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Where is our water and how are we using it?

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Water is a plentiful resource in Canada and our water use per capita reflects that—it is the second highest in the world. Managing and safeguarding such a precious part of Canada’s natural wealth requires accurate data.

To support analysis of water use and other environmental issues, Statistics Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada developed the Canadian Digital Drainage Area Framework (CDDAF), a geographic database of the drainage areas, river networks, lakes and islands in Canada. Drainage areas describe where surface water naturally collects. They are well-defined by physical geography and constant over time, which makes them useful for analyzing trends.

The database defines a hierarchy of drainage areas that stretches from Canada’s five ocean drainage areas down to about 1,000 smaller sub-sub-drainage areas. It also shows the location of about 3,000 hydrometric gauging stations, which capture data that can be linked to population and dwelling count information.

Map: Major drainage areasWatershed mapping illustrates not only the availability of water resources, but also where and how human activity has an impact on the water supply. Many watersheds contain dams, diversions and water intakes that provide water for agriculture, industry, hydro-electricity and drinking. Pressures on the water supply are further increased by municipal wastewater, industrial effluent, fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants.

The CDDAF is a tool for planning and managing environmental monitoring networks. With 20% of the world’s freshwater resources and 7% of the world’s renewable water flow, understanding where our water comes from, how we use it, and how we can better safeguard it is a complex task.