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What is a watershed?

Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie

“Watershed”, “watershed organization” commonly called “OBV”… Organizations dedicated to environmental protection often use this jargon. But what exactly is a watershed? And what does an OBV accomplish, exactly?

The watershed explained

A watershed is made up of a surface where water, from rain, streams, rivers and groundwater, converges towards a single watercourse and eventually flows into a river or the ocean. 

Types of watersheds

There are different types of ponds, which allows them to be distinguished according to their size. The sub-watersheds are made up of smaller watercourses, and the secondary watersheds are made up of lakes and rivers. Then, river watersheds flow into a river while oceanic watersheds flow into the ocean.

Bassin-versant_credit Parc régional du massif du sud
The watershed illustrated. Credit: Massif du Sud Regional Park

As you will have understood, a watershed depends greatly on the topography. The boundaries of a watershed's territory are characterized by the highest points that guide the flow path of precipitation. Naturally, by gravity, water flows downward. This boundary between two watershed areas is usually called the watershed or the ridge line. Its boundaries go beyond the regional borders of regional county municipalities (MRCs) and municipalities. Thus, to manage its watersheds, Quebec has set up watershed organizations (OBV).  

What does a watershed organization (WBO) accomplish?

At Fondation Rivières, we collaborate regularly with OBVs. In Quebec, there are 40, all under the aegis of the Grouping of Quebec watershed organizations (ROBVQ)

Carte des Bassins versants du Québec
Territories of the 40 OBVs of Quebec. Credit: MELCC 

The OBV's mission is to promote consultation between the different stakeholders (such as government, municipal, economic, environmental, agricultural, community and indigenous stakeholders), to raise community awareness and to develop and implement the Master Plan. water (PDE). These organisms are responsible for surface water as well as groundwater. In addition to the mandates in their mission, some OBVs also carry out characterizations of wet and water environments or vulnerability analyzes of drinking water sources, for example. 

With what means?

Even if the OBVs are mandated by the government of Quebec to carry out certain mandates (e.g. PDE), they are not managed by any government authority. They still receive funding from the Quebec government to the tune of 240,000 $ per year each, which represents around 50 % of their budget. The rest is filled by the contribution of the MRC, the Government of Canada and certain funding programs and grants. Suffice it to say that OBVs have great responsibilities and have very few resources!

A system that goes beyond the borders of Quebec

The watershed system is not limited to the borders of Quebec. For example, La Belle Province participates in the agreement on the sustainable water resources of the Great Lakes basin and the St. Lawrence River, which concerns eight American states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and two Canadian provinces (Quebec and Ontario).

Carte - Bassin des Grands Lacs et du fleuve Saint-Laurent
Map of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin. Credit: International Joint Commission (IJC) 

To give a picture of the scale of their importance, Canada's waterways represent more than 20 % of global fresh water. Thus, intergovernmental and cross-border cooperation is necessary to regulate water withdrawals and issues such as the loss and degradation of wetlands, microbiological contamination, the fight against invasive exotic species and bank erosion.  

Fondation Rivières and OBVs

Discover the mandates carried out by Fondation Rivières for OBVs! 

About the author

Picture of Coralie Massey-Cantin

Coralie Massey-Cantin

Coralie has a bachelor's degree in business administration specializing in sustainable development and marketing, she holds a master's degree in environmental management from the University of Sherbrooke.

When this column was written, Coralie was a water quality field technician trainee at Fondation Rivières.

Coralie now holds the position of philanthropic development advisor.

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