Health of Pacific Coastal watershed revealed for first time

VICTORIA, Sept. 11, 2018 – Despite significant signs of stress in some southern sub-watersheds, the Pacific Coastal basin – stretching from Vancouver Island to Yukon Territory – has been found to be currently in good health overall based on new monitoring results from 33,074 monitoring sites reporting on water quality, water flow, fish and benthic invertebrates.

The finding provides an important baseline for a region ravaged by wildfires, and already enduring stress from pollution, climate change and, in some sub-watersheds, habitat fragmentation.

Until now, an overall health score for the Pacific Coastal watershed couldn’t be tabulated for World Wildlife Fund Canada’s Watershed Reports due to a lack of data for water quality and benthic invertebrates (including flies, beetles, aquatic worms, snails and leeches). While nearly two-thirds of Canada’s watersheds are data-deficient for health indicators, the lack of data in this region was especially worrisome since southern sub-watersheds in B.C. experience a high level of stress.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published new water quality data last year, and WWF-Canada worked in partnership with both Living Lakes Canada and ECCC, with the support of Loblaw Company Ltd., to collect benthic samples that were then analyzed and assessed alongside previously collected data using WWF-Canada’s Watershed Reports methodology.

Elizabeth Hendriks, WWF-Canada’s vice-president of freshwater conservation, says: “Given the growing stress of climate change, it’s essential for wildlife – like salmon and other fish that move between freshwater and ocean ecosystems – and for communities that depend on access to fresh water that we maintain the health of these rivers and streams. While overall this finding is good news for B.C., when we look at the level of stress in southern subwatersheds, we know we can’t expect continued good health overall without a strong commitment to freshwater conservation. We’re on borrowed time now.”

Kat Hartwig, executive director of Living Lakes Canada, says: “Thanks to a growing network of community-based monitoring groups across the country and a robust baseline of data, we will be better able to track how events like this summer’s wildfires are changing conditions in our watersheds. With data baselines and trends, we will be better positioned to make science-based decisions and take the appropriate and necessary actions to safeguard the freshwater ecosystems.”

About the Pacific Coastal basin:

• This area is home to important freshwater-dependent wildlife including chinook and sockeye salmon (many populations of which are at-risk), grizzly and spirit bears, river otters, the coastal tailed frog (special concern), white sturgeon (endangered), western painted turtle Pacific Coast population (endangered).

• The overall health has been assessed as “Good” with many of the sub-watersheds scoring “Very Good.”

• Climate change is adding a high level of stress to the region, while pollution is adding a moderate level of stress. Why community-based monitoring?

• Canada’s geographic diversity and low density makes comprehensive monitoring networks a challenge to maintain. Community-based monitoring programs are far more nimble, with the potential for more comprehensive reach.

• WWF-Canada and Living Lakes Canada are championing community-based water monitoring (CBWM) as an efficient approach to fill national data gaps for watershed health indicators, and is calling for the Government of Canada to support CBWM by increasing resources and incorporating its data into national databases.

 

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