Watershed group hires York to develop Web site

York has been asked to provide a leading-edge information system for the Humber River watershed. Maxwell Brem, external relations director for York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, reports:

Two years ago the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) set up a watershed monitoring program. Research data – such as biological indicators of water quality – are sampled and reported to the public in report-card style publications. It is a way to increase public awareness in environmental monitoring and watershed health in Toronto. Now, the conservation authority has asked York University to develop a Web-based geographic information system (GIS) that generates maps – and reports – of the Humber River watershed (right) showing where the environmental data applies.

The TRCA is funding a $35,000 York research project to marry the Web-based technologies with a GIS. This pilot project, expected to be completed by Oct. 31, could be a model for other watershed environmental mapping projects.

The project is modelled upon Map Reflections, an innovative system of surface-water-quality data collection, assessment and reporting developed at York in 1998. Students and conservation groups collect water samples and monitor tiny insects – biological indicators of urban sustainability in southern Ontario. The data are then entered and its distribution mapped on the Map Reflections system for viewing online.

John Sorrell spearheaded Map Reflections and is directing the new TRCA project, which will involve members of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES). He says young adults involved in collection and analysis of the environmental data “appreciate the integrated relationship between land use, cover and surface water quality.”

This type of environmental monitoring system “fosters local stewardship, informed decision making, and experiential learning, and facilitates geographic inquiry through the use of Web-based mapping technologies,” Sorrell says.

York’s new partnership with TRCA is particularly noteworthy, says Sorrell. “The TRCA is not a typical funding source, it has very limited resources and it is using an FES project to demonstrate leadership in regional watershed monitoring and reporting practices.”

FES Dean David Morley says this work is a fine example of community outreach and technology sharing around environmental issues.

The project also involves SeconSys Inc., a Canadian software developer with international reach that specializes in application development for geospatial systems.

See www.seconsys.com for more about the partnering company. For further information, visit the FES Web site at www.yorku.ca/fes/fesnews/watershed.htm.