: ECCC (lead), NRCan, StatCan, WD.

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