Watershed faces real threats: WWF
By Robert Mackenzie
Published June 20, 2017
Haliburton’s watersheds are at risk due to pollution, habitat fragmentation, overuse of water and other threats, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The results of the WWF’s Watershed Reports, based on more than four years of research, were announced at the not-for-profit’s Healthy Waters Summit on June 12. The report assesses the health of Canada’s 25 major watersheds and the sub-watersheds within them, and the threats they face.
A watershed is an area of land that collects and drains precipitation into a common body of water through a collection of streams and rivers. Haliburton lies within the Great Lakes watershed and Lake Ontario and Niagara Peninsula sub-watershed.
The report assessed each watershed and sub-watershed based on seven “threat” categories: pollution, climate change, overuse of water, invasive species, habitat fragmentation, habitat loss and alteration of flows. The watersheds were also rated on four “health” categories: water flow, water quality, fish and benthic invertebrates. Each category was given a threat rating ranging from very low to very high, and a health rating from very good to very poor. These categories were then used to determine an “overall threat” and “overall health” rating for each watershed.
According to the report, the Great Lakes watershed faces a very high overall threat level, mainly due to poor pollution, habitat fragmentation, overuse of water and invasive species scores. The Lake Ontario and Niagara Peninsula sub-watershed was also given a very high threat rating.
“As Canadians we have this myth of abundance and pristine waters, and we all go to our cottages, or canoe, or live in the country,” said Elizabeth Hendriks, head of WWF freshwater conservation. “What the results show is it doesn’t matter if we’re city, cottagers or small town people. This myth of abundance and healthy waters is not correct and we need to change that narrative in our head.”
Hendriks said in order to prevent these threats, people need to recognize that what we do on the land impacts the water. One example she gave was the effect lax fishing practices can have on invasive species.
“If you’re an avid fisher and invasive species is an issue, then make sure you’re stripping your boat when you’re done fishing and going into a different river source, because that’s how invasive species get transferred. We need to be really conscious about what can seem like a small activity, but can actually have really large impacts to an entire watershed,” Hendriks said.
Along with the threats that the watersheds face, the report also revealed that there isn’t enough available and accessible data to properly determine the health of most watersheds. For example, the overall health of the Great Lakes watershed can’t be determined within the report because of a lack of data in five of its eight sub-watersheds.
While the overall health of the Lake Ontario and Niagara Peninsula sub-watershed – one of the few with sufficient available data – was rated as fair, the threats that it and many other of Canada’s waterways face could impact the health of our freshwater going forward.
“I hope [people] learn that our watersheds are at risk in Canada and no one watershed is immune to those risks,” Hendriks said.