A report card on environmental health reveals that progress is taking a toll on Peel Region.

Results of monitoring by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), reveals that nearly a third of the Credit River Watershed received a poor grade, mostly in surface water quality and forest conditions, particularly in heavily urbanized areas. The impact of poor conditions can adversely affect forms of aquatic and other forms of wildlife and vegetation in the surrounding area. Specific findings over the years show the disappearance of brook trout in rivers and streams as well as increased concentrations of chloride in the water. Groundwater quality received a passing grade.

The report card points to urban and rural land development, combined with climate change, as causing the greatest stress on the watershed, which is made up of all of the land where rain and snow melt and drain into the Credit River and ultimately Lake Ontario. It impacts more than 750,000 residents who live within the watershed 1,000 square-metre zone, mostly in the southern part of the region including all of Mississauga.

According to CVC, the pollution is generated from industry and construction, wastewater treatment, residential habits and farming. Some of the common types of contaminants affecting the health of the watershed are fertilizers and pesticides as well as road salt, all of which works its way into the watershed. Increasing temperatures caused by global warming is also considered a form of pollution.

“Our watershed monitoring program is like a check-up with your doctor,” says Loveleen Clayton, CVC watershed monitoring program manager. “We want to make sure that everything is working properly. We monitor things like water quality, forest health, underwater insects and fish throughout the watershed. Being proactive gives us a chance to detect environmental challenges early and prevent them from getting worse.”

The CVC report zeroes in on road salt as the major culprit for the increase of chloride concentration. Chloride does not break down naturally and can accumulate in water systems over long periods unless it is diluted or flushed away into the lake. Water systems with long-term build up of chlorides cannot support aquatic life.

As for the brook trout, while scientists cannot explain the exact reason for the decrease in numbers, its disappearance is considered a marker for water quality in streams, creeks and rivers as they like cold, clean well-oxygenated environments. Researchers are studying the decline in the hopes of introducing measures to reverse the trend.

Conservation Ontario developed the Conservation Authority Watershed Report Card in 1999 as a management and evaluation tool that allow conservation authorities and their partners to better target programs and measure environmental change in many of Ontario’s watersheds.

Photo courtesy of Credit Valley Conversation Foundation.