What Affects Water and Aquatic Ecosystems?

There are many factors that can affect water and the health of aquatic ecosystems. In the Northwest Territories (NWT), the two most significant factors are industrial and municipal development and climate change.

Mining, petroleum exploration and production, hydro-electricity and municipal uses can have direct and cumulative impacts on our water and aquatic ecosystems, as can population growth and further economic development activities. Additionally, industrial operations in other jurisdictions may affect waters which flow into the NWT—for example, the Alberta oil sands development and the W.A.C. Bennett Dam in British Columbia. Airborne pollutants can be transported from far away sources and affect territorial water quality. Monitoring and research programs that target areas of particular concern in the NWT are necessary to understand and address how our water and aquatic ecosystems are being affected.

Both short-term climatic fluctuations and long-term climate change can affect water and aquatic ecosystems. We are all familiar with seasonal changes and year-to-year variations which occur in weather, such as air temperature and precipitation. A significant amount is known about how these short-term variations affect water. However, there is much less certainty about how long-term climate change has and will continue to impact water and aquatic ecosystems in the NWT. Given the territories' diverse landscape, it is important to recognize that different areas may be affected by changes in different ways. It is important for communities, government, industry and other organizations to communicate effectively to ensure the appropriate questions are being asked and to be strategic about gathering relevant information from the right places.