Watersheds are areas of land that catch rain and snow, which in turn drain or seep into wetlands, streams, rivers, lakes, or groundwater. Some watersheds cross municipal, provincial, or even international borders. They come in all shapes and sizes, and can vary from millions of acres, like all the land that drains into the Great Lakes, to a few acres that drain into a pond.
Conservation Halton’s watershed is one of the most beautiful and diverse places in Ontario. It includes the world-renowned Niagara Escarpment, Carolinian forests, Lake Ontario shoreline, creeks, valleys, and rich wetlands. The Conservation Halton watershed has a population of 450,000 people in seven local municipalities and two regional municipalities. Conservation Halton works with partners to help maintain a healthy watershed, which in turn benefits human, ecological, and economic health, now and into the future.
Some Benefits of Healthy Watersheds
- A healthy watershed: provides safe drinking water; provides food; enables us to adapt to the impacts of climate change more easily by cooling the air and absorbing greenhouse gas emissions; provides natural areas for people to keep active and recharge their batteries.
- A healthy watershed: conserves water; promotes streamflow; supports sustainable streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater sources; enables healthy soil for crops and livestock; provides habitat for wildlife and plants.
- A healthy watershed: produces energy; supplies water for agriculture, industry and households; helps manage drought and prevent or reduce costly impacts associated with flooding and climate change; contributes to tourism, fisheries, forestry, agriculture, and mining industries.
Threats to Healthy Watersheds
Climate change, intensified human expansion and urbanization, pollution, and the introduction of non-native (not naturally in the area), invasive species are stressors that threaten the health of watersheds and all that live within them.
While contending with these multiple stressors, watershed managers strive to balance the water needs of their watershed businesses and residents as they ensure that adequate supplies of good quality water are maintained to preserve the hydrological, biological, and chemical functions of ecosystems.
How Conservation Halton Helps Maintain a Healthy Watershed
Conservation Halton has been providing watershed management services and environmental protection programs in the watershed for more than 50 years. Using an approach called integrated watershed management and following a strategic plan, Conservation Halton works to protect watershed health and contribute to the quality of life in communities throughout the watershed. This approach accounts for and addresses the interconnection of the economy, society, and ecology within the watershed unit. Managing watershed resources by using integrated, ecologically sound practices and programs helps watershed managers to: protect and preserve natural spaces; ensure environmental planning is an integral part of community development; maintain secure supplies of clean water; and protect communities from flooding. Conservation Halton’s practices and programs include:
Watershed stewardship and resource management
- Watershed stewardship is the responsible care of our natural resources and wildlife on a watershed basis;
- Conservation Halton is recognized for its stewardship of creeks, forests, and Niagara Escarpment lands through science-based programs and services;
- The Halton Watershed Stewardship Program is focused on encouraging and assisting private landowners with stewardship initiatives on their lands within the Conservation Halton watershed. Through the program, landowners receive advice on environmentally friendly ways of managing properties that encompass natural features such as woodlots, wetlands, meadows, and creeks;
- Watershed health is also enhanced through Conservation Halton’s participation in the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan restoration efforts. These efforts encompass an ecosystem approach and strive to restore natural sustainable ecosystems in the Hamilton Harbour/Burlington Bay watershed while also improving the potential for more recreational opportunities and maintaining the harbour’s economic function. See below for more information resources on this initiative.
Environmental planning and resource management
- Environmental planning is an important part of protecting our land and water;
- Conservation Halton staff help municipalities and developers make informed and responsible choices for development projects in the watershed; staff review development proposals to determine how the proposed works might impact upon, and/or be impacted by, the natural environment;
- In addition, with the intent of preventing loss of life or property due to flooding, erosion, or unstable soils/bedrock, conservation authorities have a regulatory responsibility to ensure that works are not permitted in areas of natural hazards.
Watershed health monitoring and reporting
- Regularly monitoring and reporting watershed conditions provides current information required for making informed decisions in municipal planning, which includes managing and rehabilitating the natural environment;
- Conservation Halton formalized their Long Term Environmental Monitoring Program in 2005;
- Conservation Halton reports annually on their monitoring efforts in a specific watershed;
- Every five years, Conservation Halton produces a Watershed Report Card that outlines their conservation achievements and provides an overall indication of the environmental health of the Conservation Halton watershed areas.
Drinking water source protection
- Water is critical to all aspects of our lives, and protecting our water sources is important to ensure that there is enough safe water for all our uses, now and in the future.
- Conservation Halton joined forces with Hamilton Conservation Authority to ensure that activities that pose significant threats to our municipal drinking water sources in their watersheds cease to exist or never become significant.
- They developed a joint Source Protection Plan that provides the municipalities and residents of the Halton Region and Hamilton Region Source Protection Areas with the necessary foundation, information, and agenda to support and carry out Ontario’s ongoing commitment (as mandated through the Clean Water Act) to protecting our precious drinking water sources.
Flood protection and planning
- Floods can threaten humans, their property, and the environment;
- Conservation Halton provides a water control and flood warning program to reduce the risk of property damage and loss of life due to flooding.
Education and recreation opportunities
- Conservation Halton’s parks form a network of spectacular natural areas located within Ontario’s Greenbelt and are on or near the Niagara Escarpment, a World Biosphere Reserve.
- The parks provide access to natural areas and myriad educational and recreational opportunities to Halton residents and beyond, and help to increase awareness and appreciation for the importance of the watershed’s natural spaces.
Enjoying Activities in the Conservation Halton Watershed
There are a number of ways you can get out to experience and learn more about the Conservation Halton watershed. There are also opportunities for you to get involved with and support efforts to enhance and protect the health of our watershed:
- Visit Conservation Halton parks for exploring, adventure, learning, and family fun; eleven conservation areas, including one of the few downhill ski and snowboarding areas in Ontario, have been developed and are visited by 600,000 people each year;
- Volunteer: Sign up for our electronic volunteer newsletter and be among the first to find out about exciting opportunities in the Conservation Halton watershed;
- Go fishing in one of many areas known for fishing in the watershed;
- Search for and identify many of the wild species in the watershed;
- Sign up for Word on the Watershed, Conservation Halton’s monthly newsletter;
- Check out the events calendar to see new, exciting opportunities that are coming up;
- Peruse the Education and Volunteer and Community pages, where you will find many opportunities (including children’s programs) to learn, experience, and get involved;
- Protect Water through your own activities in your home, in your yard, on the land, and on the water.
Want Even More Information?
Watershed studies and publications
- Conservation Halton has conducted a number of watershed studies. Copies of these reports are available for purchase.