The health of New Brunswick’s freshwater lakes and rivers can benefit from new report
New Brunswick and other jurisdictions are in the throes of the spring melt. Known as the “freshet,” it is the time of year when we experience some of the highest (and most dangerous) water flows in our streams and rivers. It’s also a time when many lives are impacted, along with the built and natural environment that surrounds us.
With our rivers full it’s hard to imagine that in a couple of months we may not be able to play on our favorite water body for a lack of water! The natural, seasonal patterns of rising and falling water levels in freshwater systems shape aquatic and riparian habitats, provide cues for migration and spawning, distribute seeds and foster their growth, and enable rivers and lakes to function properly. These ebbs and flows (pardon the pun) in freshwater systems are collectively referred to as “environmental flows,” or simply “e-flows.” Specifically, e-flows refers to the timing, quantity and quality of water in a system that is required to maintain the components, functions, processes, and resilience of aquatic ecosystems.
Demands on our water resources from withdrawals, such as for industrial and development purposes, can place aquatic ecosystems at a potentially irreversible level of risk. Appropriate decisions around these developments hinge on a scientific understanding of how changes in the natural flow regime affect ecological conditions.
It is with this in mind that the NB Energy Institute is recommending that the government of New Brunswick develop guidelines for sustainable flows, based on a new report by the Canadian Rivers Institute. They have specifically recommended the adoption of the Ecological Limits of Hydrological Alteration (ELOHA) model, the most comprehensive and appropriate model for e-flows – it accounts for the ecological needs of aquatic systems and recognizes the increasing importance of cultural values of rivers and the subsequent need for their protection.
Coupling the Provinces existing water data, along with on-going monitoring programs and an adaptive management approach, will ensure effective and efficient management of our water resources through the ELOHA framework. This will complement the Provinces existing water management regime and ensure we have healthy waters into the future, while balancing the needs of nature, humans and the economy.