Environment Canada is not adequately monitoring Canada’s fresh water resources, says Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his report tabled today in the House of Commons.
“Environment Canada has been running the federal government’s water monitoring programs for 40 years,” said Vaughan. “Yet it has not taken such basic steps as defining its responsibilities and responding to the threats to Canada’s water resources that it has identified.”
The audit found that Environment Canada has not defined its responsibilities for water monitoring, particularly on federal lands such as First Nations reserves, Canadian Forces bases, and national parks and wildlife areas. The Department is not monitoring water quality on most federal lands, and it does not know what monitoring—if any—is being done by other federal departments. It also does not validate the data collected through the water quality monitoring program. As a result, Environment Canada cannot assure users that its water quality data is fit for use.
The audit also found that Environment Canada’s monitoring networks have not been adjusted to respond to industrial development, climate change and population growth in certain regions. For example, the Department has only one long-term water quality monitoring station in the Athabasca River, and this station was not designed to monitor pollutants related to oil sands development. Similarly, it only began long-term water quality monitoring in Lake Winnipeg in 2006 even though it was suspected for more than 30 years that nutrient loading of the lake from farming posed a threat. The government now faces a costly clean-up program and has committed $18 million since 2007 to correct the problem and improve monitoring in this region.
“Environment Canada should update its assessment of the threats facing Canada’s water resources, from climate change to impacts on human health, so that it can manage its network to understand and respond to the greatest threats,” said Vaughan, whose report also claims that the government isn’t ready to respond to a major oil spill in Canadian ocean waters.
“Every day, on average, at least one oil spill is reported to the Canadian Coast Guard,” said Vaughan. “Fortunately, most are small. However, given the findings of this audit, I am troubled that the government is not ready to respond to a major spill.”
The audit found that the Coast Guard has not done a national risk assessment of oil spills from ships since 2000, and that its national emergency response plan is out of date. The audit also found that the Coast Guard does not have a reliable system to track spills. As a result, it cannot accurately determine the number of spills that occur each year, the size of those spills, their environmental impacts as well as how many required onsite responses.