BURLINGTON, ON — On March 22, Conservation Halton released the 2023 Watershed Report Card as part of a province-wide effort to monitor environmental health.
Watershed Report Cards are produced by Ontario conservation authorities every five years and provide an overview of watershed health, using a grading system for three key categories: Forest Conditions, Groundwater Quality, and Surface Water Quality. This form of monitoring, tracking and reporting puts scientific data into the hands of decision-makers throughout the province.
Forest Conditions for the watershed received an overall rating of D (Poor) because large forest areas are scarce and urban forest areas are small. Most forest in the watershed is found above the Niagara Escarpment in the headwaters of Bronte Creek and Sixteen Mile Creek, where urban development and agricultural activities are limited. The report identifies that there is a sufficient amount of streamside vegetation that is forested in some areas of the watershed, but more coverage will help improve the health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
Groundwater Quality for the watershed is measured at ten well locations and received an overall rating of A (Excellent) based on concentrations of nitrate +nitrite (as Nitrogen) and chloride levels. (Results identify conditions at the wells only.) Two of the wells indicated higher levels of chloride, but both are naturally occurring concentrations because they are located near shale bedrock. Two other wells indicated higher levels of chloride and nitrogen as a result of human activities, such as road salting and agriculture—otherwise, the majority of the monitored wells scored as having “excellent” water quality.
Surface Water Quality for the watershed is measured based on chemical indicators (ie., phosphorus concentrations) and biological indicators (ie., benthic invertebrates) and received an overall rating of C (Fair). Nine of the 18 sub-watershed areas had more degraded conditions and received a lower grade than in previous years, and nine had improved conditions and a higher grade. Most of the sub-watershed areas with lower scores are urban and agricultural while most of the areas with higher scores had more natural cover. About half of the water quality stations had high levels of chloride. Ongoing efforts to improve stormwater management through low impact development (LID) practices will help to improve water quality.
Furthermore, water quality data from the last 50 years has shown that levels of chloride, which comes from road salt, continue to increase within the watershed. In some watersheds, the values are more than double the limit considered safe for aquatic species. Currently, there is no known way to remove chloride from our environment, so prevention is key. Reducing salt application and implementing nature-based solutions, like streamside plantings, can help reduce the impacts of chloride on water quality.
Invasive Species is not a mandatory category in the Watershed Report Card, but Conservation Halton monitors invasive species as part of their Long-term Environmental Monitoring Program (LEMP). Invasive species are plants, animals, pests, and pathogens that compete with native species for habitat, food and other resources. Once they become established, these species can be difficult to remove. This monitoring has shown that our watershed ecosystems, and forests in particular, are being drastically altered and damaged by invasive species.
“Environmental monitoring helps provide important insight into the health of our natural environment, what approaches are working and what areas still need more attention. As an organization that roots itself in science, Conservation Halton uses the information gathered by environmental monitoring to make data-driven decisions about how to best manage the watershed,” said Hassaan Basit, President & CEO, Conservation Halton. “The Watershed Report Card is a helpful tool that identifies where our efforts will have the most impact when tackling the effects of road salt on water quality, the threat of invasive species to biodiversity, and the state of the forests in the area. With a strong collaboration with our municipal and community partners, and a continued focus on source water protection, stormwater management, forest management, and wetland restoration, we can make significant improvements in many of these areas.”
Over the past four years, Conservation Halton has completed many restoration projects on both private and public property to improve the natural functions of our environments and make our watershed more resilient to climate change. A few of these key projects include Flamborough Centre Park, Courtcliffe Park, Drumquin Park, as well as continued work at Kelso Quarry Park (currently known as Area 8) and Glenorchy Conservation Areas.
Watersheds provide important ecological services for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aggregate extraction, and other industries, as well as supporting the mental and physical health of the people who live and work in our communities. The creeks, streams, wetlands, forests, valleys and other natural features provide a variety of benefits: they help reduce pollution and contaminates from our sources of drinking water, absorb rainwater during severe weather events to prevent flooding, erosion, and drought hazards, reduce air temperature during heat waves, capture and store carbon to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and support biodiversity in support of healthy ecosystems.
Conservation Halton’s watershed management efforts are focused within three main watersheds (Grindstone Creek, Bronte Creek and Sixteen Mile Creek), and another 18 smaller watersheds within Oakville and Burlington (Urban Creeks). The watershed includes most of Halton Region and portions of the City of Hamilton, Puslinch Township and the City of Mississauga.
Conservation Halton’s Watershed Report Card with more information about watershed health can be found here: conservationhalton.ca/watershed-report-card
Conservation Halton is the community based environmental agency that protects, restores, and manages the natural resources in its watershed. The organization has staff that includes ecologists, land use planners, engineers, foresters and educators, along with a network of volunteers, who are guided by a Board of Directors comprised of municipally elected and appointed citizens. Conservation Halton is recognized for its stewardship of creeks, forests and Niagara Escarpment lands through science-based programs and services.
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