Recent attention to the water quality at municipal beaches has helped shine a spotlight on some of the larger issues facing the Ottawa River. However, there continues to be a huge gap in water quality information on the river.
There is not one government agency that continually collects water quality information on a wide-scale basis for analysis. Water quality monitoring is piecemeal throughout the watershed, and there are currently no monitoring programs designed to answer questions about water quality trends in the main stem of the river over time.
Water quality monitoring is performed by industry and some municipalities (e.g., pulp mills, Chalk River Laboratories, wastewater treatment plants, etc.). However, this information is difficult to find and often isn’t available to the public. The data collected by industry is not for the purpose of addressing water quality trends in the Ottawa River over time. Instead it is taken to monitor compliance with environmental regulations and guidelines.
Ontario Government’s Monitoring
The Province of Ontario has a Provincial Water Quality Monitoring Program that was started in 1964 by the Ministry of the Environment. The program has a mandate to collect surface water quality information from strategic stream and river locations across Ontario. The goal is to assess long-term changes in water quality. However, this program is mainly implemented through the conservation authorities, so monitoring stations are only found on the tributaries of the Ottawa where conservation authorities exist (i.e., Mississippi, Rideau and South Nation). Provincial agencies do not publish long-term trend data or assessments.
Rideau Valley Conservation Authority’s Monitoring
The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority has gathered information on surface water quality in the Rideau River for over 37 years.
Many community and stewardship groups are performing their own, independent water quality monitoring to assess the health of their local stream or lake. In the Ottawa River Watershed, we are aware of the following water quality programs:
- The Friends of the Gatineau River
- H~2~O Chelsea
- Bonnechere River Watershed Project
Please contact us if your group is monitoring local water quality.
Water levels in the Ottawa River fluctuate naturally throughout the year in response to rain and snow melt. However, the operation of dams can also affect water levels in the river.
The Ottawa River is a highly regulated river with over 50 major dams throughout the watershed and 13 principal reservoirs. Given the importance of coordinating the operation of the dams, the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB) was established in 1983 by the governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec to ensure integrated management of the principal reservoirs in the watershed. The goal of the ORRPB is to provide protection against flooding along the Ottawa River and its tributaries, while maintaining the interests of its various users and hydro-electric energy producers. The Planning Board also works to ensure downstream communities, such as Montreal, have sufficient water supply at times of low flow.
Water Level Measurements
The Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board reports on the water levels at various locations along the Ottawa River. The reports are updated daily during the spring and once a week during the rest of the year. On the Planning Board’s website, you can also view Monthly and Annual Mean Discharge Records from 1964-present for various locations along the Ottawa River.
Water Survey of Canada (Environment Canada) has a few sites in the Ottawa River Watershed that monitor real time hydrometric levels. Tip: it’s best to search by basin (e.g., St. Lawrence River Basin).