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WWF president says fresh water data lacking, Atlantic Canada's in particular

Megan Leslie, president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, said good data exists on only 110 of the 167 watersheds across Canada. - Ted Pritchard / Herald File
Megan Leslie, president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, said good data exists on only 110 of the 167 watersheds across Canada. - Ted Pritchard / Herald File - FILE

Only a patchwork of information defines the health of the country’s fresh water systems.

“We worked really hard over the last couple of years to compile all the data across Canada to figure out what the health of our watersheds are,” said Megan Leslie, president of World Wildlife Fund Canada.

A watershed is defined as a region of interconnected waterways which function as a single system. Upstream activities affect downstream quantity and quality, making the use of river drainage basins a key geographic unit in conducting analysis of Canada’s water supply.

Still, Leslie, the New Democrat MP for Halifax from 2008 to 2015, said 110 of the 167 watersheds across Canada “don’t have enough data to figure out what’s what.”

In Atlantic Canada, “six of the eight watersheds” are almost completely data deficient, she said.

“People are collecting data locally,” she said. “You would be amazed how many small local groups that are passionate about their watershed do rather sophisticated monitoring on the ground but it is not connected in any way. You know what’s happening in your backyard but you don’t necessarily know what’s happening upstream.”

To create a data-sharing hub, the Gordon Foundation has developed Atlantic DataStream in partnership with the Atlantic Water Network. It’s an open-access platform for data sharing that allows users to access, visualize and download full water-quality information collected by monitoring groups, government programs, academics and industry from all four Atlantic provinces.

“It’s almost like a transparent ledger where people can upload information,” Leslie said.

Blockchain technology, supported by the RBC Foundation, provides a network that allows users to see how data changes over time, improving the security and authenticity of the data. Each new piece of information from those monitoring things like water temperature, algae blooms, bugs and fish health builds up the larger block of data.

“Instead of hundreds of individual ledgers, we’ve got one for the region and everybody can access it, input it and make better decisions about our watersheds.”

Back in Nova Scotia for this week’s G7 meeting on climate change and environment, Leslie represented WWF-Canada among other project partners who gathered Tuesday evening to host an event to talk about watershed health and the data-stream effort being piloted in Atlantic Canada.

“So much relies on fresh water,” Leslie said. “Plants and animals rely on fresh water but economies do, too. We rely on fresh water for drink, we rely on fresh for agriculture, for our forestry. So much of it is linked. We literally cannot make wise decisions ... unless we have the complete picture.”

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