Over half our fresh surface water flows to the north, while most of our population and many of our economic activities are located along our southern border. (Image via nrtee-trnee.com.)

Adding to yesterday’s Canadian Water Summit excitement, the morning saw National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) release a thick new report examining the sustainability of Canada’s water supply and its use by the nation’s major resource sectors.

The report, which reviews water use by the agriculture, forest, mining, electricity and oil and gas sectors, says that the time is now for Canadian policy makers, businesses, environmental groups and other concerned Canadians to look at ways to modernize outdated and inadequate water management practices. The report, entitled Changing Currents: Water Sustainability and the Future of Canada’s Natural Resource Sectors (find it here), concludes the following.

  • Data on precise water use and access to such data is limited, making it difficult to know the national supply of water and the amounts being used.
  • Approaches to allocating water in most of Canada are increasingly outdated and may no longer be appropriate given new environmental pressures and competing economic interests.
  • Several levels of governments share jurisdiction over monitoring and managing water, leading to potential confusion among businesses which need water for production purposes.
  • There is an overall lack of capacity and expertise across the country to effectively manage water resources.
  • The impacts of climate change are expected to transform the way Canadians need to manage water resources.

“Governance at a national level is not currently positioned to respond to expected increasing pressure on our water resources,” says the report’s executive summary. “This is largely due to jurisdictional complexity, inconsistent approaches across the country, policy fragmentation, a lack of resources, and insufficient technical, scientific, and policy capacity.”

Growth in the natural resource sectors is expected to climb by between 50 and 65 per cent by 2030. The report calls for a national framework to deal with the issues and expected pressures outlined in the report.

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“While Canada is blessed with an abundance of freshwater, an expected increase in the development of the natural resource sectors begs the question of whether our country has enough to support economic growth while also maintaining the health of our ecosystems,” says NRTEE vice-chair Robert Slater.

NRTEE president and COO David McLaughlin says Canada needs to get a better handle on the quantity of water being used and how much is needed in the future.

“New stresses and demands are likely to pose a significant challenge to the sustainability of Canada’s water resources if action is not taken now,” says McLaughlin.

In its next report, the Round Table will make policy recommendations to deal with water issues identified in the current volume. The report will focus on improving current water allocation approaches, better collection and management of water-use data, and new policy ideas for water management that include market-based instruments.

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