Government of Nova Scotia Government of Nova Scotia Nova Scotia, Canada


Surface Water

Nova Scotia Surface Water

Surface water use in Nova Scotia

Surface water is an important source of water for public water supplies, agricultural supplies, industrial supplies and commercial supplies throughout the province. Of the 82 municipal water supplies in Nova Scotia, approximately 54 % obtain their water from surface water sources and 12% use a combination of groundwater and surface water. Surface water is also used by some small registered public water systems in Nova Scotia, which provide water to facilities such as rural schools, day cares, nursing homes, restaurants and campgrounds. Other important surface water uses include recreational uses such as swimming and boating, and habitat for a whole interconnected web of aquatic life including insects, fish, fish-eating birds, and mammals. See Natural History of NS - Fresh Water and ResourcesPDF Download Link (PDF:88k) for more information.

Surface water quantity in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia has no shortage of fresh surface water. Total annual precipitation is quite high (1300 mm) and the geology and prevailing slope of the terrain produces an average runoff of about 70 % . Large areas of impermeable rock and thin soils, and the effects of glaciation have resulted in many lakes, streams, and wetlands. Approximately four percent of Nova Scotia’s land surface is covered by freshwater. See Natural History of NS - Freshwater HydrologyPDF Download Link (PDF:380k) and Freshwater WetlandsPDF Download Link (PDF:57k) for more information.

Surface water quality in Nova Scotia

Surface water quality in Nova Scotia is generally good. However, surface waters can be impacted by a number of naturally-occurring and human-made substances. These substances include silt, acids, nutrients, metals such as mercury, petroleum products, chlorides from road salt, and coliform bacteria.

Some areas of the province have highly colored surface waters which are naturally-occurring and result from drainage from peat bogs and other wetlands. These waters have high acidity and low pH and can be less suited for drinking water supplies and recreational uses. They are also sensitive to other acid inputs such as acid rain, and some have become less suited for fish habitat.

Erosion of soil and nutrients from the land are natural processes which contribute to lowered water quality and impairs various water uses. Human activities can greatly increase such impacts where control programs are not in place. Acidification, siltation, and eutrophication, are the most serious human-related impacts to surface waters as outlined in The State of the Nova Scotia Environment reportPDF Download Link (PDF:4mb). Other contaminants which impact surface waters are metals such as mercury which can accumulate in fish and other aquatic life. These metals can be from natural sources or human-made such as from industrial air emissions or mine tailings. Petroleum products, chlorides from road salt or sea spray, and bacteria can also effect surface water and its various uses. Bacteria and chlorides can each be from both natural and human sources. The use of regulatory and voluntary control measures, planning, and best management practices can reduce impacts from these and all other contaminant sources. See Natural History of Nova Scotia - Freshwater EnvironmentsPDF Download Link (PDF:716k) for more information.