Municipal Affairs and Environment

Water Quality Monitoring Agreement

Environment Canada and the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment have been monitoring ambient surface water quality of selected water bodies in the province since 1986 under the Canada-Newfoundland Water Quality Monitoring Agreement (WQMA). The purpose of this Agreement was practical coordination and integration of federal and provincial water quality monitoring activities. On April 29, 1986, an Agreement was signed between the federal and provincial government to establish a joint water quality monitoring network. The WQMA provides for the regular monitoring of an index network of stations, as well as an annual recurrent study concentrating on water quality, sediment and biota in a selected watershed. Since its inception, the Agreement has seen water quality data collected at a total of 120 monitoring sites.

Classification of Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Water Quality Monitoring Agreement Sampling

Time Frame Long-term
Variable Type Physical, chemical, limited biological
Frequency of Sampling Seasonal to monthly
Hydrologic Type Surface water- rivers, streams, lakes
Sampling Media Water, limited sediment, limited biota
Objective Collect baseline water quality data
Main Information Goal Detect trends in water quality
Main Management Goal Ensure water quality is suitable for different beneficial water uses
Reporting Annual Work Schedule, Intensive Survey Reports, Trend Analysis Report, Site Documentation, Fact Sheets, Specialized Studies, CANAL web page, technical support for stakeholders

The collected information advises both federal and provincial agencies in support of:

  • water resources management programs
  • pollution control regulations
  • water quality guidelines and objectives development
  • water quality modeling (simulation and prediction)
  • environmental assessment studies
  • legislative formulations
  • federal, provincial, and international agreements and commitments

Samples are sent to the Environment Canada Laboratory in Burlington, Ontario for analysis. Physical, chemical, major ion and nutrient parameters are tested for a total of 43 parameters.

Water quality parameters being monitored under the Agreement fall under four major water quality indicators as listed in the table below.

^ Top of Page

Agreement Water Quality Variables

Physical and Chemical Parameters Major Ions Nutrients Trace Elements and Metals
Colour (COLORA) Alkalinity (ALKT) Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) Aluminum (ALT)
Conductivity (CONDL) Alkalinity (ALKG) Nitrate (NO3T) Antimony (SBT)
Dissolved Oxygen (O2D) Calcium (CAD) Nitrogen (NT) Arsenic (AST)
pH (PHL) Chloride (CLD Phosphorus (PT) Barium (BAT)
Turbidity (TURB) Magnesium (MGD)   Beryllium (BET)
  Potassium KD)   Bismuth (BIT)
  Sodium (NAD)   Boron (BT)
  Sulphate (SO4IC)   Cadmium (CDT)
      Cobalt (COT)
      Chromium (CRT)
      Copper (CUT)
      Gallium (GAT)
      Iron (FET)
      Lanthanum (LAT)
      Lead (PBT)
      Lithium (LIT)
      Manganese (MNT)
      Molybdenum (MOT)
      Nickel (NIT)
      Rubidium (RBT)
      Selenium (SET)
      Silver (AGT)
      Strontium (SRT)
      Thallium (TLT)
      Uranium (UT)
      Vanadium (VT)
      Zinc (ZNT)

^ Top of Page

Locations of WQMA Sites

There are 122 WQMA sites in Newfoundland and Labrador, including 50 sites that are no longer sampled. Five of the active 72 WQMA stations in the province are continuous monitoring stations that are part of the Real-Time Water Quality Network. 50 of the active WQMA sites are located in Newfoundland and 22 active WQMA sites are in Labrador.

^ Top of Page

Water Quality Monitoring Network Criteria

The criterion for designing a water quality monitoring network involves thefollowing three components:

  1. Location: In order for the network to be representative, it must provide geographic coverage, but also take into account geological, physiological, hydrological, demographic, anthropogenic and historical water quality factors. River basins are used as the basic sampling unit under the Canada-Newfoundland Water Quality Monitoring Agreement.
  2. Frequency: The frequency of sampling is a reflection of the objectives of the monitoring network, data needs and capacity to perform the work. Simply stated, the more water quality varies, the more samples will be required to obtain reliable estimates of statistical parameters used to describe its behavior.
  3. Variables: The water quality variables tested for as part of a monitoring network are dependent on the objectives of the monitoring network, the basin characteristics and economics. The variables are consistent throughout the federal-provincial monitoring network.

^ Top of Page

Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN)

The Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) is the national biomonitoring program coordinated by Environment Canada to provide a standardized sampling protocol for assessing aquatic ecosystem conditions. WRMD conducts sampling of benthic macroinvertebrates at stream sites across the province in accordance with the sampling and processing protocols established by CABIN.

For more information on CABIN sampling by WRMD, please visit here

^ Top of Page

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Protocols Manual for Water Quality Monitoring in Canada

The province has adopted the protocols outlined in this manual PDF (2.6 MB) for the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Water Quality Monitoring Agreement sampling program. An appendix PDF (82 KB) to the manual has been developed to include documents which apply specifically to the Newfoundland and Labrador ambient water quality monitoring program. The manual was prepared to provide Canada-wide consistency in water quality monitoring.

Contour Maps

Contour maps of all water quality parameters sampled under the WQMA are available in pdf format. Follow this link to learn more about contour maps and to view these files.

^ Top of Page

Water Quality Trends

A report entitled Water Quality Trends in Selected Water Bodies of Newfoundland & Labrador has been prepared that examines trends in 36 different water quality parameters from 65 different water quality monitoring stations located on representative rivers throughout the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

An examination of land and water use activities ongoing in each watershed allowed identification of likely causes and/or factors contributing to improving or deteriorating water quality trends. This report also ranks the 65 water quality stations as pristine, semi-impaired, or impaired. 

Some of the observed trends include:

  • A decrease (or improving trend) in conductivity and by extension, major ion concentration, (calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, sulphate, chloride) throughout the province.
  • An increase (or deteriorating trend) in colour throughout the province.
  • An increase (or deteriorating trend) in turbidity throughout the province.
  • An increase (or deteriorating trend) in nitrate/nitrite and nitrogen throughout the province.
  • A decrease (or improving trend) in arsenic throughout the province, more significantly in South Coast Rivers including the Avalon.
  • A decrease (or improving trend) in barium throughout the province.
  • An increase (or deteriorating trend) in beryllium, cadmium and molybdenum throughout the province. However, these three parameters had the highest occurrence of censored data that is believed to have had some influence on the trend analysis.
  • A decrease (or improving trend) in copper throughout the province.
  • A decrease (or improving trend) in mercury throughout the province.
  • A decrease (or improving trend) in lead throughout the province.
  • A decrease (or improving trend) in phosphorous in rivers of the Central and Eastern Region.
  • The occurrence of trend in cobalt and manganese (all showed a majority of improving trends) is most apparent in water quality stations from the Eastern Region.
  • An increase (or deteriorating trend) in nickel in rivers in non-urban areas of the Avalon and eastern rivers of the Central Region.
  • An increase (or deteriorating trend) in sulphate in urban rivers of St. John’s.
  • Frequent improving trends in zinc, strontium, lithium, and selenium throughout the province.

The report and other associated documents are available via the following links in Adobe pdf format:

PDF Note: all links below are PDFs and will open in a new window.

^ Top of Page

Canada-Newfoundland/Labrador AquaLink (CANAL)

The Canada‐Newfoundland/Labrador AquaLink (CANAL) is a joint partnership project between Environment Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment. This website allows public access to ambient water quality data as well as sample site descriptions and metadata for over 100 water quality monitoring stations throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Water quality samples are taken throughout the year under the Canada‐Newfoundland and Labrador Water Quality Monitoring Agreement (WQMA) program, with all results accessible to the public through the ENVIRODAT database.

^ Top of Page

Water Quality Index

The two major challenges in disseminating water quality information to the public is that water quality data is inherently technical in nature and is made up of very large data sets. To address these issues, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Water Quality Index is utilized to convey water quality data to non-expert audiences in a meaningful manner.The CCME WQI was developed by the CCME in the late 1990's for the primary purpose of communicating water quality information to a non-technical audience and policy makers. Click this link to see additional information on the CCME WQI and its application in NL.

^ Top of Page

Risk-Based Approach (RBA) to Station Assessment

Environment and Climate Change Canada has implemented a tool for assessing the level of potential risk to water quality at its monitoring stations across Canada. WRMD has adapted this tool to provide an assessment of the level of risk to water quality at each water monitoring station in the WRMD network. More information on the Risk Based Approach (RBA).

^ Top of Page

Reports Available

There are a number of reports (in Adobe PDF format) developed by the Water Quality section in cooperation with Environment Canada:

Annual Work Schedules

PDF Note: all links below are PDFs and will open in a new window.

Progress Reports

Technical Reports

^ Top of Page

Adobe® Acrobat® Reader software can be used for viewing PDF documents. Download Acrobat® Reader for free. opens new window

Last Updated:
This page and all contents are copyright, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, all rights reserved.