Reporting on Conservation Authorities’ Watersheds across Ontario

Conservation Authorities just launched a third set of Watershed Report Cards (WRCs) coinciding with World Water Day. They should be congratulated for tackling such an important project reporting on environmental conditions in their watersheds.

Conservation Authorities carry out valuable work of monitoring and reporting on conditions within local watersheds.  Watershed report cards are a culmination of their efforts on a five-year reporting cycle.

In addition to being used by Conservation Authorities, many other organizations also use these watershed report cards to connect their monitoring and reporting to environmental conditions in Ontario. 

The theme for this year’s World Water Day is Be the Change. In addition to providing an overview of conditions, Conservation Authorities’ watershed report cards have plenty of suggestions for how we can ‘be the change’  to increase Ontario’s natural resilience.

Often there is a direct link with human activities to watershed conditions, and it is an opportunity for all of us to see our own personal roles and responsibilities in protecting water and land resources in a collaborative manner with Conservation Authorities.

Although these report cards do not report specifically on climate change, they do reveal conditions of three key resource categories that are impacted by climate change: surface water quality, forest cover and groundwater quality. Some report cards also talk about the condition of wetlands and other wetland conditions.

What are our findings in 2023?

Much like the 2018 WRCs, the 2023 report cards revealed lower grades in surface water quality and forest conditions. Groundwater conditions are generally As and Bs. There are some As and Bs generally in watersheds with less urban pressures (especially in the north and east).   

Overall, the main message is that our watersheds need more to be done to keep them vibrant and healthy communities we all call home. Resilient watersheds require continued investment to respond to the growing challenges of climate change and  urbanization pressures.

As watershed managers, Conservation Authorities protect natural resources because they provide many benefits that we rely on daily. This includes clean drinking water sources, reduced flood risks, healthy soils, sustainable water to ensure food security, raw materials for industry, recreational opportunities, and climate change adaptation benefits.

Although there hasn’t been much change since the 2018 report cards, continued investment is needed to improve and/or maintain conditions.

 The Conservation Authorities are very straightforward in their analysis of local conditions. They flag a number of key watershed issues including: stormwater runoff, invasive species, forest cover, loss of wetlands, vegetation along rivers, streams and creeks as well as habitat loss (fish, wildlife and birds) and pollution. They explain why these conditions exist, show current activities underway to address conditions and suggest additional activities that could be implemented to improve conditions.

Many successful partnerships are showcased and lots of suggestions for more actions ranging from high level policy development to on-the-ground citizen science activities are provided. They show how YOU can be the change.

Conservation Authorities are watershed management experts. They’ve been tracking conditions across Ontario’s watersheds for decades. They have become intimately acquainted with our rivers, lakes and streams. They work collaboratively to build up the diversity of our forests and identify vulnerable or important ecosystems in addition to protecting important surface and groundwater sources of drinking water.

Conservation Authorities make good use of investments made by all levels of government and other partners in nature-based programs such as green infrastructure, stewardship initiatives, stormwater management projects, tree planting, rural water quality programs and many more.  Additional support would increase the outcomes from this work.

Learn About the State of Your Local Watershed - StoryMap

Conservation Ontario has produced a State of Ontario’s Watersheds Story Map to support the Conservation Authority Watershed Report Card initiative, which provides a provincial overview of the 2023 watershed report card results. It highlights some of the great work already underway by Conservation Authorities and provides suggestions for other actions by decision-makers, partners and residents.

By Conservation Ontario staff