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Aquatic Habitat & Terrestrial Ecology — Macro Stream Assessment




The Macro Stream Assessment Program was first initiated in 2003 by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. The goal of the Macro Stream Assessment program is to collect information on the physical and biological attributes of surveyed streams. Each stream assessment involves surveying 100 meter sections of the stream from headwaters to the bottom. The information collected by the survey includes adjacent land use patterns, riparian conditions, bank stability, bank vegetation, instream vegetation and structure, fish and wildlife, agriculture impacts, tributaries, garbage and pollution, etc. In order to assess stream health the survey is recommended to be completed every 5 years to compare conditions of the aquatic and riparian habitat for a given watercourse. The protocol is currently being implemented by the City Stream Watch Program and by staff at the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.

  City Stream Watch Program  

The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, in partnership with six other agencies in Ottawa (City of Ottawa, Heron Park Community Association, Ottawa Flyfishers Society , Ottawa South Community Association, Rideau River Roundtable and National Defense HQ – Fish and Game Club) initiated the City Stream Watch program in 2003.

The goal of the program is to obtain, record, and manage valuable information on the physical and biological characteristics of creeks and streams in the City of Ottawa, while ensuring that they are respected and valued natural features of the communities through which they flow.   To this end, the program relies on and encourages the interest and commitment of volunteers from the community, guided by an experienced coordinator, to learn and conduct macro stream assessments on local waterways, participate in sampling fish communities through seining, and assist in stream clean-ups and stream rehabilitation projects in the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority watershed. Streams located within the City of Ottawa are cycled through the program every five years in order to compare conditions and identify potential rehabilitation sites.

In 2008 the City Stream Watch Program plans to re-sample Sawmill Creek, Cardinal Creek, Black Rapids Creek and Mud Creek in Manotick. The 2008 sampling season will focus heavily on stream assessment, fish community sampling and will also include many cleanup, planting and sampling/identification sessions. A Biothon is also planned for 2008. Check the website often in 2008 for more updates on the program and how to get involved.

Click here to view the City Stream Watch page.


RVCA Macro Stream Program

Rideau Valley Conservation Authority staff administers the Macro Stream Survey protocol as a method of data collection in support of sub watershed plans, updates and as valuable background data on various stream systems in the RVCA watershed. The goal of the program is to re-survey the sub watersheds in five years time to determine if there have been positive or negative changes for each watercourse and to identify where possible rehabilitation opportunities exist. Rehabilitation projects are identified during the survey and are implemented in between cycle time periods. At the time of the next survey the effectiveness of the rehabilitation projects can be assessed and action can be taken for further enhancements.

In the summer of 2004 the RVCA completed the Macro Stream protocol on the entire Tay River from Port Elmsley to Bolingbroke. RVCA also completed Jebbs Creek from the Tay Marsh to Otty Lake. Results were summarized and a final report " for the macro stream assessment on the Tay Watershed was produced.

The Kemptville Creek watershed was sampled by RVCA staff and students in the summer of 2005. Kemptville Creek was sampled from North Augusta to where it empties into the Rideau River for a total of 467 survey sections. The North Branch was sampled from the Merrickville-Wolford Bog part 4 to where it empties into Kemptville Creek for a total of 73 sections and Barnes Creek was sampled from its headwater wetland to where it empties into Kemptville Creek for a total of 77 sections. The data was summarized and a "final report" is available.

The 2006 program surveyed the Jock River (472 sections) excluding identified wetland areas, Kings Creek (122 sections), and Nichols Creek (68 sections). A report summarizing the findings will be available in March of 2007. The focus of the program in 2007 will be watercourses located in the Rideau Lakes sub watershed.


Field Sheet Database
This data uses 100 metre sections of stream and assigns various land use classifications. The map highlights the 100 metre sections and uses a bar graph to illustrate the land use activity for that section of stream. The database also stores information collected on riparian and instream conditions. By clicking on the 100 metre section of interest the database that stores all of these field surveys will generate a table at the bottom of the screen.

Photo's Upstream and Downstream View
Each of the 100 metre sections surveyed also has two photos. These allow the viewer to see the upstream and downstream view of the 100 metre section.

Intensive Species List
Some surveys, depending on the level of expertise of the crew, have hyperlinks to PDFs with species lists.

Information is available upon request through this website simply clicking on the box next to the parameter needed. This turns on the “layer” of information so that it can be viewed by the user.  

Such parameters include:

Human Alterations — This is a measure of how much impact human activity is having on a watercourse. Such impacts could include residential, commercial, or industrial landuse, altered shorelines such as retaining walls, pollution sources, and bridges.   Basically any activities or structures that are human in origin and could potentially affect the watercourse.

The Macro Stream Assessment records this parameter as follows:

  • Natural: No human alterations — no human influence is seen. In a “Natural” condition but with significant alterations by man – a good condition creek but human presence is known.   Perhaps a bridge exists, one or two houses, or some garbage seen from people passing through.
    An "Altered” waterway, with considerable influences, but still featuring significant "natural" portions — An area that is perhaps getting closer to a residential area, or near a major roadway. The creek may be heavily used or construction along the banks is common.
  • A "Highly Altered" stream section, with few areas which could be considered "natural” stream environments — an urban creek often with much pollution and obvious changes to the shoreline.

Instream Vegtetation — In certain areas greater than normal amounts of vegetation growth are seen due to things like nutrient loading or impacts from invasive species.   The Stream Assessment estimates a percentage of vegetation seen in the 100m section.   That percentage is broken down like this:

  • Extensive (choked with weeds) — vegetation is an obstruction to flow and navigation is very difficult.   This can often be the result of one species taking over an area.
  • Common (more than 50% vegetation) — vegetation is thick but a channel of flow can still be seen.  
  • Normal (25-50% vegetation) — good flow and open water is common.   An area like this can also show a good diversity of species.
  • Low (less than 25% vegetation) — mostly open water.   Species can be seen on the bottom or in patches.
  • Rare (instream plants "few and far between") — hardly any plants seen.   This can be the result of poor conditions needed to grow or water flow may be too fast to allow for rooting of plants.   Some algae may be present.

Fish Habitat — Observations are made in the field regarding the presence of particular species but also of habitat which would be considered important to the life stages of fish.   The 100m section is then characterized based on these observations.   The survey uses the following descriptions

  • Critical — the section is known to be used for such activities as spawning, rearing, or nursery habitat.   Top predators are also present.
  • Normal — good cover and feeding areas are present.   Often a good baitfish community but can also have top predators.
  • Degraded — one or more factors exist with make this habitat poor in terms of fish habitat.   This can include, unstable banks, lack of cover, or reduced water quality from pollution.

Instream Pollution or Garbage — This parameter can be used later in identifying areas suitable for rehabilitation which can be achieved either by removing the physical garbage or identifying the sources.   Some areas have been known to contain, shopping carts, car tires, wreckage, and many other types of debris from human activity.   Cleaning up these items is a good first step to improving stream health and can show quick results.   Types of pollution are defined as:

• Oil or gas trails in the water
• Floating Garbage
• Garbage on the stream bottom

Bank Characteristics — This refers to the stability of the bank and how much erosion can be seen. In addition to cleaning up pollution in the creek, rehabilitating the banks is another excellent way to improve the health of the watercourse and see some quick results. Banks are assessed in the 100 meter section as being stable or unstable.   This easily identifies areas that would benefit from activities such as a tree planting program or other soil stabilization.

Invasive Species Present — Main species of concern include European Frog Bit, Eurasian Milfoil, and Purple Loosestrife.   In each 100m section species such as this are recorded simply as present or absent.   There is little that can be done to reduce or remove these species without impacting the ecology of the watercourse.   As such this particular parameter is used more as an indication of the impact from invasive species and to track the spread.