Canada Water Act annual report for 2017 to 2018: chapter 1

1 Introduction

The Canada Water Act (CWA), administered by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change provides an enabling framework for collaboration among federal, provincial and territorial governments in matters relating to water resources. Each level of government has a different role related to the management of water resources. Joint projects involve the regulation, apportionment, monitoring or surveying of water resources, and the planning and implementation of programs relating to the conservation, development and utilization of water resources. As well, there are many areas of shared responsibility.

Section 38 of the act requires that a report on operations under the act be laid before Parliament as soon as possible after the end of each fiscal year. This annual report covers progress on these activities from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018.

The following is a summary of the major provisions of the act:

Part I, Section 4, provides for the establishment of federal-provincial/territorial arrangements for the establishment of intergovernmental committees or other bodies in relation to water resource management. Sections 5, 6 and 8 provide the vehicle for cooperative agreements with the provinces and territories to develop and implement comprehensive water resource management programs. Section 7 enables the Minister, either directly or in cooperation with any provincial/territorial government, institution or person, to conduct research, collect data and establish inventories associated with water resources.

Part II provides authority for the establishment of federal-provincial/territorial management agreements where water quality has become a matter of urgent national concern. It also allows the Minister to name an existing corporation that is an agent of Her Majesty or that performs a function or duty on the federal government’s behalf to plan and implement approved water‑quality management programs. The application of alternative cooperative approaches and programs has resulted in Part II never having been used.

Part III, which provided for regulating the concentration of nutrients in cleaning agents and water conditioners, is now part of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, (See the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 annual reports to Parliament.)

Part IV contains provisions for the general administration of the act, including annual reporting to Parliament. In addition, Part IV provides for inspection and enforcement, allows the Minister to establish advisory committees, and permits the Minister, either directly or in cooperation with any government, institution or person, to undertake public information programs.

This report describes a wide range of federal operations conducted under the authority of the act, including participation in federal-provincial/territorial agreements and arrangements, significant water monitoring and research, and public information programs. It also includes work done under the act to safeguard the water quality and quantity of Canada’s watersheds. The map in Figure 1 depicts Canada’s major drainage areas and drainage flows.

Figure 1: Drainage areas in Canada

Figure 1: Drainage areas in Canada

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Natural Resources, 2007

Description of Figure 1

Figure 1 is a map that shows the five ocean drainage areas in Canada, the major river basins, the internal drainage areas and the diverted drainage areas. A drainage basin, sometimes called a watershed, is an area where all surface water shares the same drainage outlet. Surface water consists of the tiny trickles of water flowing on the surface of the earth that develop into larger streams and eventually combine to form a river. The boundary of a watershed is called a drainage divide.

Canadian provinces and territories have the majority of responsibility over areas of water management and protection. Most of these governments delegate some authority to municipalities, in particular drinking water treatment and distribution, and wastewater treatment operations in urban areas. In certain cases, local authorities responsible for a particular area or river basin take on some water-resource management functions when requested by government.

The federal government has responsibility for managing water on federal lands (e.g., national parks), federal facilities (e.g., office buildings, laboratories, penitentiaries, military bases), Indigenous lands and in Nunavut. The federal government also has jurisdiction to make laws in relation to fisheries and navigation, both of which play a role in water management.

Formal bilateral hydrometric agreements between most provincial/territorial governments and the federal government provide for the collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of water quantity data. These agreements have been administered cooperatively since 1975 and, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, have been renewed since 2008.

CWA agreements that were ongoing during 2017-2018, included the following.

Agreements related to apportionment and monitoring programs:

  • Hydrometric agreements with nine provinces, Yukon and Northwest Territories, and with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for Nunavut
  • Master Agreement on Apportionment in the Prairie Provinces (Prairie Provinces Water Board)
  • Water quality monitoring agreements with British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Quebec
  • Canada–Prince Edward Island Memorandum of Agreement on Water
  • Agreement Respecting Ottawa River Basin Regulation

Arrangements and agreements related to water management, intergovernmental cooperation or programs:

  • Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement
  • Canada–Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin

Agreements for specific water programs require participating governments to specify the amount of funding each will pay and the information and expertise they will provide, in agreed ratios. For ongoing activities such as the hydrometric monitoring agreements with each provincial and territorial government, cost-sharing is in accordance with each party’s need for the data. For study and planning agreements, generally the federal government and the specific provincial or territorial government each assume half of the costs. The planning studies encompass interprovincial, international or other water basins where federal interests are important. Implementation of planning recommendations also occurs on a federal, provincial/territorial and federal-provincial/territorial basis. Cost-sharing for infrastructure often includes a contribution from local governments.

The different sections describe federal, provincial and territorial collaboration in the following areas:

  • data collection and use
  • inter‑jurisdictional water boards; and
  • partnership-based ecosystem approaches
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