News at the University of New Brunswick

UNB researchers give health update on the province s largest river system

Author: Communications

Posted on Jul 8, 2011

Category: myUNB

The Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) at the University of New Brunswick released the St. John River State of the Environment Report today—a document created after a decade of research on New Brunswick’s largest river system.

Researchers found that the overall quality of water in the river has improved in the last 40 years, but there are a few areas that are still concerning.

“The improvements have occurred because communities and industries are doing a better job of treating wastewater before discharging it to the river," said Allen Curry, director of CRI.  “There are also more stringent regulations and laws, and there is better monitoring by the regulatory agencies in Canada and the U.S.”

Despite these changes, there are still several stretches of the river near our urban centres, industries, and agricultural lands that researchers would like to see improve. 

“We have made progress but there is more we can do to reduce our impact on the river's water quality and condition,” said Dr. Curry. 

The Beechwood and Mactaquac Dams have also had a major impact on the river by changing the physical nature of the river.

“Flow downstream of the dams is highly controlled because water is released almost exclusively to meet current or potential energy production demands, said Dr. Curry.  “The dams are barriers to fish movement along the river and fish moving downstream have poor survival through the dam’s turbines or when they fall over the dam itself.”

Dr. Curry says they’re also noticing a change in the river’s fish community with the creation of headpond lakes.

“More warm water (for example, yellow perch) and fewer cold water (like trout and salmon) fishes survive in these areas.” 

The report used the existing and accessible data that goes back to the 1950s to assess the state of the Saint John River and changes over time.  The report was released today as part of the annual CRI Day, where more than 100 researchers and partners took part in a day of presentations and discussions about our river systems. 

Researchers believe the Saint John River will continue to face a number of challenges; however, they say it’s important to realize we have the knowledge and technology to better manage our wastewaters, river flows, and fish passage to overcome these challenges and significantly reduce our impacts on our river systems.

Over the past decade CRI has established itself as an international leader in the field of river science, building partnerships with over a dozen countries around the world. Working together with government and business has helped the CRI spread their knowledge and benefits to their communities.

Established in 2001, the CRI is the first institute of its kind in the world. With a collaboration of researchers at the University of New Brunswick on both the Fredericton and Saint John campuses, the mandate of the CRI is to develop the aquatic science needed to understand, protect, and sustain water resources for the region, nation, and the planet.

Initially founded with two Canada Research Chairs and two additional professors, the CRI has grown to include 16 Science Directors, 35 Associates, 18 staff, eight Canada Research Chairs, and more than 65 graduate students with linkages to researchers across the world. 

For more information contact Jennifer Gavin at 453-4990 or

Read the full report (170 pages, pdf)