Current Watershed Conditions
Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority (SSMRCA)
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Surface Water Quality

Sault Ste. Marie Region



We rely on river, lake, and stream water resources on a daily basis for a variety of needs including drinking water, household use, agriculture, and industry. Conservation authorities assess the quality of these water bodies by measuring a number of physical, and biological parameters.

Three indicators can be used to assess surface water quality

The three surface water quality indicators reflect key issues related to surface water quality across the province: nutrients (Total Phosphorus), bacteria/waste (E.coli), and aquatic health (Benthic Macroinvertebrates). The Ontario Ministry of the Environment points out that "Monitoring stream-water quality can help us understand the impacts of land-use activities on water quality, enabling us to make informed decisions about managing and protecting our water resources".

Total Phosphorus
Phosphorus is a chemical that occurs both naturally and as a result of human activities. It is typically used in fertilizers and is found in municipal waste and from other human sources. It promotes plant growth which is good for agricultural yields, yet high concentrations can be harmful to the environment causing algae blooms which can reduce the oxygen available to plants and fish.

Wetlands and forests help to filter phosphorus, reducing its impact on lakes and rivers. Without these riparian zones, however, phosphorus can run off easily contaminating both surface and groundwater sources.

Phosphorus can also impact human health indirectly by contaminating drinking water sources.

The Provincial Water Quality Monitoring Network (PWQMN) is the main source of total phosphorus data for many Conservation Authorities. Other conservation monitoring programs or monitoring by partner agencies may provide data for some watersheds.
E.coli (Escherichia coli) 
E.coli is a species of bacteria that is broadly accepted as the key indicator of fecal contamination in surface water sources. The main sources of E.coli are municipal sewage discharges, runoff from failing septic systems, or agricultural operations. E.coli is often more prevalent in water after significant rainfalls or snow melts events.

E.coli can impact human health if it gets into drinking water sources. It can cause severe illness including diarrhea, cramps, and possibly fever. Young children, the elderly, and the chronically ill are at particular risk.

Currently, there is no province-wide program or requirement for conservation authorities collect water samples for E-coli. However, many Conservation Authorities take surface water samples, some through monitoring programs in conjunction with partner agencies, such as Public Health Agencies. Some Conservation Authorities are involved in beach monitoring and reporting for E.coli in partnership with local public health units. Conservation authorities indicate in their watershed report cards whether or not they monitor and report on E.coli.

Benthic Macroinvertebrates

To help determine the quality of water in streams, some Conservation Authorities collect small organisms (Benthic Macroinvertebrates) from the streams' sediment. These small bugs act as barometers of water quality. Some can tolerate pollution while others disappear as pollution increases. 

In the Sault Ste. Marie Region Watershed

Concentrations of Phosphorus were measured at Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks surface water monitoring stations.
What Did We Find?
  • Grades across the sub-watersheds remained unchanged except for the East Davignon which changed from Grade B to Grade A since the last reporting period. This can be contributed to lower levels of Total Phosphorus (mg/L).
  • All of the sub-watershed sampling sites for chloride fell well below the federal chronic exposure (120 mg/L) and acute exposure (640 mg/L).
  • E.coli data was not included as a factor in the final grading. 
  • The Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority has insufficient capacity to collect Benthic data. Benthic data was not included as a factor in the final grading.
  • The Provincial Water Quality Monitoring Network (PWQMN) is the source of total phosphorus data for the Sault Ste. Marie Region.
  • No PWQMN wells have been established in areas where insufficient data is shown (shaded grey).