International River Improvements Act: annual report 2014


The goal of the International River Improvements Act is to ensure that Canada's water resources in international river basins are developed and used in the best national interest.

The International River Improvements Act (the Act) has been in force since July 11, 1955, and the responsibility for administering the Act has been with the Minister of the Environment since June 1971.

Section 51 of the Act requires that a report on operations under the Act be laid before Parliament after the end of each calendar year. This present annual report covers activities under the Act during the 2014 calendar year.

The Act states that no person shall construct, operate or maintain an "international river improvement" unless the person holds a valid licence under the Act. An "international river" is defined as "water flowing from any place in Canada to any place outside Canada." The major international rivers and their corresponding watersheds are situated 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 "international river improvements," which are identified as dams, obstructions, canals, reservoirs, pipelines or other works that alter the flow of an international river into the United States. The licences can be issued for a period not exceeding 50 years. The Act ensures that Canada can meet its obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.

The Act does not apply to international river improvements built under the authority of another act of the Parliament of Canada, or situated within "boundary waters" as defined in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, or to works constructed, operated or maintained solely for domestic, sanitary or irrigation purposes.

The amendments made under the Transboundary Waters Protection Act (Bill C-383) came into force on July 1, 2014, to prevent the linking of waters wholly in Canada to international rivers as a means of using those rivers to transfer water in bulk across the international border. These amendments also added pipelines to the definition of "international river improvement."

There is one set of regulations under the International River Improvements Act, namely the International River Improvements Regulations (the Regulations), which were passed by order-in-council in 1955, and amended in 1987 and 1993.

The Regulations allow for exceptions to the application of the Act under two conditions: if there are insignificant effects on river flows or levels at the Canada-United States boundary (i.e., effects on levels of less than 3 cm, or effects on flows of less than 0.3 cubic metres per second), or if the improvement is temporary and will not be in operation for more than two years. For a project that is subject to those exceptions, the proponent is nonetheless required to notify the Minister in writing and include specific information as required under the Regulations.

Activity in 2014

During 2014, no licences were issued under the Regulations of the International River Improvements Act. Applications were made to the Minister for further licences (re-licensing) for the international river improvements authorized under current licences that expire in 2015. The re-licensing process for the four applications described below was initiated in 2014 and will continue in 2015.

One application was submitted by the Saskatchewan Power Corporation (SaskPower) for the continued operation and maintenance of the Morrison Dam and Cookson Reservoir. These works, which have been licensed under the Act since 1975, are located on the East Poplar River, and provide the principal source of cooling water for the Poplar River Power Station (630 MW) near the town of Coronach, Saskatchewan. The Poplar River is part of the Gulf of Mexico ocean drainage basin.

The three other applications were submitted by the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (BC Hydro) and are for the re-licensing of the Mica, Hugh Keenleyside (Arrow Lakes) and Duncan dams and their associated water storage reservoirs within the Columbia River basin in British Columbia. These works, licensed under the Act since 1965, are an important part of British Columbia's provincial hydro-electrical generating system.

The Minister received one formal notification under the International River Improvements Regulations in 2014. The notification, received from Pretium Resources Inc., indicated that the proposed Brucejack Gold Mine Project in British Columbia should be excepted from the application of the Act. The project is located partly on Brucejack Lake and Brucejack Creek, which flow into Sulphurets Creek, a tributary of the Unuk River, which crosses the international border north of the town of Stewart. The Minister will wait until the completion of the environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 before disposing of the notification, as applicable.

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