La classification
des cours d’eau

Un outil pour la gestion des lignes de partage des eaux

La classification des cours d’eau est un outil qui a été créé pour aider les communautés à définir des niveaux de qualité d’eau et des buts quant à la qualité de l’eau.

De plus, la classification des cours d’eau a été élaborée pour aider les communautés à atteindre leurs buts par l’entremise de la planification de la mise à exécution et de la gestion des lignes de partage des

La classification des cours d’eau est comprise dans la Loi sur l’assainissement de l’eau. En termes simples, cette loi répartit les rivières ou segments de rivières, les affluents et les lacs dans des catégories pour en faire la gestion. Pour chacune de ces catégories, des normes spécifiques quant à la qualité de l’eau sont établies, et ceci pour assurer que l’eau est utilisée sans abus.


Water Classification -
A Tool for Managing Watersheds

Jane Tims
New Brunswick Department of the Environment
March 1999


c.gif (365 bytes)ommunities of people work together for all sorts of reasons, sometimes to plan a community park, sometimes to build a children's baseball team. The goal is usually improvement and the consequence is often people working together to accomplish what individuals cannot do alone.

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(photo: N.B. Department of the Environment)


Watershed groups will also work with the Water Classification Program to nominate and study candidates for the Outstanding Natural Waters Class.


The concept of the community working together toward a common goal is well illustrated by a relatively new sector of community involvement, the watershed group. Watershed groups in some form have been in existence ever since the first group of cottage owners around a lake began to meet to plan a summer BBQ and the first group of anglers held meetings to discuss improvements to trout habitat in their favorite fishing stream. As time has passed, many of these groups have evolved, taking on more comprehensive mandates. New groups have also formed, their primary purpose the protection of a particular river system and the associated watershed. Presently, there are more than 50 organized watershed groups in New Brunswick.

Watershed groups make use of various tools to help them work to maintain and improve water quality. They often need funding to maintain a presence in the community and undertake various watershed initiatives. They need specific educational and informational resources to help them promote principles of clean water and good environmental practice. They may be interested in monitoring water quality, in which case they may need help training volunteers or doing lab analyses. They also need planning tools, to help them work with others in the community to make good decisions and to prioritize management activities. Through a continuing program of outreach and partnering, the Department of the Environment has provided services in many of these areas, including planning.

Under the Clean Water Act, a tool has been developed to help communities not only plan and set goals for water quality, but also to help them achieve their water quality goals through action planning and watershed management. This tool is Water Classification.

Water Classification is an initiative under New Brunswick's Clean Water Act. Plainly put, it places rivers or segments of rivers, tributaries and lakes into categories for management. Each of these categories or classes has its own set of water quality standards, designed to protect suitable uses of the water. The present design of the system establishes six classes: an Outstanding Class for special natural lakes and rivers; an AP (Potable) Class for municipal drinking water supplies; an AL Class for lakes; and A, B, and C Classes for excellent, good and acceptable water quality, respectively.

The process of Classification involves three basic steps, followed by implementation. The first step is measurement and interpretation of existing water quality; historical information on water quality is also used to build a picture of how the water quality may have changed in a watershed.

The second step is mapping of land cover and land use information. Understanding the topography, geology, soils and vegetation cover in an area helps to explain water quality characteristics; often ecological land classification can help to integrate the interpretation of these features. Land use mapping helps to explain water quality changes from the natural system, and shows where point sources and non-point sources of pollutants occur.

The third step to Classification is involvement of stakeholders in informed decision making. The various stakeholders who have an interest in a watershed and its water are encouraged to work together to build consensus on water quality issues, in particular, the setting of water quality goals. Stakeholders include landowners and those who come from outside to use or enjoy the water. Stakeholders include various groups of land users: farmers, foresters, industry (including those in the mining industry), anglers and canoeists, residential and recreational users, and others. Stakeholders also include various levels of government: provincial, municipal, federal and aboriginal. Each of these groups has an interest in the water and, potentially, an influence on water quality.

By involving stakeholders early in the process of classification, everyone can understand why the water quality is the way it is, and the consequences of maintenance, protection or restoration. This includes the economic, social and environmental consequences of decisions that are made and goals that are set.

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(photo: N.B. Department of the Environment)

Water Classification is applied to watercourses in the whole watershed: the mainstem (including the estuary), tributaries and lakes.


Once the classification of a particular river system is accomplished, an implementation phase begins. One role of watershed groups will be to assist with action planning. An action plan lists and prioritizes achievable activities that will help to protect or restore a river system according to the goals set through Water Classification. Other aspects of implementation will involve the design and promotion of voluntary Best Management Practices. Regulatory tools will include the standards under the proposed Water Classification Regulation, as well as the existing approvals and permitting system which focuses on point sources and watercourse alterations.

Besides being a watershed management tool, Water Classification is also a watershed management mechanism. The step-wise achievement of water quality objectives, accomplished by first understanding the water and its watershed, and then involving stakeholders in establishing a vision for the water quality, makes Water Classification a means whereby a watershed group can be focused, empowered and made action-ready.

The involvement of various stakeholders in the process of Classification helps to build stronger, more broadly based watershed management groups that will benefit from the inclusion of new ideas and other points of view long after the classification exercise is complete. Information and data about the watershed enable education and informed action; Water Classification leaves a legacy of knowledge and concrete tools such as land use maps and water quality data. Finally, the completion of the planning associated with Classification results in an action plan which can be used in order to prioritize activities and set objectives for maintenance or restoration initiatives, providing the group with focus and direction into the future.

Water Classification is already a feature of watershed based activities in the province. The Department of the Environment is presently working in various watersheds with watershed groups towards land and water assessment and goal setting. Examples of this partnership include the Eastern Charlotte Waterways ACAP group which has undertaken the first steps of a Classification for the West Fundy Composite Watershed (Magaguadavic and surrounding rivers). Towards the eventual goal of classification, they have monitored the water quality, gathered existing data on water quality, mapped the watershed and its land cover and uses, and begun the process of discussing a preliminary classification with stakeholders throughout the watershed. They have also produced a Guidebook on Water Classification, including six modules and a toolkit to take a watershed group step by step through the process of classification and watershed management. The Hammond River Angling Association has also begun to assemble the water quality data and land use information required for Classification and to involve stakeholders in the process, and have participated with the Department of the Environment in a volunteer monitoring program. The Department has also begun to work toward classification with established watershed groups in the Keswick River, the Nashwaak River, the Tabusintac River, the St. Croix River and the Petitcodiac River watersheds.

As Water Classification moves through the province, watershed by watershed, groups like these will provide the focal point for community involvement, collection of new information and determination of public vision in the goal setting process. Wherever possible, Water Classification will involve existing watershed groups in the process of classification. Watershed groups will also be involved in the implementation of Classification, through action planning and follow-up initiatives and activities.

Watershed groups will continue to provide community-level input to water quality and water use management in New Brunswick. The Department of the Environment applauds the hard work of these groups and the work they have done already towards the protection and improvement of New Brunswick's lakes and rivers. With their continued help, and with the help of all stakeholders, we look forward to working towards the Classification of the province's river systems.

The Department of Environment is presently working on a Water Classification Regulation to establish administrative procedures associated with Water Classification, to define the Classes and to describe the associated water quality standards. As with other aspects of Classification, stakeholder involvement is essential. As a part of this continuing discussion, an Overview of the Regulation has been distributed for comment to watershed groups throughout the province and to various groups representing stakeholders in watershed management.  If you would like to comment, please call or write to us.

Link: New Brunswick's Water Classification Program
         Programme de classification des eaux du N-B