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Features

Canada, In Brief

Your handy guide to the latest in provincial and territorial water policy.

Posted on May 27, 2013
Written by Kerry Freek, Saul Chernos, and Clark Kingsbury

With each province and territory subject to its own water challenges, keeping tabs on regulations and policies from coast to coast can be a confusing ordeal. The industry is constantly evolving to meet each region’s issues of supply, conservation, and management. From the anticipated changes to British Columbia’s Water Act, to recent concerns about potential fracking in Newfoundland, the nation’s water concerns span a wide range of topics. To help keep everything in order, here’s Water Canada’s brief policy snapshot.

British Columbia: What makes a modern Water Act?

Okanagan Basin Water Board’s Anna Warwick Sears and POLIS Water Sustainability Project’s Oliver Brandes voiced the concerns of several stakeholders about the lengthy process of passing a new version of British Columbia’s Water Act in a recent Vancouver Sun op-ed. “As winter turns to spring and the election rhetoric heats up, this is the time to put aside our differences, and join together to pass the Water Sustainability Act,” they wrote. It may seem to be taking awhile—more than four years, by now—but Lynn Kriwoken, the Ministry of Environment’s director of water protection and sustainability, says the modernization process is still on track. “Over the past year, we’ve buckled down and worked on proposals and assessing their implications for water users, decision makers, government, et cetera. We’ve continued to refine the legislative proposals,” she says. There’s a keen desire from stakeholders to learn more about the details, Kriwoken adds. Given the complexity of the process, and any change in government mandate, she anticipates introduction in the spring of 2014. “Then we have to start at a new place, which is implementation. It’s good public policy—hopefully it will stand the day.” – KF

Alberta: Conversations about conservation

Complex Alberta continues to struggle with defining its conservation ethic, reaching out to stakeholders with its recent Water Conversations campaign. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s director of water policy, Andy Ridge, says the campaign’s purpose is to help Albertans to develop a foundation of water knowledge and identify additional priority areas. “It was a good learning experience,” he says. “We tested some new elements of engagement, moving beyond traditional approaches.” Rather than the usual town hall, the government used a world café style to discuss four priorities: healthy lakes, hydraulic fracturing, drinking water and wastewater systems, and water management. Canmore-based Bob Sandford, author of Cold Matters: The State and Fate of Canada’s Fresh Water, and others have criticized the campaign, saying it skirted many of the major issues, such as the water allocation system. Ridge says the government plans to release findings in a report later in 2013.  – KF

Saskatchewan: 25-year plan leading to new water legislation

A new 25-year water security plan, launched last year, replaces the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority with the new Water Security Agency, providing a single province-wide governmental point of contact for water issues as diverse as supply, safety, habitat, infrastructure, and extreme weather events. Agency spokesperson Dale Hjertaas says this reflects the government’s position that water is vital to economic growth, quality of life, and environmental well-being. The plan includes revisions to the province’s water allocation system, to deal with increased demand, and the Agency will also be busy dealing with floods and making sure dams are safe. But the key to all of this is new water legislation, slated for release in 2014. Hjertaas says the current Saskatchewan Watershed Authority Act needs to be modernized to deal with policy changes identified in the new plan. “You need regulations and policy, but you can’t go forward without changing the legislation,” he explains.  – SC

Manitoba: An act to save Lake Winnipeg?

Will the Save Lake Winnipeg Act be enough to curb rising algae blooms? The provincial legislation, passed in 2011, targets phosphorus and nitrogen releases. It allows Cabinet to designate Crown lands as provincially significant wetlands, expands control of livestock manure, mandates water and wastewater management planning, and imposes a two-year moratorium on peat harvesting. As well, the City of Winnipeg must modify or replace its North End Water Pollution Control Centre by late next year. But German-based Global Nature Fund distinguished the world’s tenth largest freshwater body as Threatened Lake of the Year for 2013. Alex Salki of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation says peat lands don’t contribute much phosphorus but do increase greenhouse gas emissions. And there’s the rub—the new legislation may help reduce the lake’s nutrient load, but increased flooding in recent years is furthering eutrophication. He says climate change makes the situation particularly urgent and he hopes ongoing public consultations will lead to policies recognizing it’s counterproductive to modify wetlands in order to increase agricultural land. – SC

Ontario: A proposed Great Lakes Protection Act

The Great Lakes hold nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s fresh surface water, and hopes are high new legislation will turn the tide on invasive species, pollution, and impacts from climate change. Awaiting review at the legislative committee stage as Bill 6, the Great Lakes Protection Act would establish a Guardians’ Council, with government, Aboriginal, and other representatives setting priorities, identifying partnerships and funding sources, and promoting local, geographically focussed initiatives and inter-jurisdictional agreements. Bill 6 recognizes shorelines as unique and vulnerable, and proposes targets to address algae and other threats. It also promotes sustainable economic activities involving natural resources and identifies Ontario’s existing Great Lakes Strategy as a roadmap. Theresa McClenaghan of the Canadian Environmental Law Association expresses optimism planned targets and tools will go beyond current land-use planning and pollution emission rules to consider environmental factors such as phosphorus loading when making land use and treatment plant decisions. “It’s about deciding what we do collectively about a problem,” she says. The ruling Liberals, in a minority position, need to secure at least some Opposition support. – SC

Quebec: Fracking moratorium in effect

Recently-imposed moratoria on hydraulic fracturing and development of new uranium mines will allow time to review the consequences, including impacts on groundwater. In June 2012, Quebec enacted a moratorium on fracking in order to study the process in which fluid under high pressure is pumped underground to release petroleum from rock formations. The government has also suspended uranium project authorizations while a commission reviews environmental effects. The ban doesn’t block exploration activity, but Ugo Lapointe of Québec meilleure mine thinks resource companies may wait for some kind of outcome before getting in any deeper. “One of the biggest issues with uranium mining is the management of the millions of tons of mining waste left behind which includes large quantities of radioactive material,” he says. Strateco’s Matouche Project, located on Cree territory at the head of Lake Mistassini in central Quebec, was awaiting provincial authorization and is thus at least temporarily on hold. Lapointe expects a review will begin this fall and last about a year. – SC

Newfoundland and Labrador: Fracking here, too

There’s a good chance the west coast of Newfoundland will be subject to fracking activity in the coming years, which has some locals concerned for the safety of area water. At a series of recent community meetings in the region, residents voiced their concerns to David Murray, president of Black Spruce Exploration, which has been contracted by Shoal Point Energy to begin exploratory drilling in the area. Murray has insisted that the fracking process is environmentally responsible and compliant with all provincial and national environmental standards and regulations, and that a full hydrology study would be conducted prior to any activity. In an interview on the CBC’s West Coast Morning radio program, Murray also cited his team’s substantial experience in the oil extraction industry, and urged concerned residents to remember that more than 200,000 wells have been fracked across Canada without incident. At the community meetings, he discussed the double steel cased wells, to guard against leaks, as well as the precaution of drilling to 150 metres, deeper than the lowest drinking water well registered with the province. No doubt the province is exploring related policy. – CK

New Brunswick: Wetland woes and a long wait

Stephanie Merrill of New Brunswick’s Conservation Council identifies wetland conservation policy and the provincial water classification program as two areas of particular focus for the Province. The 2011 release of a predictive wetland map generated huge public backlash—people believed its purpose was to prohibit development on any areas identified as wetland. Under the weight of public scrutiny, the government dismissed the new mapping system in favour of maps Merrill describes as “incomplete,” and that may be missing as much as 50 per cent of the province’s wetlands. The issue was reintroduced in February through a series of stakeholder meetings focused on improved mapping, which Merrill suggests is a step in the right direction, but not equivalent to a “boots in the ground” physical survey. She says the Conservation Council has also been pushing for the completion of a provincial water strategy. The government committed to completing a strategy under the Province’s Climate Change Action Plan in 2007, and work was underway in 2009 and 2010. However, a change in government saw progress stall, and New Brunswick is still without an overarching guiding policy or strategy at this point in time. – CK

Nova Scotia: Harmony in wastewater?

As part of implementing its 10-year water strategy, which proposes action in four key areas, Nova Scotia is reviewing and renewing much of its water and wastewater policy. David Briggins of Nova Scotia Environment says the province is also working on developing its own wastewater standards. “Right now we use the Atlantic Canada Wastewater Guidelines Manual, but we’re looking at coming up with our own standards and requirements,” he says. How will these new guidelines work with the incoming federal Wastewater System Effluent Regulations (WSER)? “We want our new standards to match WSER as much as possible. We also want to address harmonizing regulatory framework,” Briggins says. “Municipalities and owners of treatment facilities shouldn’t have to deal with two regulators. We’re trying to be efficient.” – KF

Prince Edward Island: New ways to extract

P.E.I.’s most prominent water policy change in 2013 is January’s Water Extraction Permitting Policy. The policy is focused on protecting the province’s aquatic life, and does not greatly affect surface water policy. The Province’s existing groundwater extraction legislation was a part of a 1995 agricultural irrigation policy, where groundwater allocations were made on the basis that 50 per cent of annual recharge of local groundwater could be extracted without adverse effects. Unfortunately, this did not necessarily leave enough water in some waterways to sustain riparian and healthy aquatic life. The new policy says “groundwater extraction should not be permitted to reduce the mean base flow in the main branch of streams by more than 35 per cent.” The new policy’s goal is to maintain “the integrity of aquatic ecosystems” while still ensuring reasonable amounts of water for human use. The policy is also meant to establish priorities for water use, which are listed in descending order of importance as: fire protection, drinking water, environment (maintenance of ecosystems), and industrial use (including agricultural irrigation). – CK

Yukon: Vast landscapes on ice

How is Yukon’s newly proposed water strategy different from other provincial and territorial water strategies? It’s not, says Heather Jirousek, a program advisor at Environment Yukon’s water resources branch. “We want water for people and water for nature. We looked at what other jurisdictions are doing.” What’s unique is not the strategy—it’s the water, she adds. “We have extensive frozen and groundwater resources. Two-thirds of our population lives in Whitehorse. The rest is spread over a vast landscape. We have very few downstream impacts, and we don’t have industrial demand.” Jirousek says that major challenges include strengthening and expanding existing groundwater monitoring and management programs, as well as following up on a 2011 climate change vulnerabilities report. Public feedback on the draft strategy is due on May 31. 
Find it at bit.ly/11hl5oX and read an extended interview with Jirousek at watercanada.net – KF

Northwest Territories: Governments negotiating devolution

Land and water boards are among entities that will be impacted if and when the federal government devolves responsibilities for public land, water, and resource management to the territory. The stated intent is to promote territorial self-sufficiency and prosperity, and to reduce reliance on federal funding, and talks are reportedly in the final stretch with devolution possibly taking effect next year. Mark Cliffe-Phillips, executive director of the Wek’èezhìi  Land and Water Board, says with negotiations still in progress, he doesn’t definitively know all possible impacts on the boards, which licence mining, road-building, and other activities. But he does anticipate benefits from decisions being made by representatives closer to home. “People have a vested interest in how their backyard is run, and the further you are from where the impacts of development are you might be more detached in your decision-making,” says Cliffe-Phillips, whose board covers a mix of Crown land and territory owned by the Tlicho Government, a Dene First Nation near Yellowknife. – SC

Nunavut: Lifting the placeholders

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 recent years, proposed water regulations developed under the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act underwent consultation processes. Per the NWB’s website, the goals of the public input period included identifying and addressing issues with existing Northwest Territories regulations—temporarily in place until the Nunavut regulations are complete—and ensuring that the new regulations reflect the “operational and administrative realities” of water management in the territory. In May, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) announced that the new regulations have come into force. Specific improvements include the addition of an approved use of water or deposit of waste without a licence regime, establishment of a minimum threshold for an approved use of water and/or deposit of waste without a licence, a simplification of schedules relating to use of water and deposit of waste, the establishment of additional water management areas, and improved spill reporting and record keeping. AANDC will enforce the regulations. – KF

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