Canada Water Act annual report for 2017 to 2018: chapter 5

5 Inter-jurisdictional water boards

Inter-jurisdictional water boards have been established to focus on specific water issues that have implications for more than one province or territory. Domestic inter-jurisdictional boards include the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB), Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB), Mackenzie River Basin Board (MRBB), and the Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB). The 2017-2018 activities of each are described below.

There are also many international transboundary and inter-jurisdictional water boards in which Canada participates, most of which are led by the International Joint Commission (IJC). IJC work is not covered under the CWA; Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)’s progress towards work plans is reported internally under the Environment and Climate Change Canada–International Joint Commission Memorandum of Understanding.

5.1 Mackenzie River Basin Board

The governments of Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Yukon signed the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement in July 1997. The Master Agreement states that the waters of the Mackenzie River Basin should be managed to preserve the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem and to facilitate reasonable, equitable and sustainable use of this resource for present and future generations. The Master Agreement provides for early and effective consultation on potential developments and activities in the basin that could affect the integrity of the aquatic ecosystem and contains provisions for seven bilateral agreements between adjacent jurisdictions in the basin.

The Mackenzie River Basin Board (MRBB) represents all parties to the Master Agreement and administers the provisions of the Master Agreement. Federal members include representatives from ECCC and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Health Canada also participates, providing support and expertise on human health issues. Ten members represent the three provinces and two territories in the basin, including an appointee from each provincial and territorial water management agency, and an Indigenous board member representing Indigenous peoples in each of the five jurisdictions.

Under the Master Agreement, ECCC is responsible for managing the expenditures of the MRBB, which are cost-shared equally by the parties. Cost-shared expenditures include the staffing and operation of the Secretariat office to provide working-level support for the Board. The Secretariat has an executive director hired by ECCC and who is responsible for planning, directing and managing Board operations.

Key activities and accomplishments in 2017-2018 include:

  • The MRBB monitored the implementation of bilateral water management agreements that have been signed between Alberta and Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Northwest Territories, and British Columbia and Yukon.
  • The MRBB monitored the progress of bilateral water management negotiations between British Columbia and Alberta, Alberta and Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan.
  • The MRBB State of the Aquatic Ecosystem Committee and the Traditional Knowledge and Strengthening Partnerships Steering Committee worked jointly to advance the next Mackenzie River Basin State of the Aquatic Ecosystem Report. This report will describe the state of the aquatic ecosystem via the use of indicators and will give equal weight to western science and Traditional Knowledge.

5.2 Prairie Provinces Water Board

Recognizing that water use within one province may impact another province, and because federal and provincial governments have shared responsibility for water, the governments of Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba signed the Master Agreement on Apportionment (MAA) in October 1969. The purpose of this agreement is to apportion water between the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and to protect surface water quality and transboundary aquifers. The MAA also provides for cooperation among governments with respect to transboundary water management and for the establishment of the Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB) to administer the Agreement.

The overarching deliverable for the PPWB is to report on the achievement of the terms of the MAA. The MAA provides for an equitable sharing of available waters for all eastward-flowing streams, including lakes that cross provincial boundaries. The Schedules to the Agreement describe the role of the PPWB and stipulate the amount and quality of water that shall pass from Alberta to Saskatchewan and from Saskatchewan to Manitoba.

In support of the MAA, Environment and Climate Change Canada monitors stream flows, water quality and meteorological conditions on eastward-flowing streams on the provincial borders (see Figure 8). The PPWB computes apportionable flows based on the natural flow on a river as if that river had never been affected by human activity. Excursions (i.e. deviations) to the MAA water quality objectives are calculated annually.

Figure 8: PPWB water quantity and quality monitoring stations and basins for 2017

Figure 8: Prairie Provinces Water Board water quantity and quality monitoring stations and basins for 2017
Description of figure 8

Figure 8 is a map of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba that shows the Prairie Provinces Water Board water quantity and quality monitoring stations and basins. PPWB water quantity and/or quality monitoring is performed in the following areas: 1. Cold River; 2. Beaver River; 3. North Saskatchewan River; 4. Battle River; 5. Red Deer River A/S; 6. South Saskatchewan River; 7. Battle Creek; 8. Middle Creek; 9. Lodge Creek; 10. Churchill River; 11. Saskatchwan Rvier; 12. Carrot River; 13. Red Deer River S/M; 14. Assiniboine River; 15. Qu'Appelle River; 16. Pipestone Creek.

Activities and accomplishments of the PPWB in 2017-2018 include:

  • Apportionment requirements were reviewed and determined to have been met in the calendar year of 2016 on all eastward flowing prairie streams.
  • A project to review apportionment methods is continuing. A review of the Saskatchewan River Basin at the Saskatchewan/Manitoba boundary was completed in 2017. This basin review study looked at all aspects of the apportionable flow calculation and presented options for improvements. The Qu’Appelle River Basin (Saskatchewan-Manitoba boundary) is also undergoing a review.
  • The PPWB Committee on Hydrology is working to develop criteria to support how the PPWB determines which transboundary basins are subject to apportionment monitoring, and the frequency of that monitoring. Basins will be evaluated using a classification system.
  • Work continued on the development of a proposed schedule to the MAA related to transboundary aquifers. The objective of the schedule will be to establish a cooperative framework for effective and efficient management and sustainable use of groundwater and aquifer systems by the parties of the MAA.
  • The PPWB approved the 2016 Water Quality Excursion Report. The overall adherence to Interprovincial Water Quality Objectives was very high with an average of 96.5% in 2016, such that water quality continues to be protected. The adherence rate was based on the comparison of 5,298 water quality results to water quality objectives.
  • In October 2017, the PPWB approved the 2018 water quality monitoring program. The most significant change to the monitoring program from the previous year is the addition of monitoring for chlorophyll a to measure algal productivity at all transboundary sites.
    • The PPWB has committed to reviewing the water quality objectives every five years. The revised objectives from the last review were adopted in 2015. The focus of the next water quality review will be on outstanding issues from the last comprehensive review. Objectives were not established for a number of parameters because, at that time, the use of protective objectives was not appropriate and/or there was insufficient information to support development of site specific objectives.
  • The PPWB Committee on Flow Forecasting was formed and is currently working on a number of items including a spring runoff harmonization-mapping project.
  • The PPWB continued to exchange information on issues of common interest, including water quality issues related to Lake Winnipeg, Saskatchewan–Manitoba drainage issues, Carrot River Sediment issues, and invasive species.
  • The PPWB and each of its four standing committees on hydrology, flow forecasting, water quality and groundwater held at least one face-to-face meeting and additional conference calls.

5.3 Lake of the Woods Control Board

The Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB) does not fall under the CWA, but it is included in this report to provide a more complete picture of federal-provincial water management in Canada. The LWCB is a board consisting of four members, each with an alternate, who represent Canada (one member), Ontario (two members) and Manitoba (one member). Appointments are made by orders in council of the appropriate government, and each appointee must be a professional engineer.

The LWCB, established in 1919, is responsible for the regulation of levels in Lake of the Woods and Lac Seul and flows in the Winnipeg and English Rivers, downstream from these lakes to their junction. In addition, when the level of Lac Seul exceeds certain specified levels, the LWCB controls the diversion of water from Lake St. Joseph (Albany system) into Lac Seul.

The LWCB’s authority is defined by concurrent Canada–Ontario–Manitoba legislation (Lake of the Woods Control Board Act; 1921, 1922, 1958) and is further mandated by a Canada–U.S. treaty (Convention and Protocol for Regulating the Level of the Lake of the Woods, 1925), since Lake of the Woods is a transboundary body of water. This treaty also created a second board, the International Lake of the Woods Control Board (ILWCB). Although Lake of the Woods is normally regulated solely by the LWCB, the outflow from the lake is subject to the approval of the ILWCB whenever the level of the lake rises above or falls below certain levels specified in the treaty.

The LWCB maintains a full-time Secretariat that monitors conditions in the basin, provides information and analysis, and recommends regulating strategies or specific outflows. It also implements the LWCB’s operating strategy, conducts studies and maintains communications with basin users.

In 2017, conditions in the Winnipeg River basin allowed the LWCB to maintain Lake of the Woods and Lac Seul within their normal operating ranges, balancing lake levels with flow conditions on the Winnipeg and English Rivers. The lakes under the LWCB’s authority were maintained within the water level limits established under the Canada-United States treaty and federal and provincial legislation.

The LWCB held two meetings in 2017 with resource advisors and special interest group representatives in Kenora, Ontario. These meetings resulted in the adoption of seasonal operating strategies employed by the LWCB Secretariat in daily operations.

The LWCB continued its regular engagement activities, hosting a booth at the Lake of the Woods District Property Owners Association’s annual Cottage Show in Winnipeg in May and public open house in Kenora in June. Other outreach activities included media interviews and phone calls and email interaction with the public. The 2016 LWCB Annual Report (PDF 2.9 MB) was published in May 2017.

5.4 Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board

In 1983, Canada, Quebec and Ontario concluded the Agreement Respecting Ottawa River Basin Regulation. Under its terms, the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (the planning board) was constituted to ensure the integrated management of the flows from the 13 principal reservoirs of the basin in order to minimize damage from floods and droughts along the Ottawa River and in the Montreal region, while maintaining beneficial water uses within the watershed. Under the 1983 agreement, the governments also established two other entities that report to the Planning Board, namely the Ottawa River Regulating Committee (the regulating committee) and the Ottawa River Regulation Secretariat (the secretariat), which act respectively as the operational arm and working arm of the Planning Board.

The 2017 spring freshet was exceptional for its record-breaking peak flows, the highest in over 100 years on the Ottawa River. This exceptional spring flood can be attributed to various factors, but it was mainly due to unusually heavy rainfall amounts received in April and May when melting snow had already saturated the ground and swollen waterways, combined with a rare sequence of strong depressions that affected the unregulated part of the basin. The freshet was characterized by two peaks: the first on April 20, when water levels along some river portions exceeded levels last seen in 1998, and a stronger peak following two back-to-back storms in early May that caused water levels to exceed those reached in 1974 and 1976.

Flood reduction measures are undertaken annually in preparation for the spring runoff. Typically this involves emptying the principal reservoirs during the winter period with reservoirs being at their lowest levels before the spring snow melt begins. This available storage volume is then used as the spring melt progresses to reduce downstream flows. Throughout the 2017 spring flood, the regulating committee, which is made up of representatives from all the major dam owners in the system, held 54 conference calls to perform integrated management of the system, wherein the observed and forecast hydrological conditions are analyzed and a regulation strategy to maximize the use of the available storage volume is developed.

Except for years when there is little snow and precipitation, it is not possible to hold back the entire spring runoff volume in the reservoirs since runoff during spring flooding generally exceeds their capacity to store water. However, using integrated management, the regulating committee can develop a regulation strategy to achieve maximum peak flow reductions downstream, at the right time, while maintaining safe and secure conditions for the public and dam structures. Because it is located at the outlet of the Ottawa River basin, the Carillon dam is the best location to see the cumulative reduction in flow realized by the integrated management of the 13 principal reservoirs. It is estimated that flows during the flooding peak were reduced by approximately 20% at the Carillon dam. Without this reduction in the river flow, the water levels for Lac des Deux Montagnes would have been approximately 90 cm higher. Similarly, reservoir management reduced peak levels for the full length of the river and its tributaries situated downstream of the principal reservoirs.

Apart from ensuring the integrated management of the system, the planning board also ensures that the hydrological forecasts that are produced for this management are made available to government agencies that are involved in issuing flood-related messages and the deployment of emergency measures. This includes providing hydrological forecasts to the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Regulation Office given that the flow of the Ottawa River can have a considerable effect on the flows of the St. Lawrence River in the vicinity of the Montreal archipelago.

The planning board uses its website as the main tool for issuing hydrological forecasts to the public. The website was utilized extensively with close to 400,000 page views during the 2017 spring flood period. An automated toll-free telephone service was also available and received close to 3,000 calls. The regulating committee also issued three press releases in 2017, on April 5, April 18 and April 28. Given the forecast of potentially unprecedented flooding in early May, for the first time since it was created, the regulating committee issued a table with the forecast peak levels and the date on which peak levels were expected for nine flood prone areas in the basin. The forecast tables were a useful tool to prepare for the anticipated flooding, providing forecast levels and timing for the May 6 to 8 peaks as much as five days in advance. Added to all this, numerous interviews were granted to the media along with participation on multiple conference calls with provincial and municipal authorities responsible for responding to the flooding.

Following the 2017 spring flood, the planning board engaged with responsible authorities in Ontario and Quebec to review its communications efficiency and efficacy. In addition, members of the planning board and regulating committee and staff of the Secretariat attended or organized nearly 30 meetings to provide information to the general public or responsible authorities.

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