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Protecting Our Homes, Valuing Our River: The Ottawa River Watershed in Focus

Greetings from West Carleton Disaster Relief! As we work diligently to help our fellow residents protect their homes from spring flooding, we want to take a moment to reflect on the incredible Ottawa River watershed that surrounds us. We recognize that managing this vast, complex, and ecologically diverse region comes with many challenges, but we are committed to understanding the river and its watershed which helps us direct our efforts in times of need.


The Ottawa River watershed spans over two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, covering approximately 146,300 square kilometres (56,500 square miles), an area larger than the province of Nova Scotia - making it one of the largest watersheds in Canada. At its core, the Ottawa River stretches 1,271 kilometres (790 miles), originating from Lake Capimitchigama in western Quebec and flowing westward into the Lake of Two Mountains, then south and later southeast into our long stretch of the river before joining the St. Lawrence River near Montreal.


You can't help but marvel at the diverse landscapes within the watershed. From Canadian Shield bedrock to mixed forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands, this region is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, some of which are rare or endangered. With over 300 bird species, 80 fish species, and 50 mammal species, the Ottawa River watershed is a crucial area for environmental conservation.

A graphic showing the very large size of the watershed that feeds the Ottawa River
The vast watershed that feeds the Ottawa River. Water from the highest levels of the watershed takes 22 days to reach us!

The complexity of this watershed doesn't end there. Numerous tributaries, including the Gatineau, Rideau, Madawaska, and Petawawa Rivers, along with smaller streams and creeks, contribute to the extensive drainage network. These waterways play an essential role in flood management.


In addition to its ecological importance, the Ottawa River watershed is vital to the region's economy. It supplies water for drinking, agriculture, industry, and hydroelectric power generation. The river has a long history of human settlement and today, it is home to over 2 million people, including us here in the National Capital Region.


As we focus on flood management in the Ottawa River watershed, it's essential to understand the various components that contribute to what ends up as the water levels in West Carleton. In addition to the rivers that feed the Ottawa, dams and reservoirs are a critical part of the equation, with numerous structures in place to help control water levels and mitigate flooding. These dams store excess water during periods of high flow and release it gradually to maintain optimal river levels. Dam operators and regulatory agencies collaborate to manage water levels in a coordinated manner, ensuring the safety and well-being of the communities they serve.


Forecasting and monitoring are also crucial aspects of flood management. Organizations such as the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB) and the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) provide timely information on water levels, precipitation, snowmelt, and ice conditions, helping decision-makers and the public prepare for potential flood events. This real-time monitoring is an invaluable resource for our team at West Carleton Disaster Relief, allowing us to mobilize and respond efficiently to the evolving situation.


Floodplain mapping is another essential component of flood management. Accurate maps help identify areas at risk of flooding and inform land use planning, infrastructure development, and emergency response planning. As conditions change due to factors like climate change and land use, it's important that these maps are regularly updated to reflect the current situation. This information is invaluable to organizations like ours, as well as the City of Ottawa, as it helps us make informed decisions that prioritize the safety of our residents and the health of the watershed.



WCDR knows that public awareness and preparedness play a significant role in flood management. Educating the public about flood risks and promoting preparedness measures, such as creating emergency plans and assembling emergency kits, are essential for ensuring our communities are ready to respond in times of need. That’s why our Flood Ready page on westcarletonrelief.ca is so valuable. Authorities and organizations, including West Carleton Disaster Relief, provide resources and information to help residents understand and prepare for flood risks. By fostering a culture of preparedness, we can help people take the steps to protect themselves, their families, and their properties before a crisis occurs.


Emergency response planning is another critical aspect of flood management. The City of Ottawa and other stakeholders develop and maintain emergency response plans to address potential flood events. These plans include coordinating resources, personnel, and communication strategies for efficient and effective responses to flood emergencies. Our team at West Carleton Disaster Relief is proud to be part of this collaborative effort, working alongside the City and other organizations and agencies to protect our communities from the impacts of flooding.


So, as we continue our work at West Carleton Disaster Relief to help protect homes from spring flooding, we are inspired by the beauty, resilience, and complexity of the Ottawa River. It’s an incredible and diverse natural resource that requires our attention, respect, and protection. As we work to manage the challenges of flooding, it is essential to understand the many interconnected factors that contribute to the watershed and its health and sustainability. Together with you, our residents, and our partner agencies, we can face the challenges of flood management and protect our homes, communities, and the environment we all cherish.


Stay safe!


WCDR relies on donations to fund our efforts. To make a donation simply click here. Every dollar helps residents in times of need.




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