Featured Project: Know-Your-Watershed in Canada

Based on the initial success of the RésEau initiative, an opportunity for a moderate amount of additional funding was offered by Government On-Line, the project’s sponsor. The new work will broaden the scope of the initiative in a number of key areas and provide a more complete coverage of water issues to be demonstrated under RésEau. The priorities identified were:

Improved National Access to Credible and Comparable Water Quality Data A more complete national picture of federal water quality will be developed to complement the regional work initiated by Environment Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific and Yukon Regions.
“One Window” View to Water Quality and Quantity Monitoring Networks Several new advanced tools will provide direct access to data and enhanced functionality allowing a nationally consistent view of water quality and quantity information.
National Aquatic Biodiversity Information System A new biodiversity component will provide access to aquatic biodiversity data and information, a key indicator of water quality.
Groundwater Quality Information System Two key priority groundwater quality issues – arsenic and perchlorate contamination – will be added to RésEau to complement the existing groundwater quantity work.

Imagine you are a parent volunteer with a Grade 6 class in your hometown of Bancroft, Ontario.

The teacher introduces a new environmental studies project. Students will create a wall mural of their local watershed and also collect photographs, interviews and some water samples. Before beginning, each class member is asked to sketch a ‘mental map’ of their local watershed from memory.

Wait a minute! You may be an adult, but you have no idea how to sketch that map, no idea which watershed you live in or how large an area it drains. Where is the source of your town’s drinking water? Do local agricultural or industrial practices threaten the water quality? Will the water supply meet the demand from area farms, households and businesses in the foreseeable future? How about adjoining watersheds? Which upstream activities may pollute your drinking water? If you are motivated to get involved, which organization(s) can you contact?

You are not alone. Despite an increasing appreciation of water issues amongst members of the public and the media, most of us lack basic knowledge about our local watershed. As politicians/planners and the public gain a new appreciation for the value of integrated land-use planning within watersheds, citizens will demand more information, and demand that it be reliable and relevant.

Until recently, many watershed-related databases and maps were not readily accessible to the public. Thanks to a partnership between Natural Resources Canada (digital watershed maps, place names database) and Environment Canada (systems development, watershed profile), a RésEau project entitled Know-Your-Watershed is about to change all that.

Imagine again if you could enter the name of your town (ex. Bancroft) on a website which would return a series of maps showing the extent of your local watershed as well as the ocean basin you inhabit. Imagine if you could do this for any town in Canada, and that the information was current, relevant and free-of-charge.

Locating your watershed is just the beginning of a growing ‘watershed profile’ which initially includes upstream/downstream basins, water heights, water quality, and names of local environmental groups involved in water-related activities. We have partners who have suggested new map layers (ex. water diversions, dams, resource-dependent communities, water use, snowfall), new services (postal code lookup, upstream/downstream tracing), new profiles (real-time water levels, water quality information, water quality in remote Aboriginal communities, updated census populations, indicators of agricultural and socio-economic effects on watersheds, pollution sources) and more.

Actually, that Grade 6 story might come true. This year, the Canadian Wildlife Federation has selected ‘Watersheds’ as their theme for Wildlife Week and Oceans’ Day (Spring 2006) and will highlight the RésEau Know-Your-Watershed site in a teachers’ kit mailed to all Canadian schools. Expect the initial release of Know-Your-Watershed via the RésEau site in January 2006.

(One final word of advice: Make sure you find the Know-Your-Watershed site before that Grade 6 class. Otherwise, it could be embarrassing.)