Canada Water Act annual report for 2020 to 2021: 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 1 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 2020-2021 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 the 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.

6.1 Mackenzie River Basin Board

Agreement: Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement (PDF), signed 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. It contains provisions for 7 bilateral agreements between adjacent jurisdictions in the basin. As of March 31, 2021 bilateral agreements had been completed between:

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 3 provinces and 2 territories in the basin, including an appointee from each provincial and territorial government, and an Indigenous board member representing Indigenous Peoples in each of the 5 jurisdictions.

The MRBB currently has 2 active committees and 1 task team that support work on duties and priorities: the State of the Aquatic Ecosystem and the Traditional Knowledge and Strengthening Partnerships Steering Committees, and the Water Quality Task Team.

Activities and accomplishments of the MRBB and the comittees and task team that supported MRBB work in 2020-2021 include the following:

ECCC’s Science and Technology Branch and National Hydrometric Service collect and share data important to the MRBB and its members. That work is highlighted in sections 3.1 and 3.2.

A summary of ECCC monitoring operations in the Mackenzie River Basin from provincial and territorial jurisdictions follows:

Saskatchewan (9 stations)

Saskatchewan experienced high spring flows, especially north of Lake Athabasca. High flows were also experienced from summer through fall due to rainfall. Flows remained high going into winter. While measures to deal with COVID-19 resulted in schedule changes, as of September, all stations in the Mackenzie River Basin area had been visited. Discharge measurements were collected, discharge rating curves have been validated and all stations are transmitting data.

Alberta (185 stations)

Ice jams and overland flooding impacted several stations from April through to late July. ECCC recorded some of the highest water levels on record in this period. Flows on the Athabasca River were much higher than normal throughout the summer of 2020. Flows on the Peace River were much higher than average between July and September 2020 and exceeded the 75th percentile for much of the summer. The COVID-19 pandemic affected operations and the delivery of the program in 2020-2021. Minimal field operations continued, with the necessary protective measures, only when responding to critical situations.

BC (45 stations)

BC experienced a wet summer in 2020 and high flows were recorded during the summer as a result. The wettest August on record was experienced in the town of Smithers. Above normal flows were experienced at most stations in 2020. Nation, Parsnip, Halfway and Pine Rivers experienced particularly high flows. Despite COVID-19 constraints on technician mobility, hydrometric stations were effectively managed through the spring freshet and summer.

Northwest Territories and Yukon (101 stations)

Entering the spring of 2020, snowpack in the eastern and southern portions of the Yukon, and western portion of the NWT were above, or well above, normal. Ice jams occurred at Hay River and a minor jam occurred at Fort Simpson during the 2020 freshet. Water levels on Great Slave Lake were record high in 2020-2021. Tributaries in the southern part of the basin experienced record high flows in the fall of 2020 and winter of 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic, and associated border restrictions, impacted operations for stations operated in BC by Yukon-based staff throughout 2020-2021. Remote control boats were used during high flows to conduct discharge measurements. NuPoint satellite cameras were also used to capture daily images at select locations. Image frequency was also increased during critical periods.

6.2 Prairie Provinces Water Board

Agreement: Master Agreement on Apportionment (MAA) signed October 30, 1969
Signatory Governments: Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba
Board: Prairie Provinces Water Board (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 5). 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 5: PPWB water quantity and quality monitoring stations and basins for 2020

Long description

Figure 5 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 River; 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 4 standing technical committees on hydrology, water quality, groundwater, and flow forecasting in 2020-2021 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 4 members, each with an alternate. Order-in-Council appointments for these positions are made by Canada (1 member), Ontario (2 members), and Manitoba (1 member). Provincial and federal legislation require members and alternate members to be duly qualified engineers. The LWCB had a full complement for 2020.

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.

The effects of exceptionally wet conditions in the fall of 2019 carried on through the winter of 2019-2020, with water levels remaining higher than normal throughout this period across most of the basin. The remainder of 2020 was, on average, much drier than normal, resulting in lower than normal water levels for Lake of the Woods, Lac Seul and the Winnipeg and English Rivers for most of the year as drought conditions developed and worsened.

The Board has not met in person since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regulation meetings to set operating strategy were held remotely in June and October with invitations to First Nations, Specific Interest Groups and Resource Agencies. Typical annual outreach activities such as visits to areas of the basin and public open houses were canceled due to COVID-19.

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 2 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 and periods of extreme flow conditions (floods and droughts) that this management approach results in the most apparent benefits.

The 2020 spring freshet was characterized by an early start, intermittent snowmelt, and a moderate intensity with a peak flow approximately 10% higher than average.

At the beginning of March, the snow cover was well above normal in most areas of the watershed. The freshet started early in mid-March with a sudden thaw in the Rideau River and South Nation River sub-basins. At the end of March, spring runoff increased rapidly in the south and central parts of the watershed due to a low-pressure system that brought warmer temperatures and up to 40 mm of rainfall. In the following 2 weeks, flows and levels increased gradually on the Ottawa River and reached a peak in mid-April. A significant snow cover remained in the northern portion of the watershed at that time. At the end of April, warmer temperatures combined with up to 40 mm of rainfall in the Abitibi-Timiskaming area caused spring runoff to increase again, with flows and levels on the Ottawa River rising again into a second peak in early May. The freshet ended around mid-May when most of the snow in the northern portion of the watershed had melted.

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 2020 spring freshet, the Regulating Committee, which is made up of representatives from the major dam operators in the Ottawa River Basin, held frequent 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 to reduce flood risk is developed.

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, when necessary, the deployment of emergency measures. As such, the Regulating Committee worked closely with provincial agencies and the Secretariat participated in many conference calls with responsible authorities.

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 is 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. It launched a new website in March 2020 prior to the beginning of the freshet, providing hydrological information at additional locations and graphic view of the river conditions. To better communicate conditions to the public, the Regulating Committee published for the first time 2 bulletins, 1 in March and 1 in April, that provided an overview of spring conditions with details about current snow conditions and the reservoir regulation strategy. The Regulating Committee issued 2 press releases in 2020, 1 on March 29 to announce the start of the freshet, and 1 on April 9 to inform residents about the risk of minor flooding in some locations. Press releases and bulletins are still available on the Planning Board website (see ORRPB Archives).

6.5 ECCC support of international water boards

Agreement: Environment and Climate Change Canada-International Joint Commission Memorandum of Understanding (consistent with the Government of Canada’s commitments under the Department of Environment Act and the Boundary Waters Treaty)
Signatory Agencies: ECCC and the IJC
Boards: All transboundary Boards and Committees under the jurisdiction of the IJC

ECCC, primarily through NHS, contributes to the management of international transboundary water by carrying out the orders of the IJC under the Boundary Waters Treaty as per the Department of Environment Act. In 2020-2021, ECCC continued to provide engineering and technical support to the many IJC water boards and committees across the international border, including from west to east: the International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control; International Columbia River Board of Control; International Kootenay Lake Board of Control; Accredited Officers for St. Mary-Milk; International Souris River Board; International Red River Board; International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board; International Lake Superior Board of Control; International Niagara River Board of Control; International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board; Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee; and the International St. Croix River Watershed Board.

The MOU also obligates ECCC to provide engineering and technical support for special IJC studies. In 2020-2021, ECCC supported IJC reference studies for the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River and the Souris River. This included the development, testing and implementation of hydrologic scenario modelling, simulation testing of alternative strategies, iterative review and selection of performance indicators to assess outcomes and development of socio-economic and environmental assessment tools for providing decision support for evaluating flood mitigation measures. These 2 special studies are due for completion at the end of 2021-2022.

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 in 2017 and again in 2019 on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River caused concern that these high water levels could continue for some time given more record or near record-high water levels in 2020 on all the Great Lakes. As a result, the IJC requested an expedited review of Plan 2014 by their Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee. ECCC provided considerable support to this effort, leading efforts in the generation of plausible extreme hydrologic supply scenarios, designing and simulating alternative outflow management strategies, consolidating information to assess potential impacts under different water level and flow scenarios, and guiding the evolution of a decision support tool to reflect critical priorities and for assessing lake regulation strategies during extreme conditions for Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River. Efforts also focused on the development of a short and long-term adaptive management strategy for the ongoing review of lake regulation plans for the outflows from Lake Superior and Lake Ontario.

The International St. Croix River Watershed Board, under the IJC, plays an important role in managing water levels, water quality, and fisheries between Maine and New Brunswick. The Board works collaboratively with stakeholders within the watershed by preventing and resolving disputes. ECCC monitored water levels at 7 stations in the watershed and real time (automated) water quality at 2 stations and provided input to the Board’s 2020 annual report.

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