Quinte Conservation, located in Southeastern Ontario, covers approximately 6,600 km2 with 130,000 inhabitants. The region includes the Moira, Napanee and Salmon River watersheds, and all of Prince Edward County. Quinte Conservation works with 18 municipalities, ranging from urban centres, such as Belleville, to rural, agricultural areas where half the watershed’s population is located.
The Quinte watershed has a unique geology and hydrogeology, with a southern region composed mainly of fractured limestone with shallow soils and a northern region composed of Precambrian bedrock of the Canadian Shield. While inhabitants close to Lake Ontario are serviced by municipal water, over 50 percent of the population relies on private wells which draw water from shallow, rain-fed aquifers. The groundwater table is shallow and, while recharge from rainfall is quick, storage capacity of the bedrock is limited.
Quinte Conservation utilizes Ontario’s low water response system to understand impacts, which classifies low water conditions between 1 (low risk) and 3 (high risk) according to the severity of water supply through the watershed. In recent years, the number of Level 2 conditions has become far more common (medium risk). In the summer of 2016, a Level 3 drought response (defined by condition where supply no longer meets demand) was declared for the first time due to very low ground and surface water levels. The Level 3 declaration affected the entire watershed with water conservation measures in place throughout the region.
During the 2016 drought, private landowners were the most impacted population segment in the watershed. Wells dried up, forcing citizens to import water in various ways. Farmers experienced decreased crop yields and crop insurance claims increased significantly. The drought also spurred conflicts between landowners with producing wells and those with dry ones. Emergency bylaws were put in place by some municipalities to prevent excessive water drawing from lakes and rivers. Moreover, the low water conditions also had significant impacts on aquatic life.
Use of Climate Information
Quinte Conservation recognized the importance of better understanding climate change impacts on the watershed, when developing its Quinte Region Drought Plan. Quinte Conservation had already developed a water budget model using information from the Government of Ontario’s Source Water Protection program.
This water budget model was based on climate data from Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada, weather stations in the area, population growth factors, and evapotranspiration rates to identify areas susceptible to water stress. An ensemble of climate change models was also used to analyze future climate parameters.
Streamflow gauges, operated and maintained by the Water Survey of Canada, provided flow data for the region. Groundwater levels were also obtained for 30 nearby wells part of the Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network. In general, the Quinte Region Drought Plan was based on predicted rainfall and streamflow.