Ottawa River report card

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Ottawa Riverkeeper Watershed Report Card reveals threats to river health

Sophie Demers

OTTAWA RIVER – Ottawa Riverkeeper released their Watershed Report Card revealing various threats to the health of the 1,271 km Ottawa River, giving it a final grade of C in relation to its health. The report looks at changes in the river over the past 30 years.

“If issues aren’t addressed, the health of the river will change in the long term,” said Larissa Holman, Director of Science and Policy with Ottawa Riverkeeper. “The issues highlighted in the report have an impact on the ecosystems, biodiversity and health of species living in the watershed. We want to ensure people take action now so we’re not dealing with the consequences later.”

According to the report, climate change is greatly affecting the river, specifically the flow pattern, which is changing due to the freshet and thaw happening earlier in the year, disrupting ecological cycles and causing flooding. The report also listed human development adding contaminants to the watershed as an urgent issue: Microplastics, PFAS chemicals, road salt, and nuclear waste. Ottawa Riverkeeper asks for these contaminants to be monitored.

The report also highlights concerns regarding the level of mercury in the river, which was higher than expected and needs to be monitored closely.

Changes in physical characteristics of the watershed impact fish. However, current monitoring programs for fish species have gaps, making it difficult to track changes over time.

Lastly, the report highlights that land developed for urban or agricultural use is impacting the quality of the water by overloading nutrients, which leads to problems for the river’s ecosystem.

The report lists actions the public can take to help: advocating for sustainable land use practices, reducing the use of harmful chemicals, and volunteering or joining a local community monitoring program or watershed protection organization.

“Even though some people may feel their contribution is small, each of these actions have an impact,” said Holman.

Ottawa Riverkeeper encourages decision-makers to help by supporting and respecting Indigenous water rights; harmonizing legislation and policies across all levels of government; investing in nature-based climate solutions; and funding community-based monitoring.

“We can’t afford to ignore the concerning trends highlighted in this report card,” said Laura Reinsborough, Riverkeeper and CEO. “The leading causes that are degrading the river are all human-driven. This means we, as humans, can turn those trends around. Though the current grade is a C, the report card provides insight on how we can preserve this invaluable resource for all species and generations. I’m confident we can put ourselves back on a pathway to A+.”

Ottawa Riverkeeper is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the Ottawa River watershed. Their goal is to mobilize volunteers, communities, businesses, and government to address the threats to the health of the river.