Hydrometric program agreements and how they work


Canada's national hydrometric program is driven by cost-sharing agreements between the federal government and the provinces. It is similar to the programs of other developed countries in terms of technology and methods used. But its centralized approach to data collection, processing, and distribution, and the principle of cost-sharing represent a goal toward which many other nations are striving.

Surface water quantity measurement began in Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1894. From that small start grew a nationally coordinated system to collect and disseminate streamflow, water level, and sediment data. The activities were funded first by the federal government and later through ad hoc arrangements with provincial departments, Crown corporations, and to a minor degree, the private sector. The program has been continuously operated, in general, by the federal government over the past 90 years, except in Quebec, where the province took over the responsibility in 1963. About 100 stations are operated by other provincial agencies.

In 1975, Environment Canada negotiated formal, identical water quantity survey agreements with the ten provinces and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs representing the Yukon and Northwest Territories. These agreements were written at a time when all levels of government were becoming concerned about inflation and deficits. At the same time, interest was high in natural resource management and environmental issues.

The Mandates for Water Management: Who Does What?

What are the rights and responsibilities of the different governments concerning water?

The federal government has jurisdiction over fisheries, navigation, federal lands (including aboriginal territories), relations with foreign governments, and interjurisdictional waters. These responsibilities also entail substantial water management programs that are national in scope. The federal government has, over time and with provincial partnership, taken on water-related activities of national significance, such as data collection and research, with provincial support. The federal government also gives financial help to provincial programs, under the regional development programs.

The provinces have jurisdiction over property, civil rights, and the management and sale of public lands; this jurisdiction includes the management of water within a provincial boundary. Matters such as water supply, flood control and forecasting, water level, drainage, and pollution control are administered by provincial government agencies. In 1982, an amendment to the Constitution Act gave them jurisdiction over electricity-generating works. Thus the provinces have considerable control over their waters.

How the Agreements are Administered

Under the agreements administrators (usually federal and provincial civil servants) set up a coordinating committee (again, both federal and provincial) in each province and territory to plan and oversee network operations.

The provincial and territorial coordinators are responsible for identifying their own government needs, as well as the needs of the private sector.

How Costs are Shared

Each gauging station is designated as federal, federal-provincial/territorial or provincial/territorial, according to national classification guidelines agreed to by all parties. The federal government pays for the operational costs initially and then recovers the appropriate share from each party based on the station designations. For example, those gauging stations designated as regional water quantity stations are considered shared responsibilities. Such stations are intended to describe the hydrologic character of each region of the country, and the costs are shared on a 50/50 basis by the federal and provincial or territorial governments

Operating Party

While the federal government operates nearly 2300 of the over 2700 stations currently active, the agreements provide that either Canada or a province may construct and/or operate water quantity survey stations with costs being shared according to the established rules.

The Province of Quebec became the operator of its network in 1963 and continued to be under the 1975 agreement. The federal government remains the operator of the network in all the other provinces and territories.

Network Adjustments

While the existing network provides the essential inputs to sustainable water management, it requires continuous adjustment to provide the information needed to meet current needs. Provision for such adjustment is provided for in the agreements. The cost-sharing partners identify the adjustments through a process of network planning that considers client needs, resource restrictions, and federal-provincial/territorial agreements.

National Standards

National standards and guidelines are developed by all the partners in consultation. All data must be collected in such a way as to conform to national standards so that data from across the country are comparable, compatible, and of sufficient accuracy. This is especially important for the purposes of water apportionment, interjurisdictional issues, litigation, and planning and design of water facilities.

Access to Hydrometric Data

Under the agreements, the federal government publishes the data that have been collected according to national standards. Data not collected to meet national standards are not considered to be under the agreements, but they are often published as "contributed data." All data are stored in the national HYDAT database.

Benefits of the Water Quantity Agreements

  • A cooperative approach to water resource assessment reliable
  • Accessible data across the country
  • Extensive consultations on the need for and use of data from each station
  • Costs shared according to need
  • Exchanges of information and expertise
Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Privacy statement

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: