Water Governance

Increasing average temperatures, climate change impacts on weather patterns and extensive changes in land use are seriously affecting the way water moves through the hydrological cycle in many parts of Canada, seriously impacting water quantity and quality.

ACT’s Water Governance session, led by water policy expert Bob Sandford, ran from 2010-2011.

Climate change is causing increased weather instability, leading to more frequent, deeper and persistent droughts, as well as more intense rainfall and flooding across Canada, resulting in property damage, higher insurance costs and a greater infrastructure maintenance and replacement deficit nationally. Half of every dollar paid out by insurance companies is for water damage related to extreme weather events, which will continue to increase unless government and planners undertake the deep reforms necessary to manage water differently. The growing economic impacts of climate change on Canada were confirmed by a national study released by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). According to NRTEE, the costs of climate change could range from $5 billion per year in 2020 to between $21 billion and $43 billion per year in 2050, depending on global greenhouse gas emissions and domestic economic and population growth.

Current and projected atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will result in continued climate change regardless of our success in reducing emissions. As well as cutting emissions, Canadians need to adapt to the current and anticipated effects of climate change, which requires more effective management of our precious water resources. Coordinated national and regional water conservation guidelines are required to address the detrimental impact climate change is having on Canada’s water system.

Water policy in many parts of Canada has not kept pace with changing political, economic and climatic conditions. The last federal water policy was tabled in Parliament over two decades ago and has never been fully implemented. And today, less than 20 percent of Canada’s groundwater sources have been mapped.

One of the key challenges limiting effective water resource management in Canada is jurisdictional fragmentation, as legislative power over freshwater is divided between the federal government and the provinces, producing a complex regulatory web that spans First Nations, municipal, regional, provincial and federal orders of government. This has resulted in serious policy and information gaps contributing to a lack of legally enforceable water quality standards and contributing to the decline of surface and groundwater monitoring, as well as water research in Canada.

The complexity, fragmentation and lack of coordination of water policies in Canada creates policies that are often inconsistent with respect to drinking water quality standards, ecosystem protection, allocation rights and climate change adaptation. The reform of water governance structures in Canada is essential if we wish to successfully manage and protect our water supplies and minimize climate-related impacts on our environment, our economy and our society.

Click here to see the research results and policy recommendations from this project.