Winnipeg selected as HQ for Canada Water Agency as stakeholders await official mandate

Winnipeg is already home to the Freshwater Institute and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which is connected to the Experimental Lakes Area. Photo Credit: Nolan,

Canada’s 2023 federal budget assured that new legislation will drop by year’s end to reveal more details about the mandate for a Canada Water Agency. But, for now at least, a location has been settled on for a future headquarters in Winnipeg.

The 2023-2024 budget proposes to provide $85.1 million over five years, with $21 million thereafter to support the operation of the new agency.

Winnipeg officials expressed appreciation for their city being chosen as the agency’s headquarters, calling it “great news”, and noting the federal entity could create hundreds of jobs. The city is already home to the Freshwater Institute and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which is connected to the Experimental Lakes Area research.

Additionally, Winnipeg has been on the map in terms of water issues for some time. It has dealt with significant water issues in the Lake Winnipeg basin, drawing national attention to flooding and nutrient pollution.

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While nothing has been set in stone for what the Canada Water Agency will do, the federal government organized stakeholder engagement that is featured in a 2021 report. In it, Terry Duguid, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, is designated to lead the creation of the agency.

Overall, the report suggests that the agency will provide a “whole-of federal government perspective” on freshwater priorities, as well as ensure that federal policies and actions reflect freshwater objectives. Others have described the possible approach as aiming to be more coordinated, as opposed to municipalities, provinces and Indigenous authorities taking different approaches.

The report proposed a list of broad objectives for the agency, such as federal policies to promote effective management and protection of freshwater resources and ecosystems, including adapting to climate change. Additionally, the report suggests that Canada wants to be a global leader in freshwater technology, innovation and infrastructure, and have a “state-of-the-art” prediction system for floods and droughts. Lastly, the report notes that Canada’s economic sectors should have the fresh water they need to grow sustainably, and the tools they need to improve freshwater management and use.

In a recent board report, British Columbia’s Okanagan Basin Water Board expressed its support for the new agency. It hopes that the agency will create support for better water-related data; science and modelling to support decision making; support to protect and better rehabilitate aquatic ecosystems; and more support to address agricultural and food security needs.

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