Healthy Waters Program

Healthy waters for salmon, whales, and people.

Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast.

Working with Indigenous communities and organizational partners, Healthy Waters has built a community-oriented water pollution monitoring capacity that is providing insight into the quality of water for human consumption and for the habitats of salmon and whales. 

Two people working together to collect water samples in a farm field with the mountains in the background.
Photo by Alex Harris.
Two killer whales surfacing on the ocean.
Photo by John Kelsey.

Water is essential 

Water is essential for life and is shared among all living things. Water creates and sustains healthy habitats for salmon and for killer whales, and provides drinking water for people. From pesticides to tire particles in salmon streams, from PCBs in killer whales to microplastics in zooplankton, from bacteria to lead in tap water – we are all impacted by water pollution. With 80% of ocean pollution coming from land, we are all connected to the ocean.

An invisible crisis

There is no single agency responsible for the pollution of water in all its forms, and there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive approach to monitoring water pollution in British Columbia. One that seamlessly captures and analyzes water along its journey from headwaters to homes, street runoff to rivers, and rivers to the ocean. And one that helps to identify solution-oriented priorities for all of us.

Community water monitoring 

We are creating a new approach to monitoring water pollution by working with Indigenous Nations, communities, and governments. Watersheds are serving as the basis for characterizing water quality from mountain peaks to the sea, and providing an opportunity to identify pollution sources or land use practices that degrade fish habitat. We have launched our work in select watersheds that drain into the Fraser River and Salish Sea. Our goal is to combine a high quality analysis of water in all partnering watersheds, with a mix of engagement and capacity building activities as suited to each partner.

Group of people sampling water in a river.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
Sam Scott and Peter Ross standing in front of the future mobile lab, which is a grey sprinter van.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Help us build our mobile lab, Tracker

We are designing, converting and equipping a new cargo van to serve as a fully functional mobile laboratory. This vehicle, Tracker, will bring our scientific and technical capacity to watersheds in BC, and provide a community-oriented, mobile water pollution monitoring service in support of healthy ecosystems. Tracker will allow us to measure a variety of contaminants of concern in fish habitat.

Help us realize this dream, as we aim to deploy Tracker in the spring of 2024!

Contaminants of concern in water

Water pollution is complicated by the potential presence of thousands of contaminants. We have selected for analysis key classes of contaminants of historical, current, or emerging concern. These include basic pollutants as nutrients, fecal coliform, metals, but also complex and emerging pollutants categories such as hydrocarbons, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), sucralose, alkyl phenols, and automobile tire-related chemicals. Some of these contaminant categories have dozens of individual compounds. 

Our findings will provide an overall assessment of the health of fish habitat, inform the identification of sources and land use practices that are releasing harmful contaminants into water, and enable priority setting and solution initiatives that protect and restore fish habitat.

A scientist prepares a water sample, close up on their hands and the bottle, in the back of a truck.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
People working together to take samples of water in jars.

Spill response

Accidents happen, and our Healthy Waters team is ready to apply its expertise and capacity to the inevitable spill of oil or chemicals into BC waters. While prevention remains a top priority, experience shows that harmful products are inevitably lost from trains, trucks, and ships, with often significant impacts to fish, whales, and their habitats. 

When a spill happens, expert intervention is critical to understand the threats to vulnerable species and Indigenous foods, and to reduce the potential for environmental damage.  We are available for expert support during spills and related incidents, and will be conducting high resolution analysis of samples to inform source identification, protection of the environment and recovery after a spill.

We publish our findings in user-friendly reports, web articles and scientific publications. 

Recent articles

Killer whales surfacing during the sunset.

New study coins the term ‘bright extinction’ to describe the failure of Southern Resident killer whales to recover

Raincoast, in collaboration with a team of international scientists, authored a new study on the potential to recover the critically endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales. This study updates…

Landscape of Nicola River with mountains in the background.

Sampling water during the wet season: A new partnership with the Lower Nicola Indian Band reflects a shared interest in protecting water

A cool, gray sky lingered overhead, as we headed inland. Our journey took us through the Lower Fraser Valley, over the Coastal Mountains, and into the Nicola River Valley on…

Cargo van next to a river.

Sharing our plans for our future mobile lab

The Healthy Waters team has been busy this winter, with field work in seven watersheds, stretching from the Chemainus River watershed on Vancouver Island to the Nicola River watershed in…

Overhead photo of four killer whales swimming together.

Guide government actions on Southern Resident killer whale recovery: Take the federal survey before February 12, 2024 

Each year since 2019, the Canadian federal government has put seasonal measures in place to reduce the threats to endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The measures are intended to create…