From Water to Web

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An aerial photo of the Mackenzie River Basin. © Pat Kane

Connecting freshwater data across Canada’s largest watershed

The Mackenzie River — also known as the Deh Cho, meaning “Big River” in the Slavey language of the Dene — is Canada’s longest river. Flowing north and draining into the Arctic Ocean, the river and its tributaries drain some 1.8 million square kilometres — roughly one-fifth of Canada’s landmass.

Tracking the health of the interconnected waterways, lakes and wetlands that sustain this vast and ecologically significant region is important, especially in the face of climate change. But finding ways to connect information gathered by a multitude of monitoring programs across jurisdictions is a persistent challenge.

Different types of information and knowledge have different protocols for sharing. When it comes to western scientific water quality data — which is one important piece of the puzzle — open access tools like Mackenzie DataStream are transforming how this information can be mobilized to understand changes over time and inform stewardship decisions.

Ramona Fordy, community water monitor from Deninu K’ue First Nation. © The Gordon Foundation

Developed through a unique collaboration between The Gordon Foundation and the Government of the Northwest Territories, Mackenzie DataStream is an online data-sharing platform that is free and open for anyone to use. Built with communities, researchers and decision-makers at all levels in mind, DataStream provides user-friendly access to information that would otherwise take considerable time, resources and expertise to collate.

This is especially valuable for communities that have long relied on the health of aquatic ecosystems within the basin. “Our people live near the water and they live off the water,” says Rosy Bjornson, Environment and Lands Manager at Deninu K’ue First Nation in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories.

Located on the south shores of Great Slave Lake in the heart of the Mackenzie basin, Fort Resolution is one of 21 communities that participates in the Northwest Territories-wide community-based water quality monitoring program coordinated by the Government of the Northwest Territories. The data collected through the program is published on DataStream where it can be accessed alongside monitoring results shared by other watershed groups and First Nations from Northern British Columbia and Alberta.

“DataStream makes it easier to find the data that’s out there and to connect results in meaningful ways,” explains Carolyn DuBois, Water Program Director at The Gordon Foundation. In addition to community-generated data, Mackenzie DataStream also hosts monitoring results gathered through academic research projects and long-term government programs. To date, nearly half a million unique water monitoring results are available, collected from over 600 different locations within the basin.

“Communities are excited to get their hands on some of these datasets,” says DuBois. “You could only have five years of community collected water data, but you might have 40 to 50 years of long-term government monitoring. So, this is valuable information.”

Taken together, and used alongside other forms of knowledge, this data contributes to a more complete picture of freshwater health in the Mackenzie Basin, where water is central to the way of life. “Water is the most important resource I work with,” says Bjornson.

“We have to be able to collaborate when it comes to making sure the water is healthy for future generations.”

DataStream is free and open for anyone to use. Visit www.DataStream.org to learn more.

Lindsay Day is a DataStream Coordinator with The Gordon Foundation.