Watershed Characterization Report

Loughborough LakeThe preparation of a Watershed Characterization Report was the first step in the preparation of a source protection plan.

The Watershed Characterization Report for the Cataraqui Source Protection Area was completed in March 2008. It provides base information for the completion of a final assessment report which will provide the foundation of our source protection plan.

This report is a background study compiling all of the information available for the Cataraqui Source Protection Area in the following subject areas:

  • an overview and general description of the area
  • physical characteristics such as geology, topography, landforms and soils
  • surface water, groundwater, hydrogeology, climate, vegetation and aquatic ecology
  • population, land uses, transportation and municipal services
  • groundwater and surface water quality and quantity
  • vulnerable areas and potential drinking water issues and concerns.

A brief summary of the findings of this report is provided below.

The report is very large. Links to the entire report are provided at the bottom of this page. Paper and CD versions of the report are available at the CRCA Administration Office.

Description of the Cataraqui Source Protection Area

The Cataraqui Source Protection Area (CSPA) is located at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the beginning of the St. Lawrence River. It includes part of the Bay of Quinte, Hay Bay, the southern half of the Rideau Canal and the Thousand Islands.

It is made up of the 11 municipalities of the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority (CRCA) jurisdiction as well as the municipality of Frontenac Islands.

The Landscape

The physical landscape of the CSPA is highly variable. The central portion is mainly Canadian Shield while the eastern and western portions contain sedimentary bedrock. A large part of the area has shallow soil cover over the bedrock.

The largest total land cover is woodland at 46 per cent followed by agriculture at 43 per cent.

There are 12 major watersheds in the CSPA - the two largest ones being the Cataraqui and the Gananoque River watersheds.


Generally the groundwater flow follows the topography, flowing south towards Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. There have been three recent large-scale groundwater studies completed in the CSPA. Although these studies help to provide some information about groundwater there is limited information about groundwater recharge areas, discharge areas and direction of groundwater flow.

Additional groundwater data has been collected since the preparation of the Watershed Characterization Report.

Fish and Wildlife

Fish and macroinvertebrate populations provide a good indicator of water quality. The CRCA has been participating in the Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring Network since 2003. This involves sampling area streams for macroinvertebrates. Most of the sample sites were found to be potentially impaired, based on the species that were present in the samples.

According to the Species at Risk Act, the CSPA is home to 13 endangered or threatened species and three species of special concern.

The area has also contains a variety of invasive species including Purple Loosestrife, Sea Lamprey, Round Goby, Common Carp and Zebra Mussel.

Population and Land Use

According to Statistics Canada, the CSPA population was about 199,000 in 2001. The City of Kingston (114,000 residents) is the largest population centre. The next largest centre is the City of Brockville with 21,000 residents.

The overall population of the CSPA grew at a rate of about 0.5 per cent per year between 1991 and 2001. The population is projected to grow to approximately 256,000 in 2031.

Although all land uses have a potential impact on water, brownfields, landfill sites and resource extraction such as mining, pits, quarries, oil and gas are of particular concern. Nearly all older urban areas have some brownfield sites (old industrial areas with potential contamination problems), but only the City of Kingston has prepared a study and a plan for its sites.

There are 31 active landfill sites, 16 closed sites, eight junkyards and one incinerator.

Mining is not a major land use, but there are numerous pits and quarries in the CSPA.

The CSPA is located in the major east-west transportation corridor between Toronto and Montreal. Highway 401 and the main Canadian National rail line follow the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River shoreline. The St. Lawrence Seaway is a major shipping route. Recreational boating is also popular. Spills, which have the potential to pollute water, are a concern along these transportation corridors.

Water Uses and Values

In addition to providing drinking water, our lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater are vital supports for the local ecology and economy.

Communities and individuals along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, which includes about 80 per cent of the area's population, get their drinking water from this source.

Most of the rest of the population rely on groundwater, primarily through private wells. There are approximately 20,000 domestic wells in the CSPA. Wells in some parts of the CSPA are known to run dry during extended periods of drought.

The CSPA includes nine municipal surface water intakes and three municipal wells. Corrections Canada also has an intake on the Cataraqui River at the Pittsburgh Institution at Joyceville.

According to Permit to Take Water (PTTW) data from the Ministry of Environment, the largest volume of water taken in the CSPA is for industrial cooling from Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Most of this activity occurs in the industrial areas of Loyalist Township and the City of Kingston.

Water Quality

Long-term water quality data is sparse in the CSPA. For surface water, data from the Provincial Water Quality Monitoring Network (PWQMN) was used for this report. Key findings were that the chloride levels are generally increasing, likely as a result of road salt. Total phosphorus levels were found to be high at all monitoring stations, but generally decreasing.

The water quality at the municipal surface water intakes was found to be generally good. Three drinking water plant intakes (Bath, Gananoque and Brockville) are located in close proximity to beaches which have relatively high levels of E. coli, according to data from the local Health Units.

Four rounds of testing have been conducted under the Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network (PGMN) for the seven wells across the CSPA. There are significant data gaps within the CSPA when it comes to groundwater data. What we have found is that across the area, of the 90 wells sampled, E. coli was detected in 13 wells (14 per cent). Total coliform exceeded the safe level in 36 of 168 wells sampled (21 per cent).

Vulnerable Areas

There are four types of vulnerable areas defined by the Ministry of Environment in Ontario's source water protection program:

  • intake protection zones (IPZ)
  • wellhead protection areas (WHPA)
  • highly vulnerable areas (HVA)
  • significant groundwater recharge areas (SGRA).

The IPZs and WHPAs are associated with existing or planned municipal drinking water systems. HVAs and SGRAs are naturally occurring areas that have been identified through research on groundwater resources.

Regional groundwater studies suggest that much of the CSPA is subject to recharge, particularly in areas with fractured limestone bedrock. This includes a large portion of our area.

Threats and Issues

A threat is a land use, activity or condition (past, present or planned) that may adversely affect the quality and/or quantity of a drinking water source. Potential threats to both groundwater and surface water are present throughout the CSPA and are in the process of being inventoried. Examples of threats include sewage treatment plant effluent, snow storage, road salt, manure and fuel storage, to name a few.

An issue is the negative effect that a land use or activity is known to have had, or be currently having on a drinking water source. Issues are identified where concentrations of contaminants have exceeded or are approaching water quality standards or guidelines or where the quantity of water has been affected.

Issues in the CSPA include elevated levels of metals, nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrogen), chloride and bacteria.

View the Full Report

Click on the links below to view the full version of the Watershed Characterization Report.

Because of the size of the document and maps, it has been posted in pieces. All documents are posted as PDFs.



Terms of Reference

Studies and Reports

Assessment Report

Source Protection Plan

Watershed Characterization Report










Cataraqui Conservation Authority

Conservation Ontario

Government of Ontario


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