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Environmental Monitoring Special Projects

Beyond the core regional watershed monitoring activities, special monitoring projects are often undertaken by Toronto and Region Conservation's Environmental Monitoring & Data Management team to assess the watershed health of aquatic and terrestrial habitats and the natural communities they support.

Acoustic Telemetry

Acoustic Telemetry


Caledon East 

Caledon East Water Quality Sample

Duffins Creek Resistance Board Weir

Duffins Creek Resistance Board Weir

Fisher Study


Mayfield West

Natural Channel Design

Fluvial Geomorphology Sampling

Natural Feature Water Balance

Natural Feature Water Balance

Nearshore Community Index Netting

NSCIN 2014

Nobleton Phosphorus Monitoring

Nobleton Stream Flow

Rusty Crayfish

Rusty Crayfish

Seaton Development Lands

Redside Dace

Sea Lamprey

Sea Lamprey Close-up

York Region logo

Durham Region logo Region of Peel logo
GLSF Logo City of Toronto logo

RAP logo


Mayfield West:

The planned community of Mayfield West in the Town of Caledon has been designated a "Rural Service Centre", the product of a substantial and comprehensive planning process that resulted in the development of a Comprehensive Adaptive Management Plan (CAMP). The goal of the CAMP was to design a long-term monitoring program that would measure the performance and adherence to the Town's environmental management policies, as well as help provide guidance for future developments.

TRCA was contracted by the Town of Caledon to conduct all the monitoring activities related to the CAMP. Ecological monitoring began in 2013 and activities are expected to continue for at least 10 more years. Aquatic monitoring includes stream flow, water chemistry, fish and benthic invertebrate habitat and communities, and fluvial geomorphology. Terrestrial monitoring includes amphibians and breeding birds in forest, wetland and meadow habitats. Vegetation is also monitored in forests and wetlands.

Natural Channel Design:

Reconstruction of stream channels to restore, rehabilitate or enhance its geomorphic and ecological functions is becoming an increasingly common management approach in urban areas both in Canada and internationally. However there is little evidence available regarding the short and long-term effectiveness of Natural Channel Designs (NCD), making it difficult to evaluate and improve current practices.

To address this, TRCA initiated a program to monitor and evaluate completed projects in the Greater Toronto Area watersheds in 2005. The first project phase produced the 2009 monitoring protocol Evaluating the Effectiveness of Natural Channel Design Projects: A Protocol for Monitoring Natural Channel Design Projects. The second phase of the NCD project involves periodic monitoring and evaluation of 30 project sites over a 10 year time period from 2005 onwards. Monitoring parameters assessed include: geomorphic characteristics, engineered elements, aquatic habitat and communities, riparian vegetation communities, and amphibian and breeding bird surveys. Reporting on findings from the last 10 years of monitoring will be completed in 2015.

Natural Feature Water Balance:

The purpose of this monitoring project is to gain a better understanding of how sensitive wetlands, woodlands and watercourses are to changes in hydrology caused by urbanization. Hydrological and ecological conditions at fixed sites are monitored on a long-term basis to examine baseline conditions before and after development.

This information helps both TRCA and Credit Valley Conservation assess and address the hydrologic impacts of urban development on natural features when reviewing development proposals, as well as establish defensible water management criteria for their protection. This data also assists with future land-use planning and impact assessment, and may possibly influence ecological restoration initiatives and the evaluation of overall watershed health.  Read more about this project in the 2014 Water Balance Study Sites: Baif and Seaton Natural Heritage Monitoring Program - Terrestrial Component Preliminary Findings report. 

Caledon East:

With population growth causing increased draws from existing water supply wells in Caledon East, the Region of Peel completed a Class Environmental Assessment (EA) in November 2007. One of the recommendations was for the Region of Peel and TRCA to coordinate the monitoring activities outlined in the Region of Peel’s Natural Heritage Monitoring Program (NHMP), which was developed by TRCA in 2008 for the Region of Peel’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for the Caledon East Existing Water Supply System.

The monitoring activities currently underway in Caledon East include biological monitoring of the fish community (including trout spawning activity) in the stream. In Boyce’s Creek specifically, monitoring involves the measure of stream turbidity, flow, and sediment particle size distribution as well as benthic macroinvertebrates.

Nobleton Phosphorus Monitoring:

In June 2012, a new water pollution control plant was built in the Village of Nobleton, York Region to reduce the levels of phosphorus, ammonia, nitrate and E.coli counts that were appearing in local creeks due to failing septic systems. At the end of December 2014, there were 307 connections to the new sewer system with approximately 294 septic systems completely decommissioned. This is approximately 42% of the total number of septic systems to be decommissioned, which will be completed by the end of 2015.

TRCA, on behalf of York Region, has been conducting a surface water monitoring program since 2009 to track the contaminant levels in local waterways before, during, and after the septic tank decommissioning to measure its effectiveness. TRCA will continue monitoring during the final decommissioning phase in 2015 and for one year after all the septic systems have been removed. 

Rusty Crayfish:

Rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus), is an invasive species that outcompetes native crayfish species. Originally from the northeastern United States, ith has expanded its range presumably through bait bucket releases by anglers. Once established, it can reduce the benthic macroinvertebrate community, macrophyte biomass, as well as alter aquatic habitats.  

In 1983, a  Rusty Crayfish was first reported by TRCA staff in Duffins Creek. In 2012, RWMP initiated the Rusty Crayfish Monitoring Project, whereby TRCA staff collected Rusty Crayfish using electrofishing survey techniques. The objective of this project was to examine the health conditions of the Rusty Crayfish and to fill in data gaps regarding its current distribution and abundance within TRCA's jurisdiction. 

Sampling for this three-year project has now concluded and a final report synthesizing all three years of data is currently underway.  The data suggests that the Rusty Crayfish has become the dominant crayfish species in the Rouge River and Duffins Creek watersheds, but is not well established elsewhere in TRCA's jurisdiction.

Further analyses is expected to reveal Rusty Crayfish's habitat preference, overall population health status, and the hybridization between the Rusty Crayfish and the native northern clearwater crayfish (Orconectes propinquus).

Sea Lamprey:Since 2005, Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) has worked in contract partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to collect sea lamprey during their spawning season (mid-April to mid-June) in an effort to reduce their impact on fish communities within Lake Ontario.  There are traps built into the first weirs of the Humber River and Duffins Creek, with the intent of capturing the adult sea lamprey as they migrate upstream to spawn. In 2015, TRCA environmental monitoring crews caught 1249 sea lamprey in the Humber River trap and 233 sea lamprey in the Duffins Creek trap.

Sea lamprey are an invasive parasitic fish native to the Atlantic Ocean that voraciously feed on the bodily fluids of other fish using their suction cup mouth lined with teeth. The first reported occurrence of sea lamprey in the Great Lakes was in the 1830's and it is believed that they entered the Great Lakes through the shipping channels. In the 1940's and 50's sea lamprey had a significant role in the collapse of the lake trout and whitefish fisheries, which have both been historic economic mainstays of the Great Lakes fishery.

TRCA continues to work with outside agencies that have a collaborative interest in fish community health for the benefit of not only TRCA's jurisdiction but the Great Lakes Region overall.

Fisher Study:

The Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) and Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) worked collaboratively to survey for the presence of fishers (Pekania pennanti) in Glen Major Forest during the Winter of 2014-2015. Data collection was based on a number of baited hair snare stations outfitted with motion-triggered trail cameras. Hair samples collected at each station were be collected by TRCA and sent to OMNRF for genetic analysis.

Thought to be largely nonexistent in the Greater Toronto Area, the fisher has been observed more frequently over the last five years in the Region's forested pockets. Information on the number and type of different individuals in Glen Major Forest should add to our knowledge of fisher genetic diversity in relation to neighbouring fisher populations in Ontario, including its adaptive potential for recolonization. Currently the fisher is considered to be a Regional Species of Conservation Concern in TRCA's jurisdiction, however information from this study should provide a better understanding of this elusive mammal's regional status.

Acoustic Telemetry:

2015 marks the fifth year the Acoustic Telemetry research study has been underway. Thanks to this ‘high-tech' fish tagging study, resource managers are learning how fish are using restored habitats in order to enhance or expand restoration efforts throughout the Toronto Harbour. In partnership with researchers from Carleton University and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, environmental monitoring crews from TRCA have tagged over 300 native and non-native fish with acoustic transmitters since 2010 in an effort to track their feeding and spawning activities 24 hours a day year-round. Researchers recently outfitted 40 fish with transmitters this past summer and fall thanks to new funding provided by Environment Canada's Great Lake Sustainability Fund, which will see the project continue for the next three years.

Understanding the mysteries of fish behavior, including where and how long fish are spawning and feeding throughout the seasons, will help TRCA continue to manage aquatic habitat along Toronto's waterfront. The goal is to support a community of desirable native fish species as well as a self-sustaining fishery. Future plans for the project include expanding the study area to pick up acoustic signals from tagged fish travelling along the north shore of Lake Ontario. This information will help to answer questions about how fish move regionally and how agencies can work together to improve the health of Lake Ontario.

Duffins Creek Resistance Board Weir:2015 marks the third year Toronto and Region Conservation's (TRCA) environmental monitoring team has supported the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program (LOASRP) program by recording the characteristics (e.g. length, weight, gill parasites, sea lamprey scars) of all Salmonid species caught at the Duffins Creek Resistance Board Weir during their spawning migration periods.

Between August 14th and September 22nd, 2015, characteristics of 462 Salmonid species were recorded during 37 individual sampling events (780.5 hours) before the fish continued their migration upstream. This included 8 Atlantic Salmon! This is the most Atlantics caught in one season at the weir since operations began in 2013.

TRCA also collects genetic samples from species caudal fins to assist researchers in determining which strain of stocked Atlantics is proving most successful. The day-to-day operations of the Duffins Creek Resistance Board Weir are performed in consultation with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Foresty, who is a lead partner with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters for the LOASRP's stream habitat enhancement activities.

Since 2006, the 40+ partners and sponsors for the LOASRP program have been focused on restoring a self-sustaining native Atlantic Salmon population to Lake Ontario since their extirpation (i.e. local extinction) in the late 1800s. Atlantic Salmon were one of the first fish species in the Great Lakes to disappear as a result of degradation of streams, over-fishing and ecosystem changes in the lake.

Seaton Development Lands:

The Seaton development lands refers to a large parcel of land (1200 ha) in Pickering, Ontario which is slated for urban development. The Central Pickering Development Plan outlines the blueprint for an urban community with up to 70,000 people and 35,000 jobs, along with a designated agricultural area on the west side of Duffins Creek.  The urban development portion of the Seaton Community will incorporate advanced sustainability techniques such as low impact design (LID) to help mitigate the impacts of urbanization to the natural environment. 

The Seaton development lands project is unique because 53% of the community has been zoned as a Natural Heritage System (NHS). The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in cooperation with TRCA identified the NHS for the Seaton Lands area, which includes all wetlands, significant woodlands, streams and watercourses, and the Lake Iroquois shoreline.  The aquatic system is home to important fish species; the provincially endangered Redside Dace; and Brook Trout, which have a very limited population in the Toronto region. 

Due to the size and scale of this development, its sustainability aspects and the sensitivity of the nearby ecosystems, the TRCA initiated a large-scale monitoring program to evaluate the natural heritage of the Seaton development lands. TRCA will be monitoring both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem (pre, during, and post development) to determine if the sustainability practices and the large NHS are sufficient to protect the ecological integrity of the sensitive natural heritage features within the project boundaries.  It is expected that a number of additional monitoring activities will be added in the next few years to support research and monitoring questions.  Results from this monitoring program are expected to largely influence future planning decisions at the Seaton Lands and in other parts of TRCA's watersheds.

Nearshore Community Index Netting:

Funded by the Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA), TRCA under contract by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) are involved in nearshore fish community identification and assessments at 24 sites along Toronto's waterfront. Nearshore Community Index Netting (NSCIN) is an over-night netting program designed to evaluate abundance and other attributes (e.g. length, weight, age) of fish species that inhabit that littoral (i.e. close to shore) zone of Ontario lakes. The project follows the OMNRF's NSCIN guidelines. To date, NSCIN trap netting has been conducted at the Toronto Waterfront in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012 and is scheduled again for 2016.

These nearshore fisheries surveys add to the knowledge gained through TRCA's annual waterfront electrofishing surveys, which have been on-going since the 1960s in support of Toronto's Remedial Action Plan (RAP).