Valley resident Kat Hartwig was in Ottawa recently, attending a conference accompanying the official release of the Canadian Fresh Water Health Assessment.
The assessment, which was compiled over four years by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada, highlighted the lack of a national system to collect and share information about Canada’s watersheds, said Ms. Hartwig, who attend the Monday, June 12th event in her capacity as Living Lakes Canada executive director.
“The gist of it was that there is concern because we are so short on data, that it was hard to even finish the report,” Ms. Hartwig told the Echo, adding that, on a positive note, the Columbia Basin fared comparatively well in this respect, in contrast to many other part of the country.
She pointed out the Canadian portion of the Basin has more than 30 water stewardship groups.
“We are fortunate to have so many citizen water monitors here,” she said. “It made me proud, even though I know we’ve still got a long way to go in the Basin.”
Still, Ms. Hartwig emphasized she’s troubled that on a national level we are “so data deficient. We need to make informed decisions about how we use water, and that’s difficult to do without good data.”
The data collected by the various Columbia Basin stewardship groups was used as part of the assessment, which, as Ms. Hartwig pointed out, helped create a high level overview of Columbia Basin water health.
The assessment also highlighted the impact on Canada’s watersheds from climate change, agriculture, forestry and fragmentation of land.
“There was a good deal of talk about how climate change has affected every sub-watershed in Canada,” said Ms. Hartwig, adding that assessment could be thought of a sort of watershed health check up, and used factors such as water flow, water quality, and the presence of benthic invertebrates and fish, to draw conclusion about the state of watersheds.
“It’s become clear that for us that to deal with the challenges we will be facing in the future, we will need to develop new models in terms of public-private collaboration,” she said.
A landmark local water report — the Columbia Basin Trust-funded ‘Water Monitoring and Climate Change in the Upper Columbia Basin’ was referenced several times during the conference, said Ms. Hartwig, explaining that the conclusions drawn in that report were essentially quite similar to those in the WWF assessment.
She added that part of the reason she attended the conference was “to ensure we have some vertical integration between the national level and the regional level, in terms of watershed monitoring,” and said she was pleased to find Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the conference, appears to understand the issues.
“It was heartening to hear the Prime Minister has the same sentiments, and acknowledges that we are shy on data. And I was glad to hear that he sees it — as do I — not only as a challenge, but also as an opportunity,” said Ms. Hartwig.
On the topic of a lack of good data, the assessment reported that despite the fact 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater is in Canada, data deficiency is an issue in 15 of Canada’s 25 major watersheds, (which are comprised of 167 sub-watersheds). According to the assessment, almost two-thirds (110 of 167) of sub-watersheds are lacking the data necessary to paint even so much as a baseline picture of watershed health, and detailed that, for the most part, these deficiencies centre around fish and benthic invertebrates (the flies, aquatic worms, snails, leeches and other small organisms that are an important link in the aquatic food chain).
Only 11 sub-watersheds out of 167 had complete data for all 11 health and threat metrics.
To read the report, visitx http://assets.wwf.ca/downloads/WWF_Watershed_Reports_Summit_FINAL_web.pdf