World Wildlife Fund Canada released the Freshwater Health Assessment results for five new watersheds across Canada. These assessments, along with seven existing ones, help create a clear, consistent understanding of Canada’s national water health. This information is critical to understanding the impacts and trade-offs of resource development decisions, as well as the freshwater conservation progress resulting from restoration projects and legal reforms.

Ottawa River was studied in the WWF’s Water Health Assessment project.

David Miller, the president and CEO of WWF-Canada, said he believes citizens of our country should care about the results because, “Canadians deserve to know if their water is healthy and that it is healthy. The Freshwater Health Assessment provides critical information to guide decision-making and effectively drive conservation efforts where they are most needed in our country.”

The Freshwater Health Assessment uses four key metrics: water quality, water flow, fish, and bugs (benthic macro-invertebrates, like flies and snails) that can be applied across all Canada’s watersheds. Watersheds are assessed on a scale ranging from ‘very good’ to ‘very poor.’ Scores are developed at the sub-watershed level then compiled to create an overall watershed result. These assessments are helping to drive on-the-ground improvements in water health across Canada.

Richard Butts, the director of the Canadian Rivers Institute at the University of New Brunswick, said this newly released information is important because, “The Freshwater Health Assessment is an important step to understanding the state of Canadian rivers at a national scale. The assessment is an invaluable tool for management and community organizations, as well as everyone who loves rivers. It will help shape our thinking, planning and actions, and help unify groups working for rivers across Canada.”

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Overall Score Results

Athabasca River Data Deficient
Fraser River Fair
Humber River Fair
LaHave River Data Deficient
Liard River Data Deficient
Ottawa River Data Deficient
Peace River Good
Peel River Data Deficient
Saint John River Fair
Skeena River Good
South Saskatchewan River Fair
Thames River Fair

While providing consistent data on the health of Canada’s watersheds, the Freshwater Health Assessments will help support to critical on-the-ground conservation efforts. It will also provide strong science-based guidance for effective policy and management decisions.

A need for building a better picture of Canada’s water health through a national lens was demonstrated as nearly half of the watersheds assessed to date have received an overall score of ‘data deficient’ due to a lack of credible information to meet WWF’s rigorous standards.

WWF aims to complete assessments on 25 per cent of Canada’s watersheds by June 2014 and 100 per cent by Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

The results of the Freshwater Health Assessments are freely available to everyone. This and further information can be found at www.wwf.ca/waterhealth. —Kristen Curtis

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