A watershed is a land area that drains to a stream or a river. The Credit River Watershed lies on the northern Shore of Lake Ontario, which is in the Southern part of the Ontario region. The boundaries of the watershed fall partially on the Region of Halton and the Region of Peel. The watershed has the densest population in the Canada and has the most diverse landscapes in the Ontario region. The Oak Ridges of Moraine, the Greenbelt, and the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve bisect the river’s watershed, which enhances biodiversity in the region. The river itself is 90km long with nearly 1500km of creeks and streams flowing into the river in different regions. It passes through nine municipalities, which make use not only of its waters but also of its biodiversity. The biodiversity includes different birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and plant species. The region generates millions of dollars from this region through different economic and social activities.
The watershed boasts of a population of more than 750,000 people. Its drainage covers an area of approximately 1000 square kilometers. The watershed has a rough balance of its agricultural, natural, and urban area lands. The watershed’s upper and middle parts contain provincial corridors which play a major role in allowing migration, evolution, and movement of different plant and animal species. The lower region is highly urbanized. It contains Lake Ontario shoreline. It is also home to several bird species and it provides an ideal environment for bird migration. The watershed has approximately 34 percent of its land free from human habitats and influence. The urbanized land takes about 29 per cent of the watershed. Human population also controls the remaining 37 per cent of land. This is through the open space and agricultural activities. The open space comprises of soccer fields, baseball diamonds, manicured lawns and other areas.
The upper watershed has the largest forest cover. This is the headwaters of the river. It is near Orangeville with a hilly terrain. The population practices primarily hobby farming, agriculture, and natural land uses. These uses include hunting, fishing, and lumbering. The area has about 60 per cent of the total land area under forest cover. Maple forests and woodlands dominate the upland areas. The lowlands contain cedar swamps due to the high water levels. There are also flat riparian zones, which run along creeks at the headwaters. These zones end with vast marshes at the lower areas. The middle Watershed areas are between Inglewood and Georgetown to the north and south respectively. The area also has most of its land under natural vegetation. These are the steep valleys of the escarpment, lowland areas, and cliff faces. The steep valley has mixed deciduous forests in the uplands and swamps in the lowlands. The cliff faces contain unique vegetation and animal species. The middle watershed has protected areas which abound in different wildlife species (Carrie, 2012). This gives great recreational and nature appreciation opportunities. The population in this area is denser than in the upper watershed, with farming and use of natural resources as the main economic activities. The river is navigable by kayaks and canoes, which encourages fishing for both recreational and economic purposes.
The lower watershed is flat but slopes gently southward from Norval to the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The shoreline has a critical wildlife importance since it houses many migrating bird species. It is also home to other migrating wildlife such as bats and butterflies. The lake also has different fish species, which encourages fishing. This area has the densest population in the watershed. It supports up to 90 percent of the overall watershed population. This has led to the rapid urbanization in the area as the people are attracted by the flat terrain in the area and weather consistency. Due to the rapid urbanization, the area has few natural areas which are free from human influence, thus less wildlife population. Due to the industrialization and sewerage systems, this area highly uses the river’s waters. However, the urban residents are still close to the natural features, which create a connection between the people and the environment.
The watershed has incredible biodiversity despite the fact that about 65% of its land is under human use. The other 35% of the land has minimum or no human influence with successional or natural cover. These areas are a habitat to different species, including over 400 animal, bird, and fish species. It also supports more than 1400 plant species. The availability of each species depends on the conditions in different areas, with the upper and middle watershed areas having the majority of species. The watershed has 264 and 79 bird and fish species respectively. It also has 61 mammal species population and 14 reptile species such as snakes and crocodiles. There are 17 amphibian species (frogs, newts, salamanders, etc.) with 1420 plant species. This biodiversity is the highest in Canada which makes the region’s productivity and sustainability high.
The Credit River has the most diverse cold water fish species in the Ontario region. This leads to increased demand for fishing in both the economic and recreational aspects. The fish species include Brook Trout, Atlantic salmon, and Largemouth Bass among other unique species. The aquatic system in the watershed supports warm-water, cool-water, and cold-water fisheries with 79 species in the river’s tributaries, creeks, and headwater regions. The cold water fishery is the most productive and self-sustaining fishery of its kind not only in the Lake Ontario Basin but also in the Eastern North America. The lower areas of the watershed exhibit impressive migratory patterns for both the trout and salmon species. It attracts the national attention of both aquatic scholars and recreational fishermen. Recreational fishing is one of the watershed’s top tourist earners with an approximation of 30,000 angler days annually. Steven Hounsell, a financial expert in Canada, estimates the value to the fishing participants to be up to 48 million dollars per year (Harrison, 2006). The river also restores the Atlantic salmon population in Lake Ontario. This not only improves biodiversity, but it is also a proof of the watershed’s health in the Ontario region. The river has several endangered fish species with low population such as the lake sturgeon, the Redside Dace as well as the American eel. The lake sturgeon is found in low population in the lower Credit.
The Credit Valley Conservancy (CVC) staff is responsible for studying and monitoring different conditions in the Watershed. These include groundwater levels, water and sediment chemistry, terrestrial ecology, fish and animal species, stream flow and precipitation as well as geomorphology. According to CVC, the woodland cover in the watershed is poor in the middle and upper areas. Environmental Canada has also supported this observation. The woodland cover in the lower areas is as low as 7 per cent of the total land area while the Environmental Canada’s recommendation is a minimum of 30 per cent woodland cover to maintain the watershed’s ecology and biodiversity. The wetland cover is also poorer than the recommended cover from Environmental Canada. The wetlands cover 6 per cent of the overall land area in the watershed. This is below the recommended 10 per cent. The upper watershed has the highest wetland cover with approximately 10 per cent of its total area. The middle watershed has approximately 8 per cent of the land under wetland cover. The lower watershed has less than 1 per cent of wetland cover. The higher the woodland and wetland cover in the watershed is, the higher the biodiversity is. This means that biodiversity decreases from the upper watershed to the lower watershed (Kennedy, Wilson, & Lines, 2009).
The most important aspect of any watershed’s ecosystem is the water quality. The Credit watershed has high levels of water quality with improvements across different regions. The overall index of water quality in the watershed is improving with time. However, the lower watershed still exhibits the lowest water quality. According to CVC studies, the lowest indices of water quality are in sites such as Fletchers Creek in Brampton and Sheridan Creek in Mississauga. This is due to the high usage of water for domestic purposes with poor sewerage treatment. The concentrations of phosphorus in water in the upper watershed have reduced significantly. This is due to the decrease in the use of phosphoric fertilizers by farmers in the region. However, the phosphorus levels frequently go beyond the Provincial Water Quality Objective, which raises concern on water pollution in the region. The natural way of determining water quality levels is through the observation of benthic invertebrates’ population. Benthic larvae communities in the region have exhibited constant stability in population over the last ten years, which shows that water quality is still high in the watershed.
However, the Canadian Council for Ministers of Environment (CCME) has raised concerns over the chloride concentration levels in these waters. Chloride is the main composition of road salt, the amount of which continues to increase in the watershed. These levels are surprisingly high in areas with the lowest water quality such as Fletchers Creek in Brampton and other urban areas, especially during winter. During winter, the concentrations in these regions can reach the sea water concentration levels. The levels are 120 times more than the threshold for drinking water from CCME. The levels are also 235 times more than the national recommended levels for protection of aquatic habitants. This raises the question about the future of aquatic life. E. coli is also increasing in the upper regions of the watershed. The threshold of concentration of chlorides in drinking water is 250 mg per liter from the provincial water quality objective. The aquatic life protection threshold for chloride concentration is 128mg per liter. Some regions in urban areas in the watershed exhibit up to 30,000 mg per liter during winter.
In the woodlands, there are increases in forest bird species. Ground nesting birds require constant monitoring to avoid extinction in the region. This is due to their declining numbers caused by their vulnerability to predators. This is not only an issue of CVC. CCME and other environmental groups should come up with ways on how to assist in protecting these birds. The woodland cover is generally healthy in the region. The only threat is the Beech bark disease. This disease reduces the number of Beech trees in the watershed, which also raises concerns for the future of the wetland’s biodiversity. Recent data also shows that fish health in the wetlands is declining with time. Fish health is vital in determining the overall health of any wetland’s ecosystem. Brook Trout is the most affected species in the upper watershed. Their numbers have declined and they have even disappeared in some parts of the Credit River. Fish health reduces due to the various factors on land and in water. The changes in terrestrial and aquatic conditions such as changes in water temperature and quality as well as changes in population of insects affect the overall fish health. This is also an environmental concern which requires attention from all environmental stakeholders not only in the watershed but also in the province and Canada in general.
CVC continues to raise awareness about the impacts of the land-use by the watershed’s population. Poor land-use and environmental ignorance have continued to bring environmental degradation in the area. Credit Valley Conservation has started the Pembina Institute, which handles the valuation of natural capital. The Pembina institute also gives monetary value to different ecosystem services in the watershed considering their importance in the region. The economic values for different natural resources assist in climate regulation, disturbance avoidance, gas regulation, waste treatment, water supply, recreation, habitat and cultural management. The institute also calculates the numbers of users of different natural resources. The data assists in minimizing conflicts for the resources with many users. It also helps in formulation of policies involving conserving resources with a large number of users to avoid misuse or exploitation (Lantz, 2010). The Pembina institute plays a major role in reviewing and collecting of data involving ecology, biodiversity, and urban sprawl in the watershed. It develops a database to facilitate transfer of the values of natural resources to different stakeholders to avoid conflicts of interest. It also estimates value of the most important economic resources. It regulates the economic aspect of natural resources in the watershed. Economic valuation of natural resources is important to the population and the authority to determine the ecological importance of the resources and their state.
The lower watershed has witnessed deterioration both in wetland and woodland populations. There are fewer native plant species in this region in comparison with the middle and upper watershed. The amphibian and forest bird species are also fewer in this region. The fish population in this region is also lower due to the increased human activity in and around the Credit. The numbers of invasive species in this region are also high. Tree defects in the overall woodland population in the lower watershed are higher than in the middle and upper watershed combined. The bird species in the lower watershed exhibit urban species adaptations. This raises concern as environmentalists fear that an increase in human population in the lower watershed will lead to the spread of the population to the middle and upper parts respectively. This is in an effort to reclaim more land for plantation and human habitats. This poses different challenges in sustaining the ecosystem and maintaining the watershed’s biodiversity (Singer, 1994).
The main ecological challenge facing the Credit River and the Credit watershed in general is the loss of natural habitat through human activities such as urbanization. Urbanization leads to different activities such as industrialization, which in turn leads to environmental degradation and pollution. Urbanization also leads to an increase in the use of water for domestic purposes due to an increase in population. The other challenge is aggregate extraction. This is a situation where human population extracts maximum resources from the natural habitat without giving it enough time to replenish. A natural habitat degradation is also common due to the overuse and misuse of natural areas. This is especially in the urban areas where the population overuses the remaining natural habitats with activities such as recreation. There is also a significant increase in invasive species that pose a threat to the native species in the region. The invasive species also threaten natural areas, which leads to ecosystem degradation. The watershed community must realize that its health greatly depends on the health of the watershed. It is their responsibility to protect the watershed environment and its biodiversity. Urbanization is the greatest threat not only to the environmental conservation but also to the overall ecological balance and sustainability.
Global climate change is also a threat to the health of the watershed and may cause significant changes in the region. It has affected the overall climate globally. According to environmentalists’ predictions, temperature levels in the Southern Ontario region will increase by 3-5 degrees by 2100. The northern region will experience a bigger change in temperature up to 7 degrees on the centigrade scale. This is possible due to the increase in temperature by up to 1 degree centigrade since the early 1900s. Climate change occurs due to the environmental degradation and global warming. In recent years, there were reported the warmest weather conditions ever witnessed in the region. This is another proof that a global climate change will affect the environment as well as biodiversity in the region. According to CCME, the climate change will lead to an increase in severity and frequency of extreme weather conditions and events such as floods, heat waves, droughts as well as change in ecological systems and general ecosystems. The increase in air temperature can also lead to a significant increase in water temperatures. This is a threat to the watershed’s cold fishery. Long-term climatic conditions lead to a general change in the ecosystem with changes in species due to death, migration, and adaptation problems. This also affects groundwater resources, which influences water levels.
The climate change will cause an overall disruption in the watershed’s ecosystem. The forest cover will have devastating effects. Different forest communities, including the plant and animal population, will seek new habitats, which will lead to migration. The woodlands will also change as other species will run into the forests to protect themselves from deteriorations in their current habitats. The watershed’s long periods of cold and low temperatures play a significant role in keeping away forest pests. A mountain pine beetle is a pest which poses a key threat to woodlands in warm environments. Increase in the wetland’s temperature will make such pests as the mountain pine beetle thrive threatening the woodlands and, thus, the biodiversity. The river sources will be vulnerable to drying due to the lack of forest cover in water-catchment areas. This is also a threat to aquatic habitats, flood control, and water quality. Decline in cold fisheries in the warm environment will lead to increase of invasive species in the aquatic habitats such as algal blooms. This will be common in Lake Ontario due to the decrease in the mix of lake layers which maintain cold fisheries.
The region has experienced extreme weather conditions in the past few years, which are the first of their kind to be reported in the region. Intense storms have been common in urban areas with CVC and other environmental insurance groups having to handle several hundred million dollars worth of insurance claims. The 2009 Cooksville Creek flood had devastating economic and ecological effects. Other areas to the west of Cooksville recorded rainfall a hundred times less. This event raised questions on the future of the watershed’s environment as well as its biodiversity (Visser, 1992). The storm in the area created a great disruption in the municipal sewerage networks, which led to water pollution. This affected the aquatic natural system in the south areas of Cooksville. The storm also overwhelmed the municipal economic situation with high water and sewerage costs.
Credit watershed has many opportunities such as an incredible biodiversity. It also has many successes such as securing green lands, reintroduction of special species, such as the Atlantic salmon, restoration of natural habitats, tourist attraction, and environmental education programs. It is also an opportunity for agricultural communities, rural villages, small towns and cities to come together to take care of the watershed through individual and joint programs. The watershed faces many challenges despite the numerous opportunities. The decrease in unique and native species is the main challenge. Climate change is also a major concern in the watershed. This calls for preparedness and global environmental sustainability campaigns from Canada and North America at large.