The Need for Good Data on Water Quality and Quantity

As a final comment on water quality, the Central Ontario Zone Smart Growth Strategy Sub-Panel is reminded that the direct effects of climate change will very likely be experienced within the 30-year study period. The province of Ontario, including the central zone, will have to be prepared for potentially nasty surprises, the nature of which can only be speculated upon given the current level of research on this issue. The following information from recent studies gives an indication of the types of problems that may occur.

A paper published by Natural Resources Canada in July 2002 indicates that the results of climate change could include a shrinking of potable water supplies, and points out that Ontario already suffers from freshwater shortages. The paper also notes that the quality of freshwater may also suffer from more extreme conditions brought on by climate change. For example, lower water levels tend to lead to higher pollution concentrations, whereas high-flow events and flooding increase turbidity and the flushing of contaminants into waterways.23

A January 2002 discussion paper on groundwater and climate change by an Expert Committee on Freshwater predicted that warmer temperatures will lead to more precipitation falling as rain than snow, and that there will be less snow melt, which may come earlier in the year, and soil moisture levels will drop. As a result, groundwater recharge will decrease, groundwater levels will fall, and many wells will become unusable. As groundwater levels fall, less groundwater will be discharged to streams and wetlands. Stream flows will decrease and water chemistry and temperatures of streams will change. This will affect biological communities and the ability of streams to assimilate wastes, such as agricultural run-off.24

The results of these and similar studies suggest that it may not be possible to depend on the continued availability of water quality and quantity that historical monitoring data might suggest. This increases the urgency of ensuring that Ontario's Water Quality Monitoring Network is comprehensive and up-to-date with the newest technologies.25 Clearly, a greater investment, or re-investment, in this network is needed, and the Central Ontario Zone Smart Growth Strategy Sub-Panel is urged to endorse this in its report. Smart growth cannot be managed without good information.

23. Natural Resources Canada. 2002. Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: A Canadian Perspective -- Water Resources.
24. University of Toronto. 2002. Groundwater: A North American Resource; A Discussion Paper resulting from an Expert Workshop on Freshwater in North America; hosted by the Munk Centre for International Studies, Trinity College, University of Toronto, January 4, 2002.
25. Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2002. Annual Report - Developing Sustainability (September 2002). P.47-48