Risks to waterways substantial but total picture hard to see World Wildlife

first_imgOTTAWA – Canada can no longer pretend it is a country rich with pristine lakes and rivers, the World Wildlife Fund said Monday in a report into the country’s waterways.After four years of research, the conservation organization concluded that one-third of Canada’s 167 watersheds are experiencing high levels of disturbance due to everything from pollution and overuse to climate change and hydroelectric development.Every watershed in Canada is seeing some impact from climate change, with three-quarters seeing a moderate or high impact, said David Miller, president of the WWF.“Scientists call it stress,” said Miller. “I would call it a threat. That’s a real worry.”The research produced a score for each watershed in four areas — water flow, water quality, the health of fish and the health of invertebrates such as snails, leeches and bugs.The data revealed that more than one-third are so polluted it is of serious concern, while one-quarter have poor or fair water quality and one-fifth have water flow issues due to hydro dams, the WWF said.But decades of government cuts to monitoring programs means there isn’t enough data to give a full picture of watershed health, the report said; in 110 of the 167 watersheds, there wasn’t enough to data to produce a score in at least two of the four areas.Information on fish and invertebrates was particularly lacking, said the report.Invertebrates are extremely sensitive to ecological disturbances and are a good marker of the health of a watershed but 112 of the 167 watersheds have no good data available.“Where the data was available about the health, we do see there are some pretty significant health concerns and that implies when we start to see more data, we’ll see more health concerns,” Miller said.The WWF wants Ottawa to set national standards and a national database for what needs to be reported on watersheds.Much of the data is collected by provincial and municipal governments, but there are no federal requirements to do so, which is why some watersheds have data and others don’t, Miller said.In brief speech late Monday at a reception with WWF members, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern about the lack of data but did not go so far as to promise a national database.“Those of you who know me know that I’m a bit of a math and data geek,” he said.“And hearing about what WWF Canada had to go through for the past four years to collect, collate data from so many different sources, to try and get a picture of something that, quite frankly, Canadians take for granted and we should know much more about, is a real challenge.”Trudeau said everyone, including governments, need to “step up” and ensure the data is collected and shared.“There’s so much we need to know and so little time in which to gather it, understand it and act to protect what we have for future generations.”Trudeau said the federal government is on the right track, pointing to its recently introduced “ambitious” oceans protections plan and funding earmarked in the last budget for protecting freshwater resources and managing the threat of invasive species. But he acknowledged there is much more to do.Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was in Europe for a G7 ministerial meeting as well as a meeting at the Vatican.In a statement, her office pointed to $197 million Canada set aside in 2016 to improve ocean and freshwater science and monitoring, but did not address directly the WWF’s call for a national database of information that is publicly available.—follow @mrabson on Twitter.Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the wrong name for the World Wildlife Fundlast_img read more