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Canada Water Agency consultations begin as discussion paper released

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Canada Lake Diefenbaker
Environment and Climate Change Canada has launched a consultations portal and released a discussion paper entitled “Toward the Creation of a Canada Water Agency”. Photo credit: David, AdobeStock.

Canada has opened online consultations towards establishing the new Canada Water Agency, a venture to improve and centralize the country’s freshwater management under the direction of a more dedicated governmental authority.

The agency could provide a whole-of federal government perspective on freshwater priorities and ensure that federal policies and actions reflect freshwater objectives, say Environment and Climate Change Canada officials.

In conjunction with the consultations portal, which closes March 1, Environment and Climate Change Canada has also released a discussion paper entitled “Toward the Creation of a Canada Water Agency”. It zeroes in on issues such as First Nations access to drinking water, drought, water quality and climate change.

“Climate change is having and will have an increasingly profound influence on freshwater quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems,” the discussion paper states. “Other influences include municipal and industrial discharges, aquatic invasive species, water control structures, and land use practices.”

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As consultation begins around the agency’s creation, the federal government has also planned a National Freshwater Policy Forum on January 27 and 28, and has regional freshwater forums planned for February.

To be established in close collaboration with provinces, territories, Indigenous peoples, and other partners, the Canada Water Agency’s focus is on fresh water in Canada, recognizing that the government is already implementing separate marine initiatives.

With more than two million lakes and rivers — more inland waters than any other country — Canada boasts 20% of the world’s fresh water and the third largest renewable supply of fresh water at 7%. The country has 25 major watersheds, and these waters flow to all three coasts, crossing international, provincial and territorial boundaries. Canada also has one quarter of the world’s remaining wetlands, covering 13% of the country.

The federal government is involved in freshwater-related areas such as fisheries, pollution prevention, shipping and navigation, international relations, domestic transboundary waters, and the creation and management of protected areas. The federal government is also responsible for management of fresh water on federal lands.

“The Government of Canada welcomes feedback through the PlaceSpeak forum to help inform and shape the role that a Canada Water Agency can play in protecting our freshwater resources for generations to come,” announced Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

In 2017, the main freshwater users by sector were electric power generation, transmission and distribution (65%); manufacturing (10%); agriculture (7%); and mining and oil and gas extraction (3%).

As one of the largest consumers of water, the new discussion paper closely examines the role of agriculture and the agri-food industry.

“Producers understand the importance of managing ecosystem functions and services such as nutrient and water cycling, carbon sequestration, and pollination, and realize that stewardship of critical natural resources such as water, soil, and biodiversity is essential to the long-term success of their farms,” the discussion paper states.

A mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on December 13, 2019, directed the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change to create a new Canada Water Agency in order to “find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean and well-managed.”

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