Grand River Watershed Node

The Grand River watershed consists of 6,800 square kilometres of land drained by the Grand River system to Lake Erie. It is the largest watershed in southern Ontario, and roughly 93 per cent of land is rural or natural spaces, of which about 70 per cent is actively farmed.

The geology is quite complex. The river system has to accommodate the runoff from the upper till plains and lower clay plains, while the central gravel moraines provide valuable groundwater to the river system. This groundwater is important: water quality recovers though the central region. Without the groundwater and the key river processes throughout this and other recovery reaches, the Grand would likely be much more stressed than it is.  

Challenges related to water management in this watershed

There are four main challenges related to water management in the Grand River watershed: population growth,
urbanization, intensive agriculture and climate change.

The cities of the Grand River watershed are among the fastest growing in Ontario, with close to one million people living in 39 municipalities and two First Nations territories. This growth is driven, in part, by development ‘leapfrogging’ over the greenbelt surrounding the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas and by the economic vitality of the watershed cities which, on their own merit, draw new residents from inside Canada and beyond.

This watershed is also one of the most productive farming regions in the nation. There are over 6,000 farms and thousands of livestock. Although farming produces many economic strengths, the Grand River Watershed Node recognizes that fertilizers, chemicals and animal waste have to be handled, stored and used properly. Land needs to be protected from excessive erosion to protect water resources.

Climate change adds another stress and could result in more extreme weather events that include severe rainfall, ice storms, rapid snow melts and more frequent and prolonged droughts.

CWN-funded work and who is involved

Through CWN-funded research, the Grand River Watershed Node is aiming to create a comprehensive, accessible and sustainable monitoring system in the Grand River watershed that:

  • Provides a synthesis of historic and current biomonitoring research and/or studies in the Grand River watershed and a research/monitoring approach to identify indicators that can detect change from watershed stressors in the Grand River system, taking into consideration the differences of the headwater, central, and lower river regions;
  • Improves the scientific understanding of the relationships among the biological, physical, and chemical processes in the river; and,
  • Develops approaches or predictive tools to describe how indicators will respond to changes or stressors in the watershed (e.g. population growth) or climate variability.

The project will identify early indicators of change associated with key stressors and cumulative effects that will enable managers to make decisions in support of the Grand River Water Management Plan.

The following are conducting research through CWN’s Grand River Watershed Node:

  • Dr. Mark Servos, University of Waterloo
  • Dr. Sherry Schiff, University of Waterloo
  • Dr. Adam Yates, Western University
  • Dr. Glen Van Der Kraak, University of Guelph
  • Dr. Ken Oakes, Cape Breton University (formerly at the University of Waterloo)
  • Dr. William Taylor, University of Waterloo
  • Dr. Debra MacLatchy, Wilfrid Laurier University


(5-page report)

CWN EN GrandRiver 2016