The governance of Canada’s massive Mackenzie River Basin holds enormous national and global importance due to the watershed’s impact on the Arctic Ocean, international migratory birds and climate stability, say experts convening a forum on the topic this week.

“Relevant parties in western Canada have recognized the need for a multi-party transboundary agreement that will govern land and water management in the Mackenzie River watershed. Successful collaboration will effectively determine the management regime for a watershed covering 1.8 million square kilometres or about 20 per cent of Canada and include the country’s vast oil sands,” says University of California professor Henry Vaux, chair of the Rosenberg Forum, which meets September 5-7 at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University with the support of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.

The forum’s goals include identifying legal and scientific principles relevant to the processes leading ultimately to a coordinated basin-wide approach to management, as well as prioritizing knowledge gaps.

A 2011 report published by the Gordon Foundation urges the federal government to work with jurisdictions in the basin to implement a world-class water monitoring program and support credible, independent water research. Says Thomas S. Axworthy, president and CEO of the Toronto-based Gordon Foundation, “The starting point of good water policy is knowledge and the starting point of knowledge is to monitor on a regular basis the quality of water in the Mackenzie Basin–for the health of the North, Canada and the world.”

Through bi-lateral and multi-lateral discussions, Canada’s three westernmost provinces–British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan–its Yukon and Northwest Territories, and the federal government are seeking to set objectives for surface and groundwater quality and quantity, emergency notification requirements, information exchange protocols and dispute resolution processes.

“Anything less than a basin-wide program with strict water quality and quantity standards, backed by binding requirements for prior notification and consultation and dispute resolution, will squander an opportunity to finally give the Mackenzie Basin a governance regime that will protect it for future generations,” adds J. Owen Saunders, adjunct law professor at the University of Calgary and former executive director of the Canadian Institute of Resources Law.

The Forum will also consider recently announced Canadian government measures to monitor and mitigate oil sands-related pollution.

Photo: Robert Sandford



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