About Fresh Water Quality Monitoring & Surveillance

Environment Canada's Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division is comprised of scientists and related experts located in several areas of the country to support watershed-based monitoring and assessment. We implement the majority of our freshwater monitoring programs in collaboration with federal, provincial and territorial partners. For a detailed list of these partnerships, consult Partners and agreements.

For inquiries, please contact the Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division.


What We Monitor and Where?

Long Term Water Quality Monitoring Sites

The long-term freshwater quality monitoring network consisted of federal and federal-provincial sampling sites at various locations and various frequency throughout Canada's aquatic ecosystems. Measurements regularly include physicochemical parameters such as temperature, pH, alkalinity, major ions, nutrients and metals. The network, intended specifically to supply water quality data in accordance with the Canada Water Act, is, for the most part, managed through federal-provincial-territorial, international and inter-provincial agreements.  

Longterm water quality monitoring sites in Canada as of 2013 and their classification (Federal, Federal-Provincial, International Joint Commission, Boundary Waters, or Prairie Provinces Water Board)

Automated Water Quality Monitoring Sites

The Automated Water Quality Monitoring Network works in partnership with provinces and territories, and federal departments. Most stations monitor hourly for temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance and turbidity. Surveillance objectives are intended to enable the detection of spills and to react accordingly, to determine specific events and trends in water quality, especially at transboundary sites in support of the International Joint Commission, or to report on the status of aquatic ecosystems of interest to the federal government.  

Automated water quality monitoring sites in Canada as of 2011 and their classification (Federal, Federal-Provincial/Territorial, or Transboundary)


Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN)

Since 2006, the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) has been recognized as an integral part of the long-term freshwater quality monitoring network in Canada.  It incorporates biological information into traditional physicochemical water monitoring. Macroinvertebrate samples are collected for use in assessing the degradation of aquatic ecosystems through the Reference Condition Approach. A national-scale aquatic biological monitoring program grew out of two pilot projects that began in the early 1990s in the Great Lakes in Ontario and the Fraser River basin in British Columbia. One third of Canada's Sub-Drainage Areas as defined by Water Survey of Canada, are studied using the CABIN protocol for developing biological reference conditions. Environment Canada is working with partners to expand the network.  

Cabin biological monitoring sites in Canada as of 2011 and what year they were sampled (2009-2011 or 1983-2008)

Surveillance Programs

In addition to Long-term Water Quality Monitoring Sites, a national surveillance network was set up to build knowledge on specific issues through programs such as:

  • The Chemicals Management Plan, which measures the presence of chemical substances in various media (including water, sediments and fish, as appropriate) at key locations across Canada.
  • The Clean Air Regulatory Agenda, which is to determine the levels of mercury in the water and fish of aquatic ecosystems at targeted locations.  

Surveillance program water quality monitoring sites in Canada as of 2011 and their specific program classification (Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) or Clean Air Regulatory Agenda (CARA)

Interjurisdictional Monitoring

  • The Great Lakes - St. Lawrence watershed is one of the largest hydrographic system in the world. Its surface area of 1.6 million km2 is the third largest in North America, after the Mississippi and Mackenzie rivers. It drains more than 25% of the Earth's freshwater reserves and influences the environmental processes of the entire North American continent. Environment Canada monitors the quality of many aquatic ecosystems such as the Great Lakes waters in support of our obligations under the Boundary Water Treaty Act and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
  • St Croix River: In support of the International Joint Commission's International St. Croix River Watershed Board, Environment Canada monitors the water quality of the river.
  • Rainy River: In support of the International Joint Commission's International Rainy River Water Pollution Board, Environment Canada monitors the water quality of the river.
  • Red River: In support of the International Joint Commission's Red River Basin Board, Environment Canada undertakes monitoring with consideration to agreed water quality objectives.
  • Lake Winnipeg Basin: As part of the broader Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative, research and monitoring activities are conducted in Lake Winnipeg as well as the three main sub-basins: Saskatchewan, Red-Assiniboine and Winnipeg rivers, including Lake of the Woods. Lake Winnipeg is fed by a vast water basin covering over one million square kilometers extending over four provinces and four U.S. states. The overall objective of the Lake Winnipeg Initiative is to advance the remediation of Lake Winnipeg by identifying, assessing and addressing key water quality issues within the lake and its contributing watershed.
  • Sites located along the borders of the prairies provinces are monitored as part of the Water Quality Agreement of the Prairie Provinces Water Board.