Canada’s water challenges and the ways provinces and territories address those challenges can be so similar yet entirely unique. Each jurisdiction’s positions on issues of supply, conservation, and management will determine what regulations and policies are priorities. While it may be difficult to keep track of the latest updates in every region, the Living Water Policy Project provides a snapshot of updates from across the country:

National Exemptions

The Government of Canada continued with regulatory changes to the Fisheries Act. Most notably, a regulatory exemption was introduced that would preclude certain activities, primarily aquaculture, from the general provisions of Section 36 of the act. This section of the act prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances into waters frequented by fish. Additionally, changes to the newly named Navigation Protection Act came into effect on April 1, 2014. The changes exempted approximately 98 per cent of waterways across Canada and regulate only those deemed significant to navigation. That means only 62 rivers, 97 lakes, and the three oceans—or approximately two per cent of the waterways in the country—are protected. 
—Lindsay Telfer, Living Water Policy Project, Canadian Freshwater Alliance

Alberta: Land-use planning and flood readiness

Alberta is continuing implementation of the Provincial Land-use Framework with the completion of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, which came into force September 1, 2014. Despite the inclusion of new protected areas, the plan failed to protect the region’s headwaters, leaving it open to criticisms. Public consultations are underway for the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan. Attention to flood readiness saw dollars directed to many flood management projects throughout southern Alberta in attempts to avoid future damages like those caused in the 2013 floods. In fall 2014, Alberta renewed their water research and innovation strategy. The corresponding water conservation action plan outlines 25 short- and long-term actions to safeguard drinking water supplies, improve lake management, and enhance groundwater protection. Finally, in an attempt to curb invasive species in Alberta waterways, the province introduced new legislation that would make boat and watercraft inspections mandatory on major highways coming into the province in spring 2015. —LT

British Columbia: A new water act for a new century

In May 2014, British Columbia’s new Water Sustainability Act (WSA) became law and will come into force in early 2016. This represented the culmination of six years of consultation and engagement to modernize the more-than-100-year-old Water Act. The full impact of this potentially cutting-edge legislation will hinge on passing a suite of important regulations. The first phase of regulations will focus on British Columbia’s new groundwater licensing regime. The important next phase will protect environmental and critical flow needs, enable regional water sustainability plans and shared watershed-level decision-making, and promote conservation through a focus on monitoring of use, emphasis on the land-water interface, and clear requirements for “beneficial use.” The province also announced a new fee and rental schedule for water users that will help recover the costs of implementing the WSA.—Laura Brandes and Oliver Brandes, POLIS Water Sustainability Project

Saskatchewan: Proactive flood preparations

In 2012, the Government of Saskatchewan released its 25-year Saskatchewan Water Security Plan, which included 89 specific actions and provides government with wide direction on water management. The Water Security Agency reports annually on progress in implementing the plan. Development of new water legislation, a key component of the plan, is underway. The Water Security Agency completed an innovative online forum on agricultural drainage in 2014, and based on the findings from that forum, the government committed to further consultations and development of new regulations governing drainage. The province has responded to significant flooding since 2011 with the Emergency Flood Damage Reduction Program. Now in its fifth year, the program covers 100 per cent of the cost of engineering work and shares other costs, such as building berms to prevent imminent flooding. A review in 2011 showed the program saved $20 to $30 of property damage for each dollar invested. Saskatchewan is currently developing bilateral agreements with Northwest Territories and Alberta under the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement. —Elizabeth Hendriks, Living Water Policy Project, WWF-Canada

Manitoba: Legislation toward healthy waters

Several key pieces of legislation have been passed in Manitoba over the past two decades that have potential to improve water protection—most notably, the Water Protection Act (2006), a broad act that allows the minister to ensure water quality, protect against invasive species, and protect against water shortage. Other legislation includes the Manitoba Environment Act (1996), Drinking Water Safety Act (2008), and the Ground Water and Well Act (2008). New regulations were proposed in June 2014 for a Surface Water Management Strategy and Drainage Regulations. These regulations will work toward a no-net-loss model whereby drainage is either prohibited or significant mitigation is required. According to Ducks Unlimited, it is estimated the protection of Manitoba’s 275,000 acres of seasonal wetlands would prevent more than 200 tonnes of phosphorus from entering waterways annually. The comment period is now closed and a decision to pass these new regulations is expected by mid-2016. —Kirsten Earl McCorrister, Lake Winnipeg Foundation

Ontario: Tackling a changing climate

With its new majority government, the Liberal Party has put a focus on the environment. The party has added climate change to the agenda, putting Glen Murray at the helm of the renamed Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and introducing a climate change discussion paper to serve as the foundation for a province-wide public consultation. A strategy is due in 2015, and the province is set to host the Climate Summit of the Americas in July, ahead of the Pan Am Games. The majority has also allowed the Liberals to reintroduce the proposed Great Lakes Protection Act, which died on the order table before the 2014 election. Proposed phosphorous targets for the Great Lakes are expected in summer 2015 by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (a bilateral agreement between Canada and the United States) to address growing blue-green algae concerns in the lakes with a specific focus on Lake Erie.  
—Kerry Freek, Living Water Policy Project, WaterTAP

Quebec: Limits to water withdrawals

In July 2014, the newly elected Quebec government announced updated regulations for water withdrawals. The regulations increase the minimum distance for drilling activities near drinking water sources from 300 to 500 metres with options to increase to two kilometres should hydrological assessments demonstrate a need. Jean-Paul Raîche, senior VP of ROBVQ (a coalition of watershed organizations in Quebec), reacted to the proposal with tepid support, saying the “decision is a compromise that will reduce stresses and guarantee the protection of drinking water sources.” In February 2015, the Government of Quebec announced a delay on its anticipated wetlands policy. A new policy is now not expected until 2017. —LT

Newfoundland and Labrador: Protecting wild waters

In line with regional counterparts, the Newfoundland government announced an independent panel for review of hydraulic fracturing in October 2014. The review will be conducted before any changes to government policy on the industry are made. A final report from the review is expected by fall 2015. In November 2014, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador released a Sustainable Forest Management Strategy for the province. The strategy defines the goal that forestry practices and infrastructure will not damage aquatic ecosystems in the province. It further identifies the removal of some areas like the Upper Humber Wetlands Complex from forest management. Arguably the most notable feature of the strategy is the protection of vast amounts of land from forestry fragmentation. According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, “Policies contained in the forest strategy create a substantial zone for the protection of large intact landscapes, roughly 4-million hectares in size (approximately 35 per cent of the island), which is essentially off-limits to industrial scale forestry activities.” Protection from major forestry activities will significantly protect the watershed. The complete strategy can be found online at —LT

New Brunswick: Moratorium on fracking

The risks of hydraulic fracturing to water became a big issue for voters in New Brunswick’s 2014 general election. The new Liberal government was elected on a commitment to enact a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. This moratorium was put into effect by the legislature in March 2015. The government has initiated a task force to review the environmental impact and the social licence of shale gas development. Meanwhile, the water classification regulation, which was fundamental in setting baseline water quality standards for rivers and streams, was the focus of a rare public report by the provincial ombudsman in August 2014. The report stated that the regulation “exists primarily as a mirage, misleading observers.” The critique stemmed from an apparent failure to implement the regulation in the 13 years of its existence. The ombudsman’s report urged the new government to “be proactive and make yourself the champion of that change.” —Stephanie Merrill, Conservation Council of New Brunswick

Nova Scotia: A pause on hydraulic fracturing

In 2011, the Nova Scotia government initiated an internal review of hydraulic fracturing, with a pause on exploration and development activities using fracking. In 2013, the government reorganized the review of fracking from an internal government-based review, to a broader review led by an independent chair (David Wheeler). This review included reports by experts and public consultations across the province. In August 2014, the panel concluded it was not the time to proceed with fracking due to technical uncertainties and lack of social licence. Shortly after, the Government of Nova Scotia developed an act to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in shale in the province. —Jennifer West, Ecology Action Centre

Prince Edward Island: New water policy on horizon

The Government of Prince Edward Island announced in summer 2014 a new legislative and policy framework to ensure the sustainable management of the province’s water resources. This new policy framework is meant to create a comprehensive set of policies to address groundwater allocation, discharges into fresh and marine water environments, and water quality targets. The process will include extensive public consultation, and most importantly, the lifting of the moratorium on high-capacity wells for agriculture irrigation will not be considered until the water act is approved and regulations are in place. Timelines for the public consultation and the policy have not been announced. A provincial election was called on the eve of April 6, 2015, and it is unclear how this commitment will be affected. —EH

Yukon: Regulating groundwater

In April 2015, the Government of Yukon released its position on shale gas development in the region. The position states support for “responsible shale gas development” only in the Liard Basin and only when the activity has the support of affected First Nations. The position reiterated that previously announced restrictions in the Whitehorse Trough will remain in place. The Yukon Water Strategy and Action Plan was released in June 2014. One of the six priority areas outlined in the plan is to better understand and manage Yukon’s groundwater, with an emphasis on enhancing and formalizing the existing groundwater program in the Yukon and developing a regulatory framework to manage groundwater. —LT

Northwest Territories: Uncertainty around devolution

Planned consolidation of the Northwest Territories’ (NWT) five regionally-based land and water boards has been temporarily delayed due to a recent injunction granted to the Tłįchǫ government. The injunction grants temporary protection to the Wek’èezhìi, Gwich’in, and Sahtu boards for the remainder of the Tłįchǫ Government’s lawsuit against the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. On March 19, 2015, the federal government submitted an appeal against the court decision (see “Uncertain Future” on page 36). The historic Northwest Territory-Alberta Water Management Agreement was signed on March 18, 2015, ensuring better protection of the territory’s downstream needs. Discussions with British Columbia began in early 2014 and discussions with Saskatchewan and Yukon are set to begin later in 2015. Finally, after releasing the landmark provincial water strategy in 2012, the community of Sambaa K’e (Trout Lake) was the first community in the NWT to develop a community source water protection plan. The plan is set to begin implementation in 2015. —Blair Carter, Ecology North

Nunavut: Growing capacity in the territory

Nunavut’s territorial government is not responsible for inland water use, management, or regulation. That’s up to the Nunavut Water Board (NWB), an arm’s-length institute of public government. In March 2015, the NWB received a 55-per-cent boost to its funding as part of a series of increases for the territory’s institutions of public government under the renewal of the Implementation Contract of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Maintaining a strong regulatory regime in Nunavut opens the doors for more vigilant environmental protection. It also provides Nunavummiut with the increased capacity to invest in, benefit from, and manage the territory’s development potential, according to Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, and Minister for the Arctic Council. —KF

This article originally appears in Water Canada’s May/June 2015 issue.


  1. Guide to water policy is demand of modern day governance.
    Very important directory regarding water, land, forest use of all provinces of Canada. It would act a flag bearer for others to follow.


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