The case for community-based water monitoring

A new ELC report explores how community-based monitoring (CBM) can be used to make decisions about watersheds, which can transform the way we understand and apply water law. It may also help us to become more proactive to water needs.

Prepared for Living Lakes Canada and the Gordon Foundation as part of a national initiative on CBM, the Community-Based Water Monitoring and Decision Making report looks at examples of CBM, a type of scientific data collection, and how groups that provide CBM can contribute to legislative decision making and share data through open sourcing.

“This report demonstrates the important role and opportunity that community-based water monitoring data can provide to support all levels of water decision makers at all levels in Canada,” says Kat Hartwig, Living Lakes Canada. “In this era of climate driven decision making, it is paramount that we have all hands on deck in order to increase the amount of reliable data used for water and land use decisions that will ultimately enhance our climate resiliency. This report provides examples of where this has happened in other parts of the world.”

Communities have greater access to their own watersheds than federal or regional government staff and can perform more frequent water sampling than a government agency or an academic institution. This can lead to a better understanding of watershed health and support data-driven decision making.

More frequent sampling may also mean faster responses to water quality issues when the health of a waterway starts to deteriorate. By incorporating CBM into decision-making processes in laws and regulations, Canadian governments can use CBM data to supplement their own data collection systems and watershed planning, and ensure the widest possible range of data are available for consideration by decision makers.

“At the local level we know that community-based monitoring can drive management decisions to meet community needs, says Carolyn DuBois, Director of the Water Program at The Gordon Foundation. “The ELC’s findings highlight examples of how to plug these successes into higher levels of decision making to accelerate protection of freshwater resources and ecosystems.”

Governments in the United States, Australia, and the European Union are already taking advantage of CBM data to supplement government water quality monitoring. The report identifies the core challenges of CBM in these countries and identifies successful approaches to the challenges that Canada could use when incorporating CBM water quality data into Canada’s water monitoring framework.

The case studies presented indicate that collecting, using and sharing CBM water quality data would increase the amount of information available on many of Canada’s watersheds, and would support a more comprehensive understanding of watersheds and watershed impacts caused by industrial projects, climate change, and government decisions about land use.

By helping decision makers to better understand the impact on water and watersheds caused by industrial projects, climate change and government decisions about land use, CBM can help governments to make better land and water use decisions.

With support from Environment and Climate Change and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Living Lakes Canada, The Gordon Foundation and WWF Canada have struck a round table and are leading a national dialogue on community-based water monitoring this November in Ottawa.

Student Perspective: Katie Allen

Katie Allen, shown here from an invertebrate survey in southern BC, came to the ELC with experience in both citizen science projects and water sampling.

While writing this report, one thing that really surprised me was just how creative community science groups and governments could be when looking for ways to address environmental concerns. The passion brought to their concerns and their drive to find a solution that worked for their region surprised and thoroughly impressed me. There is no one answer that is perfect, but the efforts people went to look for a solution is truly inspiring. The best action you can take to help with this issue is to get involved with community groups in your area. Canada does have brilliant volunteer organizations that do take part in community environmental monitoring and would appreciate any involvement.

The ELC gave me the chance to gain critical legal skills. It has been the highlight of my law school career so far to work with such incredible and impassioned individuals.

Katie Allen


Link to report: Community-Based Water Monitoring and Decision Making