B.C.'s watersheds at risk, new WWF-Canada study shows

Three new watershed reports for B.C. freshwater released

TORONTO, June 23, 2016 /CNW/ - British Columbia's rich ecological diversity is at risk, according to WWF-Canada's newest watershed reports.

The province is home to the Skeena River (one of Canada's most productive salmon-bearing rivers), estuaries teeming with eulachon and eelgrass, one of the last remaining moderate temperate rainforests, the Nk'mip Desert (Canada's only desert) and a thriving agricultural community in the Fraser Valley.

As part of its nationwide assessment of the health of Canada's watersheds and threats they face, WWF-Canada this week released watershed reports for the Okanagan-Similkameen, Columbia and Pacific Coastal watersheds that show freshwater ecosystems in B.C. are under threat due to pollution, habitat fragmentation and invasive species. And in Okanagan-Similkameen and Columbia, the assessments found a pronounced lack of data on water quality that makes informed and effective water management exceptionally difficult.

These latest watershed reports are funded by HSBC Bank Canada as part of its global 150th anniversary community fund.

Quote from Elizabeth Hendriks, vice-president of freshwater conservation, WWF-Canada:
"WWF is concerned about the results of the threats to watersheds in B.C., a province that is high in ecological riches and vibrant communities. B.C.'s environment is already under pressure with droughts and industrial developments that can affect water flow, which in turn will have a domino effect on the ecosystems and wildlife and communities that depend on them. Flow, or environmental flow, is the master variable in ensuring healthy rivers and maintains the essential ecological processes required to support healthy rivers."

Threats
The most significant threats to B.C. watersheds include pollution from industrial and municipal sources, and habitat fragmentation from roads and railways. When coupled with future threats from pending industrial development activity, which could unbalance sensitive ecosystems, the health of B.C.'s watersheds is a growing concern.

Okanagan-Similkameen

  • The overall threat score for the Okanagan-Similkameen watershed is "high."
  • Pollution levels are "very high," primarily due to industrial and municipal sources.
  • Roads and railways create "high" levels of habitat fragmentation in the area.
  • Invasive species and changes to water flow also pose threats to the watershed, both earning a rating of "high."
  • Currently, not enough information is available to produce a definitive score for water quality.
  • On a positive note, populations of insects sensitive to ecological disturbances are improving, due to reduced impact from human-caused disturbances.

Columbia

  • The overall threat score for the Columbia watershed is "high."
  • Pollution levels are "very high," primarily due to industrial and municipal sources.
  • Roads and railways create "high" levels of habitat fragmentation in the area.
  • Invasive species and changes to water flow also pose threats to the watershed, both earning a rating of "high."
  • There is not enough data to produce a score for water quality.

Pacific Coastal

  • The overall threat to the health of the Pacific Coastal watershed is "low." However, not all sub-watersheds are faring well: the Southern Coastal Waters sub-watershed and the Vancouver Island sub-watershed both face "high" overall threats, driven by "very high" levels of pollution from industrial and municipal sources.
  • The Vancouver Island sub-watershed also has "high" levels of habitat fragmentation from roads and railways.
  • The Skeena sub-watershed faces similar challenges, with moderate levels of habitat fragmentation.
  • There is a lack of data for benthic macro-invertebrates and water quality. Benthic macro-invertebrates are small water species that reveal a lot about the health of a freshwater system, and monitoring them is an important part of a health assessment.

B.C. watershed reports were previously completed for: Fraser Lower Mainland,Peace-Athabasca and Lower Mackenzie.

For more details about WWF's Watershed Reports, visit watershedreports.wwf.ca

About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more info visit wwf.ca

SOURCE WWF-Canada

For further information: Rowena Calpito, communications specialist, rcalpito@wwfcanada.org, +1 416-489-4567 ext. 7267

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