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

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 is occurs both naturally and as a result of our 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 on 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, or runoff from failing septic systems, or agricultural operations.E.coli is often more present after significant rainfalls or snow melts and because it travels rapidly down creeks, rivers and streams to lakes and popular beaches.

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

Currently, there is no province-wide program whereby 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. Conservation Authorities indicate in their watershed report cards whether or not they monitor and report on E.coli. Some Conservation Authorities are involved in beach monitoring and reporting for E.coli in partnership with local public health units.
Benthic Macroinvertebrates - To help determine the quality of water in streams, 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. Currently, most Conservation Authorities have a benthic monitoring program and a number are planning to start. The current WRC guidelines adopt the Hilsenhoff 1988 Family Biotic Index as modified by New York State (Smith et al 2009). 
In the Sault Ste. Marie Region Watershed
Concentrations of Phosphorus were measured at five Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change surface water monitoring stations
What Did we Find?
  • Grades range from A to B.
  • E.coli data was not included as a factor in the final grading because the five surface water stations monitored are not a source of municipal drinking water.
  • The Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority has insufficient capacity to collect Benthic data. Benthic data was not included as a factor in final grading.
  • Permanent monitoring stations have not been established in some areas of the region.
  • Surface water quality data for this report has been collected for the Provincial Water Quality Monitoring Network (PWQMN) by the Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority between 2012-2017.
  • No PWQMN wells have been established in areas were insufficient data is shown (shaded grey).
Grades ranged from A to B      
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