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Water Today Title March 20, 2018

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Updated 2017/6/13
Watershed monitoring


This story is brought to you in part by Energy Systems & Designs

By Cori Marshall

WWF-Canada has released its 2017 Watershed Reports during the Healthy Waters Summit held in Ottawa. The 2017 edition points to a data gap, where many of Canada’s watersheds and subwatersheds are lacking important information needed to assess their overall health. As a result, WWF-Canada is Calling on the federal government to implement a standardized monitoring program.

David Miller, President and CEO of WWF-Canada, described a standardized national monitoring program as resembling "the healthcare system." The federal government "shows leadership with principles and standards in an area where, jurisdictionally, provinces and municipalities have the majority of the role," he said. What it comes down to is "that we don’t have the knowledge we need, [and] setting a common approach would go a long way to having the necessary data."

Miller envisions a very important place for First Nations and Indigenous Knowledge in the future stewardship of Canada’s freshwater. Miller said that the role of First Nations is both "geographical and philosophical." Miller suggests that "is very important to think of the philosophical aspect as we reflect on a collective approach to Canada’s freshwater."

Liz Hendricks, Vice President Freshwater WWF-Canada, explained how the health of watersheds and subwatersheds are assessed. Hendricks said the health assessment was based on four metrics "water quality, fish, bugs and flow." Whereas the threat assessment concentrated on stressors "ranging from climate change, pollution, invasive [species], habitat loss, fragmentation, alteration of flows, and water use," Hendricks added.

The seven stressors were examined in each watershed, though Hendricks said that "we are definitely not seeing the same impacts across the country." Canada is a large territory and most of the Canadian population is along the border with the United States, and naturally, we are seeing "the more heavily impacted watersheds," are along that very border”.

A major stumbling block to having a Canada-wide understanding of the health of our freshwater is that the information that is out there is not being shared. Carolyn Dubois, Director of the Water Program for the Gordon Foundation said that "it is very important that data is shared, and that is why we developed the Mackenzie Datastream." The Mackenzie Datastream is an online open access platform for the Mackenzie Basin, where researchers can upload their findings once on the data stream "the entire data set is made available "for anybody, anywhere in the world."

Dubois stated that "there is a lot of data collection that is happening, by different organizations it’s not always clear where that’s being done." She also underlined that "if data isn’t shared it becomes very difficult to map out what we do and don’t know about our watersheds."

“There is room for citizen involvement”, says Alexis Kanu, Executive Director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, “we are seeing increasing challenges in terms of capacity developing for water monitoring, and citizen science can fill the crucial gap." This also has the ripple effect of getting the local population involved in their water monitoring.

There may be gaps in what we do know about our watersheds, there are groups trying to share and consolidate information not to mention the everyday person getting involved to develop a National picture of how healthy our waters are. From here WWF-Canada will work with the government to help advance the initiative to standardize freshwater monitoring. According to Miller, the major obstacle moving forward "is to overcome the state inertia, once you get things rolling, Canadians will respond incredibly.”

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