Canada Water Act annual report for 2019 to 2020: chapter 6

6 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 2019-2020 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). The work of the IJC is not pursuant to the CWA; as such, ECCC reports on progress under the Environment and Climate Change Canada-International Joint Commission Memorandum of Understanding.

6.1 Mackenzie River Basin Board

Agreement: Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement in July 1997 (Master Agreement).
Signatory Governments: Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon
Board: Mackenzie River Basin Board (MRBB)

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. It also contains provisions for seven bilateral agreements between adjacent jurisdictions in the basin.

The 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. Representatives from the Parks Canada Agency joined the board in 2020. 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 2019-2020:

6.2 Prairie Provinces Water Board

Agreement: Master Agreement on Apportionment (MAA)
Signatory Governments: Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba
Board: Prairie Provinces Water Board’s (PPWB)

The purpose of the MAA is to apportion water between the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and to protect surface water quality and transboundary aquifers. It also provides for cooperation among governments with respect to transboundary water management and for the establishment of the PPWB and its 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 8). 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 8: PPWB water quantity and quality monitoring stations and basins for 2019
Figure 8: PPWB water quantity and quality monitoring stations and basins for 2019
Long description

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 and its four standing technical committees on hydrology, water quality, groundwater, and flow forecasting in 2019-2020 include:

6.3 Lake of the Woods Control Board

Authority: defined by concurrent Canada-Ontario-Manitoba legislation (Lake of the Woods Control Board Act; 1921, 1922, 1958)
Cooperating Governments: Canada, Ontario, Manitoba
Board: Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB)

International Agreement: Canada-U.S. treaty (Convention and Protocol for Regulating the Level of the Lake of the Woods, 1925)
International Board: International Lake of the Woods Control Board (ILWCB)

The LWCB does not fall under the CWA since it pre-dates the Act, but it is included in this report to provide a more complete picture of federal-provincial water management in Canada. The LWCB is responsible for the regulation of the water levels of Lake of the Woods and Lac Seul, as well as the flows in the Winnipeg and English Rivers downstream of these lakes to their junction for the benefit of all users and interests.

The LWCB has four members, each with an alternate. Order-in-Council appointments for these positions are made by Canada (one member), Ontario (two members), and Manitoba (one member). Provincial and federal legislation require members and alternate members to be duly qualified engineers. The LWCB was short of its full complement for most of 2019 and without quorum for most of September and October due to vacancies in Manitoba and Ontario member positions at various times. The remaining board members continued to carry out essential regulation, but scheduled board meetings with First Nations, stakeholder groups and resource agencies to support regulation were not held in October due to lack of quorum.

The level of Lake of the Woods is normally regulated solely by this board. However, its decisions are subject to the approval of the ILWCB whenever the level of the lake rises above or falls below certain levels specified in the Lake of the Woods Convention and Protocol.

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.

Basin conditions in the first half of 2019 were unremarkable. Freshet response was moderate, but refill of Lac Seul and Lake of the Woods to normal summer levels was slowed by drier summer conditions. The levels of these lakes and the flows in the English and Winnipeg Rivers below them were at the lower end of the typical range over the summer.

From late August to early October 2019, an exceptionally wet period occurred, changing basin conditions considerably. It was the wettest fall period on record in the Lake of the Woods watershed, and very wet as well in the Lac Seul watershed. As inflow to the lakes rapidly increases, the Board directed sharp increases in outflow to the rivers to slow the rate of rise of the lakes. By early October, the Lake of the Woods dams in Kenora were fully opened, the first time this had happened in the fall. The lake level peaked at the top of the operating range specified in the Convention and Protocol, and the International Lake of the Woods Control Board was activated. With the maximized flow out of Lake of the Woods, and a high rate of flow being released from Lac Seul, the levels of the English River and the Winnipeg River in both Ontario and Manitoba quickly rose to very high levels. Damage to shoreline infrastructure such as docks and boathouses was widespread due to the high flows.

As the fall progressed, the Board continued to maximize flow out of Lake of the Woods to reduce the lake level ahead of freeze-up as much as possible. The Board’s intent in doing so was to reduce risk of damage to shoreline structures over the winter due to lake drawdown from a high level, as well as to reduce the needed river flow necessary to achieve the winter drawdown. Substantial winter drawdown, to create storage room within Lake of the Woods, was a key objective, as the exceptionally wet fall conditions increased the risk of high flow conditions in spring of 2020. Late in November, as freeze-up was approaching, the Board directed reductions in the outflow from Lake of the Woods to reduce the river level for the winter. By the end of the year, the lake level had declined steadily and was nearing the normal range for that time of year. 

The Board carried out its regular series of regulation meetings in March and June, where seasonal regulation strategies were adopted in discussion with First Nations advisors, specific interest group representatives and resource agencies. These meetings were held in Kenora. Other outreach activities included hosting an information booth at the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association’s annual Cottage Show in Winnipeg in May, a public open house in Kenora in June, and two well-attended public meetings in October, in Winnipeg and Kenora, to review the extreme conditions that had developed, explain the Board’s approach to regulating under these conditions, and answer questions.

The Board participated in a workshop on wild rice and water levels in the Winnipeg River basin hosted by Grand Council Treaty #3 in June, and visited Niisachewaan First Nation on the Winnipeg River in June and August to discuss critical issues for this community on water level management, the role of the LWCB, wild rice, and how these relate to Treaty and Aboriginal rights.

6.4 Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board

Agreement:Agreement Respecting Ottawa River Basin Regulation (1983)
Signatory Governments: Canada, Quebec, and Ontario
Board: Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (the Planning Board)

The Planning Board was constituted to ensure the integrated management of the flows from the 13 principal reservoirs of the Ottawa River 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), which is housed by ECCC. Integrated management of the principal reservoirs is done throughout the year; however, it is during the spring or other high water events that this management approach results in the most apparent benefits.

The 2019 spring freshet was exceptional for its record-breaking peak flows and its duration. It resulted in the largest spring flood on the Ottawa River in recent history and impacted thousands of people’s lives, surpassing the significant 2017 flood event in many portions of the river. Not since 1928 has flooding affected so many areas along the river. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated that 11 800 homes were flooded in Ontario and Quebec.

This exceptional spring flood can be attributed to a combination of unfavorable weather conditions: colder-than-average winter and spring with a lack of significant winter thaw, higher-than-average snowpack, late onset of the spring thaw, and rapid snow melt combined with significant rain events and precipitation amounts in the spring.

Like other years, dam operators undertook flood reduction measures 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 2019 spring freshet, the Regulating Committee, which is made up of representatives from the major dam operators in the Ottawa River basin, held daily conference calls to perform integrated management of the system, wherein the observed and forecast hydrological conditions are analyzed and a regulation strategy to use the available storage volume for maximal flood reduction is developed. It is estimated that by storing water optimally in the reservoirs during this year’s flooding that peak water levels along the main stem of the river were reduced by a minimum of 40 cm in all locations.

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. In 2019, provincial and municipal authorities and even military forces (which were deployed where states of emergency had been declared) benefited from dependable river conditions forecasts. These forecasts helped them plan and implement emergency measures worth millions of dollars, to help protect the public against flooding.

Also, flows of the Ottawa River can have a considerable effect on the flows of the St. Lawrence River in the vicinity of the Montreal Archipelago. This is why provision of hydrological forecasts on the Ottawa River are important to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Regulation Office, which is responsible for carrying out the day-to-day regulation activities for the International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Board.

The Planning Board uses its website as the main tool for issuing hydrological forecasts to the public. The website was utilized extensively in 2019 with over 120 000 new visitors during the spring freshet period. The Regulating Committee issued six press releases in 2019, on April 11, 16, 18 and 25, and May 3 and 9. Press releases are still available on the Planning Board website (see ORRPB Archives). The Secretariat also participated on multiple conference calls with provincial and municipal authorities responsible for responding to the flooding during the spring flood event. It also gave presentations at numerous public meetings and open house sessions that were held throughout the year following the spring flood event.

6.5 ECCC support of inter-jurisdictional water boards

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 2019-2020, 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 International 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.

Record-high water levels continued in 2019, resulting in flooding and erosion around Lake Ontario and much of the St. Lawrence River. ECCC provided considerable support to the IJC’s International 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 and support to the initiation of an expedited review of Plan 2014 as requested by the IJC.

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