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May / June 2010

Science information for water professionals, policy and decision makers and others interested in effective management of Canada’s water resources

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Science Notes

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Science Notes

Just Published – Report on International Polar Year Achievements

Environment Canada's International Polar Year Achievements report coverEnvironment Canada’s International Polar Year (IPY) Achievements report is now available and can be accessed on S&T Online. The report covers the IPY projects led by Environment Canada (EC) scientists and delineates significant achievements, innovations and preliminary findings. These projects investigated better prediction of the North's complex weather; state and health of northern freshwater systems; impacts of a changing climate on snow and ice; and sources, movement and alteration of contaminants in the northern environment and food web. The report also describes the 14 projects led by other organizations in which EC partnered or collaborated. It was distributed at the IPY Oslo Science Conference, June 8-12, 2010, in Oslo, Norway, where 3,000 delegates from the IPY science community were expected. Canada is hosting the next IPY Conference in Montreal in April 2012.

University of Saskatchewan's New CERC Team to be Co-located at NHRC

Industry Canada and Environment Canada recently announced the Government of Canada's partnership and support for the recent appointment of the University of Saskatchewan's Dr. Howard Wheater as the 2010 Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Water Security. In support of this program the University of Saskatchewan's CERC team will be co-located in Environment Canada's National Hydrology Research Centre (NHRC) in Saskatoon. At NHRC, university researchers will work collaboratively with Government of Canada water science and hydrology researchers, a critical step in building the relationships necessary for confronting water issues of key strategic importance to Canada. Wheater, who will assume the CERC position in October, has extensive international experience in advising on water management issues, is vice-chair of the World Climate Research Programme's Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment (GEWEX) initiative, and leads UNESCO's arid zone water resources program.

Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative

A major deliverable of the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative was achieved in May 2010 when federal Order in Council (OIC) approval was obtained for the Canada-Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin, under the authority of Section 4 of the Canada Water Act. The MOU will have a life of five years, with an option to extend it for an additional five years. As well as providing a forum for information sharing, consensus building and coordination of efforts, the MOU will enable development of subsidiary arrangements relating to joint federal/provincial science planning and priorities.

Work is currently underway between Environment Canada and Manitoba Water Stewardship officials to draft a Science Subsidiary Arrangement that would support development of nutrient objectives for Lake Winnipeg; coordination of federal/provincial scientific monitoring and research throughout the watershed; and improved distribution and sharing of data, information and trends. The MOU will be overseen by an implementation steering committee of federal and provincial departments, co-chaired by Environment Canada and Manitoba Water Stewardship.

Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) – Field and Lab Manuals Updated

The CABIN program is used to assess aquatic ecosystem health. EC’s Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division has recently updated its existing field and laboratory manuals for 2010. These documents provide clear protocols using comparable, consistent, and scientifically credible methods. They are intended for use by EC, Parks Canada, and other federal staff, as well as provincial partners, universities, ENGOs and consultants contributing data for development of reference condition models and assessment of test sites. The updated manuals are now available on EC's website:

CABIN Laboratory Methods: Processing, Taxonomy, and Quality Control of Benthic Macroinvertebrate Samples

CABIN Wadeable Streams Field Manual

In the North – Bio-monitoring in the Mackenzie Valley 

Scientists from Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division met with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in Yellowknife this spring to discuss use of the national CABIN protocol in bio-monitoring in the Mackenzie Valley. EC made a presentation on the national CABIN program including history, training and modelling considerations using the reference condition approach (RCA). INAC and DFO provided information on their bio-monitoring activities along the Mackenzie Valley. This was followed by a discussion on approaches to move forward as a “Federal Family” to incorporate all available bio-monitoring data in the development of RCA models in the region. 

Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI): Water Quality Index (WQI)

In St. John’s, representatives from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Environment and Conservation (Water Resource Management) and from Environment Canada (Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division) met recently to discuss development of the new CESI-WQI calculator. Developed by scientific personnel from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Environment and Conservation, the new CESI-WQI calculator is a standalone application that will enable the WQI to be calculated simply and efficiently and will facilitate transfer of WQI data to the database. The project’s successful completion and continuity was made possible through the close collaboration between Environment Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Environment and Conservation.

St. Lawrence River – Use of Sulphur as an Indicator of Sediment Toxicity

The Committee for the Development of an Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment Procedure for Contaminated Sediment, composed of scientists from Environment Canada and the Quebec Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs, met to discuss the use of sulphur as an indicator of toxicity for assessing sediment quality.

Ecotoxicological analyses showed signs of toxicity in benthic organisms exposed to sediments from the St. Lawrence River. Interestingly, levels of metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the biota were below quality criteria established for these substances; however, scientists noted that sulphur concentrations in the sediments exceeded 1400 µg/g. Although sulphur is not considered a toxic substance, it would appear that it is an indicator of the presence of one. The toxicity would seem to come from an unknown source of substances containing sulphur. Using sediment data collected as part of the work of the Quebec Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance team, ambient levels of sulphur in lakes Saint-François and Saint-Pierre have been established in order to validate the reports. The concentration of 1400 µg/g of sulphur in St. Lawrence sediment was adopted as an indicator of toxicity for assessing sediment quality. 

Mercury Levels in Great Lakes Fish – Are they increasing in Lake Erie?

The federal government supports a range of activities aimed at both strengthening our understanding of mercury, and informing decision makers at all levels about the design and implementation of effective mercury response strategies. A collaborative study involving scientists from the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada on mercury trends in Great Lakes fish was the subject of a press release by the American Chemical Society. The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, analyzed mercury levels in 5807 fish (lake trout and walleye) samples collected from the lakes between the 1970s and 2007. Mercury levels in the fish steadily declined from the mid-1970s to 2007 in the upper Great Lakes (Superior and Huron). However, in recent years (between 1990 and 2007) the mercury concentrations levelled off in Lake Ontario walleye and appear to be increasing in Lake Erie walleye. The mercury increases in Lake Erie walleye are likely the result of a combination of factors, including increases in global emissions and altered contaminant pathways in Lake Erie’s food web caused by invasive species such as dreissenid mussels and the round goby.

This work supports Environment Canada’s ongoing commitment to the risk management strategy for mercury by providing current status and trends of mercury in the Canadian environment and by communicating science to inform domestic and international decision making.

The press release can be found online.

Citation: Bhavsar, S.P., S.B. Gewurtz, D.J. McGoldrick, M.J. Keir and S.M. Backus. 2010. Changes in mercury levels in Great Lakes fish between 1970s and 2007. Environ. Sci. Technol. 44(9): 3273–3279.

Toxicogenomic Study on in situ Effects of Legacy Pesticides in the Okanagan Region of B.C.

Collecting water samples for STAGE-funded toxicogenomics in the Okanagan region of B.C. | Photo: Environment Canada Staff from the Toxicology Laboratory, Pacific and Yukon Laboratory for Environmental Testing (PYLET), in collaboration with EC research scientist, Christine Bishop, are investigating the potential chronic toxicity of legacy pesticide compounds from a water body in the Okanagan area of British Columbia for potential toxicogenomic effects to amphibians and fish. PYLET toxicologists and collaborative partners will conduct in situ field assays and compare these data to genomic profiles obtained from the controlled laboratory exposures of amphibian and fish to field-collected water to allow a better understanding of the cumulative nature of chemical, biological, physical and emerging pollutants on the aquatic environment and promote development of biological genomic-based methods for environmental monitoring and risk assessments. Data resulting from this project will improve predictive models, interpretation techniques and validate the development of alternative toxicological test methods for determining deleterious effects at the molecular level.

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