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CRCA’s Water Monitoring Programs

Since this is my first blog, I guess it would be appropriate to talk about myself and my job – Hi, I am Holly Evans, Environmental Technician for the Cataraqui Regoin Conservation Authority (CRCA).

I really have two main roles as the environmental technician here at the CRCA. The first one is that I am responsible for leading the implementation for the source water protection plan and I also act as the risk management official and inspector for several municipalities within the Cataraqui Source Protection Area. (For more information, visit www.cleanwatercataraqui.ca).

And the second thing is that I am working to grow our watershed monitoring program, with a particular focus on water quality and biological aspects. The aim is to have a program that gives us and others information that will allows us to track changes over time, identify sensitive features for higher levels of protection and ensure that management strategies are effective.

The CRCA is in partnership with the Province of Ontario on a number of water quality programs that most conservation authorities participate in in. These core programs are a big part ofwater quality monitoring my job because and are considered important not only because of the local benefit of the information, but also because comparisons can be made across the province by our Ministry partners. Everyone is concerned about the quality of our water.

One of these programs is the Provincial Water Quality Network. Eight times a year I go out to a number of sites in our watershed – always the same ones, taking various samples to build up a data set for each one to see whether or not there is anything of concern. The samples are tested at a laboratory and the results help to inform things like the Watershed Report Card  that we prepare every three years.

The results also help us to see if there any trends, like an increase or decrease in pollution levels. Then we try to figure out what the trends mean and if we may need to change what we are doing or make suggestions for other people, agencies or municipalities to make changes.

The CRCA is also part of the Provincial Ground Water Monitoring Network. The purpose of this network is to record water levels of the different aquifers in our region every hour. This helps us figure out what is happening to our water system as it relates to climate change. For example we look at what interactions there are being rainfall and the amount of that water that returns to the local aquifers and streams.

The groundwater sites we use for these measurements are meant to be as pristine as possible, so they’re often in rural areas and away from any sort of human activity. When we find higher levels of any minerals it would be because there is just a naturally high amount of, say, sodium, sulphur or iron. It’s not because anybody is doing anything wrong, it’s because that just happens to be the way the water is at that particular location (i.e. minerals from the rocks dissolved into the water).

Aquatic Invertebrates (strem bugs)As far as organisms go, in the fall we examine the aquatic invertebrates (stream bugs). We go in and collect the samples because these organisms are good for indicating what the water quality is like over a longer period of time compared to simply taking a water sample. We compare that with different indicators to see if the stream may be impaired due to pollution or loss of habitat. If there is a change in the type of bugs that are in the water, we can determine if the water quality is improving or not.

A new project that we’re planning for next year is to collect some baseline information at locations that are under pressure from development (streams, lakes and wetlands). For the streams and wetlands, the idea is to determine what features are present prior to development in order to ensure that protection measures are in place and then to gauge what happens when the development is finished to see whether the protection measures were effective.

For the lakes, we are planning to use a combination of field data collection and computer modelling to learn what lakes are sensitive to nutrient inputs so that proper precautions are taken as far as how many lots should be permitted to be developed. We are doing this for a number of reasons: one is that at the moment we make comments, conditions and suggestions on development proposals from the municipalities in our watershed and often we base these almost entirely on an environmental impact statement (EIS) that have been done by a consultant hired by the developer or the municipality. They may have gone to a site in July 2010 and maybe that was a really wet year and that impacted their findings at that time. You could go back a few months later and things could be quite different.

Unlike the EISs, our data will be gathered over a number of years and seasons to ensure that any variability from year to year is accounted for.

We want to build up a catalogue of information so we can look at the impact assessments that come in and say, ‘yeah, that fits with our information over here’ Or we can say, ‘because you only did it during this time frame, we have also found these other things and we will need for you to account for that in the protection measures that are part of the development.’

Many times we fight quite hard for certain conditions to be included in a development approval, but sometimes we want to know that those efforts are effective.

Another good thing about this plan is when we go to examine the different sites, it’s not just about looking for pollution or looking for species that need protecting, it’s about a full integration of the site with the surrounding land and possible opportunities to do some restoration. When a new development comes in, I think we should be looking at it in a few different ways – not just about protection but about improvement and enhancement.

For example there might be a remnant of a forest patch on part of the property and another over on another portion. Well maybe they could be connected. Or maybe there’s some stream bank erosion that could be fixed, or maybe we can ask the developer to enlarge some culverts to help animals more safely under roads, instead of over them. All of these are opportunities for us to ensure the habitats and plant and animal species can thrive, that the water is protected and yet still allow the development to take place.

Right now we are looking at some stream, lake and wetland sites in the Cataraqui Region. This is a new kind of monitoring for us, although other conservation authorities have been doing it for years with success. Our primary goal is to make sure that on-the-ground CRCA development comments and the permit we issue protect our watersheds.

Ultimately, this work is worth it because it is for the benefit of us all. It’s giving us more information to do our jobs of flood prevention and watershed enhancement, as well as wildlife and plant species protection. For us the old cliché rings true – information is power. The more information we have, the more evidence we have, the more weight that the information and concerns we bring to the table have, and the better informed the decision makers, stakeholders and residents will be.

Holly Evans, Environmental Technician

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