Groups Pinpoint Threats to Selected Canadian and US Rivers

October 28, 2009

The widespread perception of water abundance in Canada is a myth, according to a report released Oct. 15, 2009, by the World Wildlife Fund-Canada (WWF-Canada). After scrutinizing the details for 10 selected rivers, the advocacy organization concludes that three are in dire straits, two are in reasonably good shape for the moment, and the others lie somewhere in between.

The group evaluated the rivers from what it says is a more important perspective than just a typical consideration of water quantity, by adding consideration of timing of flows, a few water quality traits (such as temperature and oxygen content), and potential effects linked with climate change.

They say this is an important adjustment because most decisions related to these topics usually occur in isolation, via separate planning and regulatory processes, and rarely consider all such effects together, or the watershed as a whole.

The 10 rivers, which are in locations that span the country, were selected because they represent a range of threat sources (such as agriculture, urbanization, and power generation), they portray a full spectrum of current conditions (from low to high threat levels), and they transcend a multitude of interests because most of them cross political boundaries within Canada or between Canada and the United States.

Many other large rivers also exist in Canada, and could be viewed through the same lens, though WWF-Canada doesn't have any immediate plans to do so. Instead, the group is trying to convince government officials to accept this approach and assess other rivers accordingly.

The 10 rivers evaluated, from most threatened to least, are:

  • South Saskatchewan River, St. Lawrence River, and St. John River (tied, with poor current status and forecast of declining conditions)
  • Ottawa River (fair current status and forecast of declining conditions)
  • Grand River (fair current status and forecast of steady conditions)
  • Nipigon River (fair current status and forecast of improving conditions)
  • Athabasca River (good current status, though altered from its natural state, and forecast of declining conditions)
  • Fraser River (good current status, though altered from its natural state, and forecast of steady conditions)
  • Skeena River and Mackenzie River (tied, with natural current status, and forecast of steady conditions, although some damage is occurring or looming).

More detail on each river and its watershed is provided in the report. However, the report does not address water quality issues such as pollution, and the group is not planning any such assessment.

The authors close out the report by outlining recommendations for strategies that better address flow alterations and climate change, ranging from large-scale planning philosophy to specific management and operational practices.

A few of the 10 watersheds extend into the United States. For an advocacy group assessment of selected US rivers, using a different methodology, you may want to consider the mid-year assessment of the 10 rivers that American Rivers declared in April 2009 as the most endangered. In an Oct. 20, 2009, press release, the group said that some progress has been made in improving the condition of some of these rivers.

American Rivers' next assessment of endangered rivers is expected in June 2010. Many other endangered rivers identified in prior years are also highlighted on the group's Web site.