A new and wonderful responsibility, all in the name of freshwater health

The health of freshwater systems for wildlife and human communities depends on evidence-based conservation and decision-making. And that evidence requires a foundation of up-to-date and comprehensive watershed data (WWF-Canada, Watershed Reports, 2020).

(Ottawa, ON) — We have some big news! Water Rangers is the new steward of Canada’s Watershed Reports, the first national-scale assessment of the state of freshwater in Canada. 

We established Water Rangers on the dream of empowered communities. Communities where people have the tools and support they need to contribute meaningfully to filling gaps in water quality data, to become water stewards, and be part of the efforts to expand scientific and government research. 

The Watershed Reports are an important part of the dream of ensuring every waterbody has enough data about it for us to know whether or not it is healthy. Like WWF, we share the role of shaping freshwater conservation for the 21st century. This includes building water resilient communities, bringing water data to decision makers, and creating a culture of water stewardship across the country.

Our history with the Watershed Reports

Water Rangers is a longtime admirer of WWF’s work on the Watershed Reports. Then and now, we see the Reports as a unique and important tool for all Canadians to become engaged in freshwater stewardship. We continue to use the Watershed Reports in so many ways; as prompts for discussing the threats to Canada’s freshwater; to form important collaborations for freshwater action and stewardship; and to showcase the importance of access for all to water data information. But most frequently, we use the reports to call attention to the massive data deficiencies that exist when it comes to assessing watershed health. 

The reports also make note of the increased use of community-based water monitoring (CBWM). In particular, the 2020 Reports highlighted the fact that the growing CBWM movement “had a significant impact on the 2020 results by contributing to additional scores, as seen in the Regional Focus section, and providing a more comprehensive picture of freshwater health in certain jurisdictions.” To this end, the 2020 report’s recommendations call first and foremost for increased support for community-based water monitoring. 

As of July 2023, Water Rangers is the official steward of the Watershed Reports. It is a huge honour for us to assume responsibility for the Watershed Reports from our good friends and collaborators, WWF-Canada (World Wildlife Fund Canada). 

We take our new responsibility as steward very seriously, never losing sight that the reports belong to all of us here in Canada.

Our Sponsor: AquaAction

Supporting us in this undertaking is AquaAction– the same organization who helped us establish Water Rangers in 2015, back when we won AquaAction’s first ever AquaHacking challenge. AquaAction will take on the exclusive sponsorship of the Watershed Reports in what we see as an undertaking that advances our shared mission of understanding water health and empowering community participation in solutions for water.  

Fast facts:

Since 2017, the Watershed Reports have been used by many different organizations for a variety of actions:

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada highlighted the reports during its Ottawa River Watershed Study.
  • The St. Lawrence River Institute based in Cornwall, Ontario, uses the benthic indicator developed by WWF-Canada in its Great River Rapport.
  • Multiple watershed groups use the Watershed Reports to support funding applications seeking to address data deficiencies in their areas.
  • The Watershed Reports are also referred to as essential information by national and local media and in peer-reviewed papers!

About the Watershed Reports

To truly reverse the decline of wildlife we must look beyond single species efforts to broad-based solutions that protect and restore the health of entire ecosystems.

WWF-Canada created the Watershed Reports to identify and address critical knowledge gaps about freshwater health in Canada. Prior to the creation of the reports there was no nationally standardized assessment of Canada’s watersheds, resulting in poorly informed management decisions. This is a concerning situation given the vital importance of watersheds to our ecology, economy, culture and history. The Watershed Reports are one solution to addressing the challenges of collecting data across such a vast area and making data on freshwater health available to the public. 

WWF-Canada published the first national picture of the health of, and threats to, Canada’s freshwater in 2017, with assessments completed for each of Canada’s 25 major watersheds and their 167 sub-watersheds. The first Watershed Reports confirmed how little we knew about freshwater health in many regions. In particular, significant data deficiencies for more than 65% of Canadian sub-watersheds prevented them from receiving an overall score. The first reports also underscored the need for regular updates to national assessments, as new data become available, to maintain accuracy. 

In 2020 WWF-Canada released an updated assessment showing that data deficiency was still a major concern, with nearly 60% of sub-watersheds not being attributed a score. Of the watersheds with sufficient data to be assessed, 64% received a score of Good or Very Good.

The significance of the Reports

To this day, the Watershed Reports are still the only national-scale assessments of watershed health and threats of their kind in Canada. WWF-Canada has decided to transition responsibility for Watershed Reports to Water Rangers, recognizing their dedication to water monitoring in Canada and trusting them to continue this important work to inform water decisions in Canada.

This work includes the formation of an expert advisory committee and review committee to inform the reports and review the data assessment prior to public release. The Watershed Reports will also have a new home on a Water Rangers’ run website. Water Rangers has committed to regularly updating the assessment. 

Sharing the excitement

 “We are excited by this transition and evolution of the Watershed reports and feel, with Water Rangers’ expertise in data, community engagement and communication, they are the ideal organisation to take Watershed Reports. This will allow WWF-Canada to focus on bending the curve on freshwater biodiversity loss on the ground.”

Elizabeth Hendriks, VP of Restoration and Regeneration at WWF-Canada

 “Water Rangers has admired WWF’s work on Watershed Reports since their first publication and see the reports as a unique and important tool for all Canadians to become engaged in freshwater stewardship. We are honoured to take on the role of the stewards of the Watershed Reports! We are committed to the standard of excellence Canadians expect for all upcoming Watershed Report assessments.”

Kat Kavanagh, Executive Director of Water Rangers

“We are proud to support Water Rangers, champions of the inaugural AquaHacking Challenge in 2015, as they spearhead this extraordinary endeavour! Data holds the key to effective water management, but without profound analysis, it remains mere numbers. The WWF-born Watershed Reports is the gold standard that will continue to support AquaAction, and the climate adaptation industry, to pursue groundbreaking, data-fueled solutions that will protect our planet.”

Soula Chronopoulos, President of AquaAction

Media contacts

Ellen Jakubowski, WWF-Canada- [email protected] 

Emelia Duguay, Water Rangers- contact@waterrangers.ca

Laurence Basso, AquaAction- [email protected]

What’s next?

In order to keep data relevant and up to date, the Watershed Report reassessments should be carried out every three to five years. The aim is to provide a holistic understanding of the current state and ensure healthy freshwater ecosystems throughout Canada. Water Rangers’ team is already working on the third edition of the reports, set to be published in the fall of 2024 on a new Water Rangers-managed site. 

The organizations involved with the Watershed Reports (which focus on freshwater).