Land Use Impacts on Freshwater Quality

For the 2010 to 2012 period, freshwater quality was compared to land use at each site to better understand how water quality is impacted by human activities, such as agriculture and mining.

  • At sites with little human development (Undeveloped), water quality was classified as fair to excellent.
  • Poor to marginal water quality was usually found at sites with agriculture or a mix of agriculture, mines and cites (Mixed pressures) around them.

Freshwater quality by land use category, Canada, 2010 to 2012 period


Long description

The bar graph presents the number of sites where freshwater quality is rated excellent, good, fair, marginal and poor in the four land use categories between 2010 and 2012. The four land use categories are: agriculture, mining, mixed pressures and undeveloped. Good and excellent freshwater quality was found significantly more often in undeveloped areas. Poor and marginal water quality was found significantly more often at sites with mixed land use pressures.

Data for this chart
Freshwater quality by land use category, Canada, 2010 to 2012 period
Land use categoryPoor
(number of sites)
(number of sites)
(number of sites)
(number of sites)
(number of sites)
Mixed pressures31521111

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 787 B)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Freshwater quality by land use category was assessed at 167 core sites throughout Canada's 16 drainage regions where human activity is most intensive using the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's Water Quality Index. Five core sites have not had their land use categorized and are not included in this indicator.
Source: Water quality data were assembled by Environment Canada from existing federal, provincial, territorial and joint water quality monitoring programs. Population, mining and land cover statistics for each site's drainage area were provided by Statistics Canada.

Land use, or how humans have developed and managed land around a river, affects freshwater quality. Water running off farm fields and city streets, or released from mines or wastewater treatment plants, can harm freshwater quality in nearby rivers. In undeveloped areas, there is very little human development and rivers are surrounded by plants and trees. In these areas, water quality is mainly influenced by the type of soil in the region. Water quality in these areas may be damaged by human activity by pollution travelling through the air.

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