A 2009 report from WWF Canada, formerly the World Wildlife Fund Canada, identifies the South Saskatchewan River as Canada’s most threatened:
Heavy exploitation and an arid climate have made the South Saskatchewan River Canada’s most threatened river in terms of environmental flows. In some areas, more water is allocated for use than is available and the river almost runs dry.
Yet this is the river, and particularly its upper reaches, the Bow River and the Elbow River, that has recently cause such devastating floods in Calgary and in other Alberta and Saskatchewan communities. The report, Canada’s Rivers at Risk: Environmental Flows and Canada’s Freshwater Future points out that
Flow regulation and fragmentation by dams, locks, and weirs have altered flows and water levels, and species are suffering;
Water withdrawals and diversions for cities and agriculture are drawing down rivers, some to dangerous levels;
Climate change is altering the entire context of water management, as glaciers melt, precipitation patterns shift, and droughts and floods become more frequent and intense.
The picture painted by the report is one of significant poor management of our river resources, though governments do seem to be taking a little more notice now than in the past. The report concludes that Canada, unlike many countries, still has the opportunity to avert a national water crisis by keeping rivers flowing, for nature and for people – but only if we take immediate action:
- Take aggressive action on climate change. Be part of the global solution to stopping climate change by helping to create and implement a fair, effective, and science-based global agreement, while reducing Canadian emissions and protecting rivers here at home as the climate changes.
- Keep water use within nature’s limits. Maintain water withdrawals within each watershed’s sustainable limits and prohibit interbasin transfers that move water from one watershed to another.
- Change the flow. Design and operate dams and other instream infrastructure to better balance nature’s needs (the flow regimes required to sustain healthy rivers) with human needs for hydropower, navigation, flood control, and water storage.
WWF states that acting on these three key steps will require changes to how we manage fresh water in Canada. We will need to focus on whole watersheds, applying the principles of Integrated River Basin Management to ensure coordination of the conservation, management, and development of fresh water. Federal and provincial governments must lead the way, collaborating with a broad range of stakeholders, to protect and restore environmental flows and river health as a foundation of a secure freshwater future for Canada.
The 28 page report, and a larger technical summary, can be found at http://www.wwf.ca/newsroom/reports/forests_freshwater/. A brief press summary is at http://www.wwf.ca/conservation/freshwater/riversatrisk/