International River Improvements Act - Annual Report for 2021 

The goal of the International River Improvements Act (the Act) is to ensure that the development and use of Canada’s water resources in international river basins is in the national interest. The Act also ensures that Canada can meet its obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The Act has been in force since July 11, 1955, and the responsibility for administering the Act has been with the Minister of Environment since June 1971.

Section 51 of the Act requires the Minister to table a report of the operations under the Act in each House of Parliament after the end of each calendar year. This annual report covers activities under the Act during the 2021 calendar year.

The Act provides for the licensing of an “international river improvement” unless the person holds a valid licence under the Act. The Act defines an “international river” as “water flowing from any place in Canada to any place outside Canada.” The major international rivers and their corresponding watersheds are located in the western provinces. There are also some small rivers and streams along the Canada–United States boundary in Quebec and New Brunswick that are categorized as international rivers. The Act provides for the licensing of an “international river improvement” which is defined as a dam, obstruction, canal, reservoir, pipeline or other work the purpose or effect of which is:

  1. to increase, decrease or alter the natural flow of an international river, and
  2. to interfere with, alter or affect the actual or potential use of the international river outside Canada.

The Act does not apply to an international river improvement built under the authority of an act of the Parliament of Canada, situated within “boundary waters” as defined in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, or constructed, operated or maintained solely for domestic, sanitary or irrigation purposes or other similar consumptive uses.

The International River Improvements Regulations (the Regulations) allow for the granting of licenses for a period of up to 50 years.

The Regulations allow for exceptions to the application of the Act under two conditions:

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