Canada Water Act annual report for 2018 to 2019: chapter 4

4 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 Mackenzie River Basin Board (MRBB), the Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB), the Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB) and the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB). The 2018-2019 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). While work of the IJC is not pursuant to the CWA, ECCC reports on progress under the Environment and Climate Change Canada-International Joint Commission Memorandum of Understanding.

ECCC, through its National Hydrological Service contributes to the management of international and domestic transboundary water by carrying out the orders of the IJC under the Boundary Waters Treaty and managing inter‑provincial regulations, in partnership with the provinces.

In 2018-2019, ECCC provided support to many IJC water boards, committees and special studies. This included engineering and technical support for special studies and development, testing and implementation of hydrologic and ecosystem models, and an adaptive management framework for the ongoing review of lake regulation plans.

ECCC continued to support the IJC’s Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board in the operation of Plan 2014, which was implemented in January 2017 and is designed to provide for more natural variations of water levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to restore ecosystem health.

Following a year of record-high water levels in 2017 and associated flooding and erosion around Lake Ontario and much of the St. Lawrence River, ECCC provided considerable support to the IJC’s Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee. This support informed the assessment and documentation of the causes of the record high water levels, including an analysis of the contributing hydrologic conditions.

4.1 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 Crown-Indigenous Relations 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 2018-2019

4.2 Prairie Provinces Water Board

2019 Marks 50 years of collaborative water management in the Canadian Prairie region

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 the Agreement is to apportion water between the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and to protect surface water quality and transboundary aquifers. The Master Agreement on Apportionment (MAA) also provides for cooperation among governments with respect to transboundary water management and for the establishment of the Prairie Provinces Water Board’s (PPWB) responsibility 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, ECCC monitors stream flows, water quality and meteorological conditions on eastward flowing streams on the provincial borders (see Figure 7). The PPWB computes apportionable flows based on the natural flow of 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 7. PPWB water quantity and quality monitoring stations and basins for 2018

Long description

Figure 7 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 and its four standing technical committees on hydrology, water quality, groundwater, and flow forecasting in 2018-2019 include:

4.3 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’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).

The LWCB celebrates 100 years of work in 2019!

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.

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 2018, the Winnipeg River basin was notable for its unseasonable swings in flow supply. Following a typical winter, April had little to no rainfall across the watershed. The snowpack had the potential to support a strong spring freshet response, but instead provided a meagre bump in flows to the major lakes in the region resulting in a slow refill. In May, the more seasonable weather coupled with below normal outflows from the major lakes allowed for lake levels to build. The remainder of the spring and summer was relatively dry and water levels across the region remained lower than normal until mid-September. Conditions changed in late September and throughout October, as higher than normal rainfall caused stream flows and lake inflows across the basin to rise quickly to the upper normal range. The LWCB responded by staging a series of frequent outflow increases from Lake of the Woods and Lac Seul with the intention of limiting lake level rise ahead of freeze-up. High lake levels at freeze-up pose a risk to docks and shoreline infrastructure during the overwinter drawdown period as heavy ice may be left clinging to the structures after the water recedes. Outflows were gradually reduced beginning in mid‑November to allow for a stable, high-normal winter flow on the English and Winnipeg Rivers.

For Lake of the Woods, total inflow to the lake in 2018 was at the bottom of the normal range. The summer peak level for Lake of the Woods was 18 cm (7 in), which is below the median peak level and slightly below the target level the LWCB set in its June operating strategy, but is within the larger acceptable level range. By targeting a lower peak summer level, the LWCB maintained its commitment to reduce the risk of high summer water levels for property protection around the lake. However, the low inflows to the lake resulted in generally lower levels for most of the summer as the LWCB balanced limited water supply on the lake and the river. 

The LWCB carried out its regular series of regulation meetings in March, June, and October, where, in discussion with First Nations advisors, specific interest group representatives and resource agencies adopted seasonal regulation strategies. March and October meetings were held in Kenora, while the June meeting was held in Ear Falls. The LWCB participated in the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association’s annual Cottage Show in Winnipeg in May, and held a public open house in Sioux Lookout in June. The LWCB met with the Chief and members of Lac Seul First Nation in June, visiting sites of concern around the lake as well as hosting a question and answer session. Members and staff also visited sites along the English River below Lac Seul and Pakwash Lake.

4.4 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 the impacts of 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).

The 2018 freshet was characterized as being late with significant peak flow contributions from the central part of the Ottawa River watershed. Record high flow rates were observed on some tributaries due to a large amount of water contained in the snow pack, which melted rapidly when temperatures remained above 25°C for several consecutive days. Combined with a lower than normal freshet volume from the south part of the watershed, the overall freshet volume was just slightly above average conditions. Moderate precipitation was received in the following weeks, which led to a rapid decrease in water levels and a return to near normal river flows in early June.

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 snowmelt begins. This available storage volume is then used as the spring melt progresses to reduce downstream flows. Throughout the 2018 spring freshet, the Regulating Committee, which is made up of representatives from all the major dam operators in the system, held several 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. Because of storage optimization, it was possible to keep flooding to a minimum from Fort-Coulonge down to Lac Deschenes during the first two weeks of May.

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.

Apart from ensuring the integrated management of the system, the Planning Board also ensures that the hydrological forecasts 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 125,000 page views during the 2018 spring freshet period. The Regulating Committee issued two press releases in 2018, on April 29 and May 1. The Secretariat also participated on multiple conference calls with provincial and municipal authorities responsible for responding to the flooding.

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