© WWF-Canada / Noah Cole

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Urban communities and fresh water

How might we reduce the impacts of urban communities on our fresh water, allowing people and nature to thrive together?


With more than 80 percent of Canadians living in cities, there is substantial pressure on urban watersheds. Increasing urbanization leads to pollution, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Climate change pressures exacerbate an already stressed relationship.

© Frank Parhizgar / WWF-Canada

Some examples of these threats are:

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority found that water quality is directly correlated to urbanization. They found the largest drivers of poor water quality are non-point source pollutants (such as the nutrients, pesticides and chemicals used to treat homes, gardens and roads) making their way into rivers and lakes through lawns, sewer drains and direct runoff. Other drivers include point-source pollutants such as industry spills and discharge and sewer outflows.

© Graeme Stewart-Robertson

Climate Change and Habitat Loss

Recent major flooding events in cities like Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and along the St. John River in New Brunswick are linked to increasing threats and urbanization. Often cities are built in a way that destroys the natural floodplain buffers of large bodies of water, replacing habitats with impervious surfaces and causing water to run off or pool, rather than be absorbed. These poorly planned conditions increase the chances of flooding. As extreme precipitation events become more frequent, flooding events will also increase and become more severe.

© iStock / Christophe Ledent / WWF-Canada

Habitat Fragmentation

Habitat fragmentation can have a significant impact on species. For example, the Okanagan population of Chinook salmon, which historically was large enough to support regional First Nations food and trade needs, was assessed as Endangered by COSEWIC in 2017. A key driver of their decline is the habitat fragmentation caused by dam constructions along their migration route.

Do you have a technology enabled solution to reduce the impacts of urban communities on our fresh water, allowing people and nature to thrive together? Register for the Generation Water Tech Challenge now.