ERCA Releases 2017 – 2021 Watershed Report Card

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Watershed Report Card Cover

5-year Watershed Checkup also marks World Water Day

Windsor, ON – The Essex Region Conservation Authority launched its 2017 – 2021 Watershed Report Card, a 5-year watershed checkup, today.  Conservation Authorities across the province rolled out similar reports to mark World Water Day.

“People around the globe are recognizing World Water Day,” said ERCA Chair Jim Morrison. “While here in Canada, we are fortunate to largely have access to safe and clean drinking water and appropriate sanitation, we are experiencing environmental damages caused by our rapidly changing climate. Floods, drought and water pollution are all made worse by degraded vegetation, soil, rivers and lakes. Investment in water resource protection is critical to make the changes needed to achieve a state of environmental sustainability in our region and beyond.”

Locally, groundwater in the region continues to score excellently, mainly because of protection offered by our hard clay soils.  Surface water quality and forest cover scores are consistently low.

“Surface water quality grades range from C to F, with an average score of D,” explained Dr. Katie Stammler, ERCA’s Water Quality Scientist. “This is an improvement in many watersheds since our last report card in 2018. While the improved score is due to lower concentrations of E.coli, there are not enough data to suggest a consistent trend.”

However, total phosphorus concentrations are continuing to increase in some watersheds, resulting in all but one watershed receiving a failing grade. “As well, due to COVID-19 restrictions, we were unable to sample benthic invertebrates, the insects that live in streams, during the time period used for this report card,” Dr. Stammler adds. The absence of this data is another possible factor in the improved surface water quality grades.

Forest conditions also scored low, with most watersheds ranked as a D or an F. Decreases were due to more stringent measurement standards, not loss of forest habitat.  “It is important to note that the standards of measurement are set across the province. It would be difficult to achieve a higher score on this scale within our highly developed watershed,” said Tim Byrne, ERCA CAO.  “ERCA’s forest cover has increased from less than 4%, the lowest in Canada, to 5.7%. This is an increase of more than 7,000 acres. This is a substantial accomplishment, but is not enough to meet the threshold to move up a letter grade.”  A ‘C’ rating would require 15.1% forest cover.

“However, it is critically important to continue implementing tree planting, restoration and water quality improvement projects,” Byrne cautions. “While these grades do provide an indicator of how our watersheds are doing in relation to others across the province, there are a lot of other factors to consider for a fulsome picture.”

Byrne adds that in addition to helping improve the health of our watershed, nature-based solutions and green infrastructure have the potential to solve many of our sustainability challenges. “We need to do so much more with ‘green’ infrastructure, particularly in the face of a changing climate. Planting new forests, creating new habitat and restoring wetlands will help mitigate flooding and improve human health and the health of our watersheds.”

The Essex Region Conservation Authority is a public sector organization established by the Province of Ontario in 1973 and governed by local municipalities. For 50 years, it has delivered programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources in watersheds in the Windsor-Essex-Pelee Island region.

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