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Lakes and Rivers


Introduction - What do we have, and why do we care?

The Halifax Regional Municipality is home to over 1000 lakes, more than 20 rivers, innumerable streams, and 23 major coastal embayments. These watercourses literally shape the nature of HRM, and are vitally important to our quality of life. Some of them serve as sources for our drinking water systems, others as spectacular recreational resources, whereas others of lower profile serve as fish and wildlife habitats, parts of visually stimulating landscapes, and a variety of other roles.

HRM has committed, through its Regional Plan, to planning on a watershed basis, to strive to meet body contact recreation standards in its lakes, waterways and coastal waters, and to attempt to stem the decline of lakes from eutrophication, sedimentation and other impacts from urban runoff by managing development on a watershed basis.

To accomplish these goals, HRM has developed or participated in a number of strategies, programs, projects, policies and other resources. These include:


Synoptic Water Quality Survey of Halifax Lakes

In early April 2011, scientists and students from several local agencies collected water samples by boat and from helicopters from fifty local lakes, all on a single day. The water will be assessed for standard water quality variables (e.g., pH, conductivity, major ions and nutrients and trace metals) and the results will be made available to the public.

The list of lakes to be sampled is available here.

This study is the fourth of its kind: previous synoptic studies were carried out in 2000, 1991, and 1980. Reports from those studies are available:


HRM Lakes Water Quality Sampling Program (2006-2011)

(Note that Halifax Harbour Water Quality is also available)

The following results should be taken as an indication of lake water quality at the time of sampling, and may not reflect the average over time.  Conditions may change rapidly.  Lakes and rivers with E.coli levels above 200/100ml are not recommended for swimming.  Lakes may be contaminated for various reasons at any time, and only supervised swimming beaches are tested weekly. Click here for health-related information.

Please Note: HRM only tested those lakes named on this List of Sampled Lakes (PDF, 14KB).   Click here for a map of sampling locations (JPG, 454KB).


The HRM Lakes Water Quality Sampling program began in May 2006 with 52 lakes. Additional lakes were added in 2007.  These lakes are currently sampled 3 times per year, once each spring, summer and fall.

Bacterial Data 2001 - 2006


  • HRM Receiving Water Baseline Sampling Program - Fecal Coliform Results (PDF, 23KB) The Receiving Water Baseline Sampling Program began in August 2001 with the objective of establishing a baseline level of fecal counts in lakes and watercourses that are in proximity to HRM's wastewater  infrastructure.   The data also provides a potential indication of a wastewater release from HRM or from private sewer infrastructure. Fecal coliform levels above 200/100ml are not recommended for swimming. Click here for health information. Water samples were collected and analysed three (3) times per year, typically during the spring, summer and fall seasons, from the outlet of sixty-two (62) lakes.  The bacterial sampling program was merged with the lake sampling program in 2007.


If you have any questions about these programs, please contact Cameron Deacoff, 490-1926.


Water Resources Management Strategy

As a foundation for developing a Water Resources Strategy for HRM, a study has been completed on a wide range of water resource issues.  HRM is now implementing the recommendations from this study.  Details are available through this link:

Water Resources Management -

Study Recommendations and Action Plan

As part of the Water Resources Strategy, HRM has created a Stormwater Management Guidelines Manual (PDF, 4.5MB), which may be used by developers, planners and engineers to help create stormwater management systems which provide protection for waterbodies. See the Staff Report to Council (PDF, 1.2 MB)


River Daylighting

HRM has a Policy on River Daylighting.  Daylighting (restoration of a natural watercourse which has been enclosed in pipes) will be considered according to criteria in the Policy.


Watershed Advisory Boards

HRM appointed, in 2013, a new Regional Watershed Advisory Board. This new Board, advises the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee of HRM Regional Council and conducts duties as may be assigned by Regional Council or the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee.

Three former appointed boards, whose mandate was to advise HRM Community Councils on various aspects of lake and watershed management, were dissolved in early 2013. Details about these former boards are provided through the links below:




THE ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH of our lakes, rivers and Halifax Harbour is a key priority for our residents. With the Halifax Harbour Solutions Project, HRM has come a long way towards addressing the critical problem of sewage treatment for the harbour. However, lakes, rivers and the harbour are not just affected by what comes out of our sewer pipes. The surrounding watersheds also provide significant inputs into all waterbodies.


The quality of the water which drains from these watersheds can be affected by a large range of human activities, such as: clearing of land; siltation and sedimentation; nutrient runoff from lawns and pet wastes; oil and chemical runoff from streets and roads; and any other contaminants which people discharge into streams, rivers and  storm drains.

Most storm sewers drain to the nearest surface water, a stream or lake. These waters all drain into the ocean, and large urban areas within HRM drain into Halifax Harbour. The major harbour drainage is the Sackville River and it’s tributaries, covering much of Bedford, Lower and Upper Sackville, and surrounding communities. Large areas of south Dartmouth drain into the harbour or into Cow Bay, while mainland south drains to the outer harbour through Macintosh Run. Areas surrounding the east and western shores of Bedford Basin drain directly to the Basin.

All of our activities which affect the land also have indirect effects on our lakes, rivers and the ocean waters they drain into. Simple individual actions can help to preserve and improve the quality and health of these waters:

  • Avoid pouring used cleaners, paints, chemicals or other materials down your drains or into stormwater systems such as gutters, ditches, storm sewers, or streams.
  • Remember to pick up after your pet, and dispose of the waste in the trash.
  • Limit your use of lawn fertilizers, or try alternatives such as compost. Remember, “Only Rain in the Storm Drain”, and that the harbour is connected to all the lands which drain into it.

Invasive Aquatic Species

An invasive aquatic plant, Yellow Floating Heart, has been noted in Little Albro Lake, Dartmouth.  This plant resembles native water lilies, but is an invasive Asian species used as a pond ornamental, which can rapidly take over lakes which it invades.  It is important not to allow this species to spread to other lakes, which can happen through transport of leaves, roots or flowers.  Please refer to the following Fact Sheet (PDF, 174 KB) and the Report to Council (PDF, 523 KB).  If you see this plant in other locations, please take a sample for identification and contact your local office of the Provincial Department of Natural Resources.

                    Photo of Yellow Floating Heart


Further information about other Invasive Species found in HRM is provided on a dedicated web page,