Aquatic Ecosystems

Research and monitoring efforts critical to more fully understanding the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems, including water quality, water quantity, groundwater and biological components in the NWT. The incorporation of traditional, local and western scientific knowledge in research and monitoring is important to improve the collective understanding of aquatic ecosystem health and diversity in the NWT. Aquatic ecosystem monitoring and research can also aid in monitoring and mitigating impacts and cumulative effects on NWT waters. 

The difference between ‘water-related monitoring’ and ‘water-related research’ is explained below:

  • Water-related monitoring includes observations of current conditions related to water quality or quantity. Monitoring reoccurs at regular intervals to understand the environmental conditions and potential trends during a longer time period.
  • Water-related research can focus on answering research questions.  For example, research can answer questions related to potential effects from water uses, specific aspects of water management, and identification of influences and relationships affecting water resources. Research is generally done within shorter timeframes than monitoring programs.

A range of water both research and monitoring programs and projects have been undertaken in the NWT to increase understandings of the aquatic ecosystem. These are highlighted below. Many of these programs also directly support community-based monitoring initiatives in the NWT.  

NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program

It is important that environmental information is collected and available to Northerners, decision-makers and industry.  The Northwest Territories Cumulative Impacts Monitoring Program (NWT CIMP) aims to look at how “all uses of land and water, and deposit of waste, affect the environment of the NWT now and in the future." The program coordinates, supports and conducts monitoring-related initiatives in the NWT. It does this by including both scientific and traditional knowledge, while taking into consideration both human and natural environments. NWT CIMP aims to fill information gaps in current monitoring activities, report on the state of the NWT environment and the cumulative impacts of land and water uses and waste deposits, and encourage and support community-based monitoring, capacity building and training.

NWT CIMP follows a community-based approach, meaning that communities must be involved throughout the program: in the design, monitoring, analysis/interpretation and reporting of traditional knowledge or science-based activities. The information collected through NWT CIMP is important and relevant to Northerners. Therefore, the program is largely guided by the expertise and efforts of northern residents.

NWT CIMP operates as a partnership known as the NWT CIMP Working Group. With representatives from Aboriginal organizations, territorial and federal governments, and observers from other organizations, it guides the design and implementation of the program.

NWT CIMP will result in:

  • a standardized, inter-connected system of data collection
  • improved data management, and analytical and reporting capacity
  • the use of scientific and traditional ecological knowledge in monitoring
  • enhanced community capacity and involvement
  • increased accessibility and compatibility of information
  • a better informed decision making process

NWT CIMP has existed since 1999 as a statutory requirement that supports informed resource management decisions throughout the NWT. The monitoring of cumulative impacts is a constitutional obligation contained in the Sahtu, Gwich’in and Tlicho comprehensive land claim agreement and a statutory requirement of Part 6 of the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

For more information, visit the NWT CIMP website

Surveillance Network Programs

Surveillance Network Programs (SNPs) are project specific water quality programs that are generally required as a condition of holding a water licence. SNPs consist of monitoring sites specific to a development or undertaking where water quality is monitored and water quantity may be measured. The purpose of SNPs is to ensure that any impacts of the development and the source of any impacts on nearby water bodies are identified.  The limits established under a water licence are intended to protect nearby water and prevent impacts. The monitoring associated with a discharge of waste under a water licence occurs at the SNP station noted as the compliance point.  All results from SNPs are submitted to the land and or water board as part of the required water licence reporting process.

Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management

The Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management (AAROM) program is intended to build capacity for aquatic resource management in regions where Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages the fisheries. For example, the Dehcho region has an AAROM-funded biologist and technician and community-based monitoring in all communities. The AAROM program stems from the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy and is funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Northern Contaminants Program

The Northern Contaminants Program (NCP)  works to reduce and, wherever possible, eliminate contaminants in traditionally harvested foods, while providing information that assists informed decision making by individuals and communities in their food use.

The NCP was established in 1991 in response to concerns about human exposure to elevated levels of contaminants in wildlife species that are important to the traditional diets of northern Aboriginal peoples. Early studies found a wide variety of substances, many of which had no Arctic or Canadian sources but which were, nevertheless, reaching unexpectedly high levels in the Arctic ecosystem.

The NCP is managed by a committee chaired by Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC)  and comprised of four federal government departments (INAC, Health Canada, Environment Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada), the territorial governments  of Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon, representatives of Northern Aboriginal organizations including Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC), Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), the Dene Nation and the Council of Yukon First Nations.

The NCP allocates funds for research and related activities in five main areas:

  • human health research
  • communication, capacity and outreach
  • national/regional coordination and Aboriginal partnerships
  • community-based monitoring research
  • environmental monitoring and research

For more information, visit the NWT NCP page on the INAC website