To ensure that waters in the Northwest Territories (NWT) remain clean, abundant, and productive for all time, healthy aquatic ecosystems are essential. Monitoring aquatic ecosystems allows changes to water quality, water quantity, rates of flow, and biological parameters to be tracked and measured over time and space. It is important to review factors that could affect water health and review existing monitoring programs, practices, and research in the NWT.
What Affects Water and Aquatic Ecosystems?
Many factors can affect water and the health of aquatic ecosystems. Two significant factors that affect aquatic ecosystems are climate change and the industrial or municipal use of water.
Both short-term and long-term climate changes can affect water and aquatic ecosystems. Year-to-year there are variations caused by weather, such as temperature and the amount of rain and snow. It is recognized how these short-term variations affect water but there is much less certainty about how long-term climate change has affected, and will continue to affect, water and aquatic ecosystems. Given the diverse landscape of the NWT, it is important to recognize that different areas may be affected by changes in different ways. It is also important for communities, government, industry, and other organizations to communicate effectively to ensure the appropriate questions are being asked and that relevant information is being gathered from the right places.
Mining, oil and gas exploration and production, hydro-electric dams, and municipal uses can have direct and cumulative impacts on water and aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, industrial operations in other jurisdictions may affect waters that flow into the NWT—for example, the oil sands development in Northern Alberta and the W.A.C. Bennett Dam in British Columbia. Pollutants can be transported in the air from far away sources and affect water quality. Monitoring and research programs are necessary to understand and address how water and aquatic ecosystems are being affected.