Quebec Studies

Water Availability: An Overview of Issues and Future Challenges for the St. Lawrence River

Quebec Studies (2006), 42, (1), 75–90.

Abstract

75 Water Availability: An Overview of Issues and Future Challenges for the St. Lawrence River Jean-François Bibeault Environment Canada Christiane Hudon Environment Canada Introduction For some years now, water availability in the St. Lawrence River has been an inherent part of the larger issues threatening the integrity of its aquatic ecosystems. The St. Lawrence system (including the Great Lakes) is among the three largest in North America, alongside the Mackenzie and Mis­ sissippi rivers, in terms of basin size and flow rate. Located downstream of the international section (Kingston to Cornwall, Ontario), the Québec por­ tion of the St. Lawrence comprises four major bio-geographic units: the flu­ vial section, which is primarily influenced by Great Lakes inflows, the freshwater tidal portion of the fluvial estuary, the saltwater transition located in the upper estuary and the lower estuary, which widens up to become the Gulf of St. Lawrence (SLC 1996). Despite its large size, the St. Lawrence is subject to a range of anthropogenic pressures including varia­ tions in water availability, which reveal its vulnerability to hydrological and climatic factors. To fully appreciate the issues at stake in the fluvial section, we must first examine the context in which the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence was transformed. Specific aspects relating to fluvial integrity will then be described using the case of Lake St. Pierre, a designated Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO) and Ramsar site, as an example. Lastly, we will examine the current pressures on the ecosystem and future risks to water availability. Major transformation of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system Like many of Canada's freshwater basins, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are subject to a wide range of pressures (NWRI and CMS 2004), that began to increase mainly at the end of World War II and steered land-use development and water use toward present-day conditions. The main trends illustrating these modifications can be summarized as follows. First, the production capacity of the basin grew considerably throughout the twentieth century while the population's consumption patterns changed noticeably. The result was a plethora of synthetic chemical, non-degradable substances of now confirmed toxicity, increasingly dense industrialization and urbanization of shorelines, and the growth of commercial navigation (seaway and shipping channel) to facilitate imports and exports of raw materials and finished goods. Secondly, energy demand also rose during this same period and the construction of dams at Beauharnois and Cornwall/Massena (Moses-Saunders Dam) increased the capacity to regu- Québec Studies, Volume 42, Fall 2006/Winter 2007

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Author details

Bibeault, Jean-François

Hudon, Christiane