Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies (MES)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Robert Sharpe

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This study has produced an assessment framework and classification designed specifically for urban modified streams. While many stream assessment frameworks do exist, most are designed for natural streams and as such have no provision for characteristics of urban streams such as concrete channelization, storm drains, and urban debris. Building upon previous assessment and classification schemes, both urban and natural, this framework satisfies this need. It strengths lie in its user-friendly, visual-based approach to assessment by employing representative photographs and qualitative information to aid the user. A total of ten variables were employed that are scaled on a spectrum of categories, each differentiated by the number of points assigned. Once the assessment is completed, the scores are summed and the result is placed in one of five classification categories, ranging from Extreme Modification to Near Natural. This framework was tested on a heavily modified watershed, Schneider Creek, located in Kitchener, a fast urbanizing Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) approximately 100 km Southwest of Ontario’s capital of Toronto. This framework was tested in two different capacities on fifty-seven 100 metre segments throughout the watershed: 1) in the laboratory using aerial photographs and GIS layers, and 2) in the field. A major objective of the study was to determine if urban characteristics of streams could be accurately detected from a remotely sensed image and GIS data. It was discovered that only three variables, Channel Alteration, Riparian Width, and Type of Riparian Vegetation could be accurately detected from a geomatics database, with 75-87% average accuracy across all categories. It is thought that these variables were most accurate because they were ‘macro’ variables that could be seen clearly from above and were relatively static (did not change rapidly over time). Variables that were most difficult to detect were Bank Stability and Sediment Deposition. Variables such as these were thought to be ‘micro’ variables that were difficult to see from above and were constantly changing and therefore required fieldwork to detect accurately. It is suggested that for stream assessments, a combination of laboratory and fieldwork is best. Another major objective was to map the various channel types from the classification throughout the watershed. The purpose of this exercise was to generate an overview of creek modification and reveal any areas of concern. As expect, the most extremely modified sections were clustered around the heart of downtown Kitchener where industrial, commercial, and residential landuse is well established. This is an area of concern because it appears that concrete channelized sections are causing erosion in the southern sections of Schneider Creek via increased water velocity. Other areas of concern include various point sources of pollution and the rapidly urbanizing southwestern portion of the watershed. Various best management practices (BMPs) were suggested for these areas, but these are only short-term fixes. This study calls for greater public awareness of Schneider Creek and all watersheds, and it is suggested that the most effective way to accomplish this is through the power of maps, spatial thinking, and importance of viewing watersheds as dynamic systems.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season