The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released his annual report on December 7, and the information is pretty grim for Canadian waterways.
Tuesday December 14, 2010: The Program on Water Issues at the Munk School of Global Affairs (University of Toronto) and the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network host a special presentation by Commissioner of the Environment Scott Vaughan, followed by a panel discussion with leading Canadian Water Specialists. Panel includes our own Mark Mattson.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper looked at the sections on freshwater monitoring and oil spills. We are disheartened by his findings. You can read the entire report online. You can also read Waterkeeper's Live Blog of Tuesday's event.
Here are the five most disconcerting things we read:
Environment Canada "is not monitoring water quality on most federal lands, and it does not know what monitoring—if any—is being done by other federal departments. It also does not validate the data collected through the water quality monitoring program. As a result, Environment Canada cannot assure users that its water quality data is fit for use."
In 2001, Environment Canada identified a number of inadequately monitored substances that posed threats to human and aquatic ecosystem health. These substances include toxins produced by algae, pollutants from activities such as oil sands mining, and endocrine-disruptors. In the decade since Environment Canada identified the inadequacies were identified "these threats to water quality were not prioritized, and no action plans were developed to address them."
Environment Canada selectively tracks and reports variances from established water quality thresholds in some bodies of water. It "has not established a common set of core water quality variables related to the protection of aquatic life, as recommended by the CCME and does not systematically monitor variances from thresholds across Canada." That means that the Department does not know how often water quality thresholds are exceeded across Canada.
From 2004-2009, Environment Canada did not submit annual reports to Parliament, failing to meet its reporting obligations under the Canada Water Act.
Canada's Coast Guard is doing a poor job monitoring spills. The Commissioner found that the Coast Guard does not have a reliable system to track spills, so "it cannot accurately determine the number of spills that occur each year, their size and their environmental impacts."
Why does this matter?
The Commissioner makes the point that Canada is home to roughly seven percent of all the renewable freshwater in the world. Many Canadians regard this freshwater as our country's most important natural resource. Our ocean regions cover some 7.1-million square kilometres, about 78 percent of the size of our landmass. The Coast Guard received reports of more than 4,000 spills during the audit period. Combined, our fresh and saltwater resources are crucial to the economic, social, environmental, and cultural future.
Here's the best thing we read:
In nearly every instance, the Commissioner pointed out a flaw with Environment Canada's program and the Department agreed. It pledged to address the problem, increasing accountability and environmental protection for the future.
Mark Mattson's remarks to the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers' Network Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's 2010 Fall Report LOW's daily Twitter updates on this theme