A Pan-Canadian Water Strategy

In February 2007, the Gordon Water Group of Concerned Scientists and Citizens, of which Sierra Club Canada was a member, released Changing the Flow: a blueprint for Federal Action on Freshwater, an incredible reference document outlining important directions for Canadian water policy. Here are links to both a Summary and the Full Report (6MB).

Later that year, in October 2007, the Speech from the Throne committed to "a new water strategy [..] to help clean up our major lakes and oceans and to improve access to safe drinking water for First Nations". 

An "Action Plan for Clean Water" has since emerged, but currently consists of a list of current and past spending initiatives and lacks the future-focused nature of a 'plan'. While the list includes a few noble funding initiatives, a series of announcements does not constitute a comprehensive strategy to deal with the many issues threatening Canada's water supply and quality.

Read a letter Tim Morris (Sierra Club Canada's previous water campaigner) wrote to the editor on the need for a National Water Strategy.

What can you do? Write your MP. Tell your MP that freshwater is a valuable resource, and its fluid nature demands that we manage it together. The federal government should play a lead role in coordinating the development of a Canada-wide water strategy, together with the provinces.

Let's take care of our precious water, instead of taking it for granted.

The need for a pan-Canadian water strategy in Canada has become extremely urgent. Across the nation, Canadians are recognizing that limits to this seemingly infinite resource exist. The evidence of these intense pressures is manifesting in a visibly changing climate, the degradation of our environment, health problems in Canadian communities, and the tensions surrounding the use of boundary waters with our neighbours to the south.

Climate Change –
climate change is significantly changing the timing, flow and availability of water in all our communities. In many regions, changes are taking place much faster than we anticipated. In the mountain ranges of Alberta the glaciers and snowpacks that act like ‘water towers’ for the Prairies are consistently retreating. Communities in Canada’s wettest regions, such as Tofino, B.C., are now experiencing summer droughts, while in November 2006, an unprecedented winter storm in Vancouver precipitated the largest boil water advisory in Canadian history. Meanwhile, the levels of the Great Lakes are falling year-by-year and the algal blooms in Lake Winnipeg are thriving under warmer temperatures and increased flooding.

Water and Ecosystems – Our water management practices have done little to preserve Canada’s unique stock of natural capital. Lakes, wetlands and river flows are the lifeblood of Canada’s remarkable ecological wealth and diversity. Unfortunately, over-allocation of water for human uses, activities that cause pollution, and invasion of non-native species are degrading aquatic ecosystems and riparian habitats. Freshwater fish stocks are falling across the country from the salmon runs of B.C. to the fisheries of Lake Winnipeg. Meanwhile, wetlands in populated areas (Canada is home to 25% of the world’s wetlands) are disappearing at a startling rate.

Water and Health – the health of Canadians is being affected by the inadequate provision of clean drinking water in rural and urban areas across the country. Drinking water contamination hit the headlines in 2000 with the death of seven residents in Walkerton, Ontario and there are still an alarming number of communities that experience regular boil-water advisories. The problem of poor drinking water is most acute in First Nations communities, punctuated by the evacuation of Kashechwan reserve due to E. coli contamination in 2006.

Rising Bilateral Tensions – rising demands for water on both sides of the Canada-US border have increased pressure on shared water resources, with proposals for diversions, exports and new institutional arrangements giving rise to increasing bilateral tensions. The last two decades have also been marked by the propensity of both federal governments to take a back seat from their traditional roles of trying to ease these tensions. Instead, it has been left to disputing local interests to try to determine solutions that have regionally significant consequences, exemplified by the ongoing Devil’s Lake controversy between Manitoba and North Dakota.

Given these growing pressures, protecting and conserving our water legacy must be a national priority. Yet inaction on water runs rampant. Our political leaders continue to struggle under the myth of water wealth, convinced that the proverbial well will never run dry. Water management – and the role for government must change if we are to continue to benefit from the kinds of services that underpin our prosperity and vitality in our communities.


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