Good morning to all the committee members. We are pleased to be here.
We're very happy to be here.
I will take you briefly through a summary of the department's water-related activities, and then of course we'd be happy to answer questions on any of the topics. Before I start I'll just explain why I'm here with a number of colleagues.
Geneviève is from the meteorological services. Among many other things, including 100% accurate weather reports, they supervise most of our water monitoring activities, because of course they are closely related to the weather cycle. Any questions on water monitoring, Geneviève would be happy to answer.
Darren is from our science and technology branch. He has been heavily involved in reforming the department's water quality monitoring activities and oversees our water science activities. Therefore, he can answer questions on water quality monitoring and science.
Carolyne manages the pollution prevention provisions in the Fisheries Act, including three of the most significant regulations we have that address water quality related to metal mining, pulp and paper, and wastewater effluent.
In moving through the deck, I'll start with a point that I'm sure you've all been told over and over again, that environmental governance in Canada is shared. That is nowhere more true than with respect to water, where the responsibilities for water quality protection, water quantity monitoring, water allocation, and watershed protection are shared among all levels of government in Canada. Provinces, including the Yukon since 2003 and the Northwest Territories since last year, are the primary managers of most aspects of water, but the federal government has some direct responsibilities and implements a number of activities jointly with the provinces and territories.
The next slide lists a number of examples that I won't go into but that I'd be happy to answer questions about. They're examples of joint initiatives that we operate with one or more provinces and, in some cases of course, with our friends to the south.
The next slide, then—
I'm sorry; it was page 4.
With slide 5, you'll have to excuse me. I'm trained as a lawyer, so there has to be a legal slide in every deck I present—and a complicated legal slide, of course.
This is to illustrate the simple point that even within the federal government, responsibility for water management is shared widely among departments. Of course, the Department of Transport looks after many of the impacts on water from marine transportation. Aboriginal Affairs has direct responsibility over issues in the north and issues on reserves, for example. Agriculture Canada has a number of responsibilities. The Department of Natural Resources has extensive scientific and technological activities related to various aspects of the environment, including water. Then, even within the Department of the Environment we have numerous statutes in addition to the Canada Water Act that directly or indirectly address water, and I'll touch on some of them in the presentation
Slide 6 then gives you an overview of the types of activities we undertake, either alone or in partnership. We work on water quality in terms of both monitoring, basic science, and direct protection. We do a lot of monitoring of water quantity and science. We're also involved jointly with provinces and in some cases with the U.S. in directly managing water flow for rivers that flow either from one province to another or across the border. Through the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators we provide information to Canadians about water quantity and water quality.
The remaining slides provide a little more detail on each of those activities. If you look at slide 7, we provide an example of a couple of the freshwater quality indicators that the CESI—the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators program—generates.
The main observation about water quality in Canada is that water quality is generally fair to good, but of course there are risks that which we need to pay attention to and that need to be managed on an ongoing basis. Over the last decade we've seen a clear increase in the percentage of sites we monitor that are rated good or excellent, and we've seen a decline in sites that are rated poor or marginal. This is important both for ecosystem health and, of course, human health.
In terms of impacts on water quality, there is of course a variety of natural factors and many anthropogenic factors, in terms of urban impacts, industrial impacts, and agricultural impacts, that affect the quality of water in rivers and lakes, for example by increasing concentrations of nutrients, sediments, pesticides, toxic substances, pharmaceuticals, and just basic disruption of water flow.
Of course, there are specific indicators, but the main areas of concern would be the St. Lawrence, the Lake Winnipeg basin, and the Great Lakes as a whole, which have relatively high risks of water quality impairment due to human activities.
Slide 8 illustrates that we conduct water quality monitoring at more than 500 sites in Canada. Some of these sites we operate exclusively, but many we operate jointly with the provinces, based on memoranda of understanding that we have, currently with six provinces. Of course, the data is all available, and the goal is to provide data and analysis to inform decision makers not just at the federal government but at all levels of government, and also individual Canadians.
The next slide is a very brief overview of some of the department's activities to manage water pollution. Again I'd emphasize that the responsibility for managing water pollution is shared with the provinces, including the municipalities. To give a few examples, the Fisheries Act, which is primarily administered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, includes a provision that prohibits the deposit of what are called deleterious substances in waters frequented by fish. That is a long-standing and of course very powerful pollution prevention provision.
It works the opposite of the way most environmental statutes work. There's a prohibition in place, and then the prohibition is lifted by means of regulations. Whereas in most cases, of course, when we want to restrict something we impose a regulation, in this case the regulation lifts the prohibition and establishes standards. We have, as I mentioned earlier, a number of regulations, including regulations for effluent from metal mining, pulp and paper, and wastewater facilities.
The Migratory Birds Convention Act includes a very similar and similarly old prohibition on the deposit of deleterious substances in areas frequented by migratory birds. A few years ago you would have heard about a conviction of one of the oil sands companies related to one of its tailings ponds. That was a prosecution for a violation of this prohibition, in which the water was in such a condition that the migratory birds that landed on it were damaged. That's a little-known provision that we rely on fairly regularly.
Then, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act we have a number of provisions and activities that directly affect and manage water quality. The oceans disposal provisions prohibit the dumping of waste at sea in almost every circumstance, other than a very small list of relatively inert substances, and even then only when the proponent can demonstrate that there's no better way to dispose of the substance.
We have numerous regulations that limit the toxic content of products or of emissions from industrial and commercial activities, many of which limit water pollution.
The authority to regulate nutrient content was originally in the Canada Water Act, but when the Canadian Environmental Protection Act was created in 1988, that authority was moved to CEPA.
Then, of course, we have authority to require emergency planning—
I apologize; I've taken a little longer than expected.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to contribute to your committee's review of the Canada Water Act annual report for April 2013 to March 2014. Joining me today are Jim McKenzie and Andrew Ferguson, principals with our office.
Fresh water is essential to the health of ecosystems, and in turn, to the well-being of Canadians, who count on fresh water for just about every aspect of their lives. Fresh water also plays an important role in economic and industrial activities in Canada, from the production of goods and services, to recreation and tourism.
But Canada faces water management challenges. The quality and quantity of its water resources are under pressure from a range of sources, including urban runoff and sewage, agriculture, and industrial activities. Other long-term threats include population growth, economic development, climate change and scarce supplies of fresh water in certain parts of the country.
In 2010, we examined Environment Canada's management of national programs to monitor water quality and quantity—some of the programs underlying the report being considered by this committee. At that time, we found that Environment Canada was not adequately monitoring Canada's surface water resources. We have not assessed the progress the department has made since 2010 and so cannot comment on any development or improvements in Environment Canada's fresh water monitoring program that may have occurred since our audit.
In 2010, we found that Environment Canada had not defined the extent of its water monitoring responsibilities, particularly on federal lands such as First Nations reserves, Canadian Forces bases, national parks and national wildlife areas.
We also found that the department had not located its monitoring stations based on an assessment of risks to water quality and quantity. In its 2012-13 Canada Water Act annual report, Environment Canada did indicate that it had implemented a risk-based approach in response to our recommendations. However, we are not able to provide assurance to the committee, as we have not done a follow-up audit on this topic.
We also found that from 2004 to 2009, Environment Canada had not submitted annual reports to Parliament as required under the Canada Water Act. We note that in the past few years, this reporting has improved.
I would now like to discuss the recent findings from our fall 2014 audit of the joint Canada-Alberta implementation plan for oil sands monitoring, another topic that's covered in the 2013-14 Canada Water Act annual report.
ln 2010 and 2011, the governments of Canada and Alberta commissioned independent reviews of the adequacy of oil sands monitoring, prompted by growing concerns about the environmental impacts of the oil sands. The reviews identified significant shortcomings in oil sands monitoring, including the monitoring of water quality. ln early 2012, the governments of Canada and Alberta committed to establishing a joint monitoring program for the oil sands and released the joint Canada-Alberta implementation plan for oil sands monitoring what many people call the JOSM.
ln the audit we reported on in the fall of 2014, we examined whether Environment Canada had implemented its responsibilities under the joint plan according to established timelines and budgets and the objectives and approaches set out in the plan. At that time we found that 60% of Environment Canada's expenditures were allocated for water monitoring projects under the joint plan. The work plans related to monitoring of air, water, and biodiversity identified Environment Canada's responsibilities and included budgets and timelines for deliverables. This is important.
ln light of the complexity and costs associated with establishing a comprehensive monitoring program for the oil sands, concrete work plans make it more likely that the program will achieve its objectives. At that time, we examined nine monitoring projects in detail, including three water monitoring projects led by Environment Canada, and found that most were being implemented according to schedule.
Integrating the information resulting from the separate monitoring of activities across air, water, and biodiversity is also important for ensuring the most complete picture of environmental effects possible. We found that Environment Canada was taking initial steps to integrate the results of monitoring information for two substances: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and mercury. We also found, however, that further efforts were needed to meet commitments to engage stakeholders, including first nations and Métis, and to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge into Environment Canada's monitoring activities. We also found that the department's role in oil sands monitoring post-March 2015 was unclear.
ln my view, these findings from our work on oil sands monitoring highlight the importance of well-designed water monitoring systems. ln a 2011 study report, we examined some of the key characteristics of good environmental monitoring systems and noted some questions that the members of this committee may wish to consider and pose to the other witnesses. The questions include the following.
What monitoring is required to determine whether environmental legislation is working as intended? Is that monitoring in place? What environmental components or geographic regions are not being monitored now? What are the consequences of these gaps? What steps have been taken to ensure accountability, independence, and the continuity of funding for monitoring systems? Finally, how does Environment Canada know if the monitoring data is meeting user needs?
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you. Merci.
Well, I'll provide a preliminary answer, and if my colleagues want to jump in or kick me, I'm sure we'll find out.
Let me just step back a bit and explain that the Canada Water Act provides us with broad authority to undertake research and monitoring, either on our own or—and importantly, jointly—with the provinces, both on water quality and on water monitoring.
So I think I would answer the question by going to the final slide that I presented. That is to say that all of our work on water is underpinned by research and monitoring. Perhaps more importantly, the research and monitoring that we do is intended not just to inform interventions by the Government of Canada but to inform decision making by all levels of government. The Canada Water Act provides us with legislative authority that we need in order to generate real-time data and trend data with respect to water quality and water monitoring.
It, together with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Department of the Environment Act, provides us with broad authority to undertake a wide range of research; to improve our ability to undertake monitoring; to improve our ability to understand what's happening in the water; and to share that information with our regulatory colleagues within the department, but also with decision-makers at other levels of government who intervene in protecting and making decisions about water flow and water quality.
That's a broad answer, hopefully on point with respect to the authorities under the Canada Water Act.
Your question about legislative authority is a much broader question. I would assert that we have extensive authority to undertake scientific activities and monitoring on a range of water-related activities. The more difficult question has to do with the allocation of responsibilities for directly intervening in managing water quality. For water quantity, clearly the federal government's authority is restricted to transboundary waters, and so we have a number of statutes that address transboundary waters and give us transboundary authorities.
Water quality is a matter that is of course not written in the Constitution, but for which we have very broad authority under the Fisheries Act and under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to intervene at a national level with respect to significant water pollution-related activities. Then similarly, provinces have extensive authority to address water pollution as well.
Notwithstanding that I'm a lawyer and love to talk about law reform, I think the real issue has to do with the way in which the relevant jurisdictions interact and the way the composite of various authorities at all levels interacts to protect water quantity and water quality.
That would be wonderful. Thanks very much.
Madame Gelfand, thank you so much for the helpful list of questions to think about. It's very useful, because we're not experts here. In theory, this is the House of Commons, the house of the common people, so I appreciate your spelling this out.
Before I get to these questions, though, in paragraph 14 of your written comments you talk about the importance of well-designed water monitoring systems.
Can you help us understand whether in your work you've seen best practices? When you're talking about well-designed water monitoring systems, what should we be looking for? What kinds of systems have worked or what specific designs help with this?
I would like to thank all the witnesses.
It's very good of you to come today. It's a very important subject and one with a lot of meat in it. Quite frankly, speaking as a fellow lawyer, I'm frustrated today, as I often am, that I have seven minutes to delve into all of these very detailed issues.
That said, I'll begin with the issue of water quality. I'll direct my questions to Mr. Moffet, who can can hand them off if he wishes to do so.
I'll begin with the fact that over the past 10 years there has been an increase in the categories of “good” or “excellent” water quality in the monitoring that you've conducted. I'd like to get some insight from you as to why that is—a poser, right off the bat.
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chair: Mr. Goetze.
For another rising level of frustration. That has been happening for the last six years, actually.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. John McKay: Like Mr. Woodworth, I am a recovering lawyer. Looking at this petri dish or soup of a jurisdictional exercise, you could take this and layer over the provincial, then layer over the municipal, and then presumably layer over the aboriginal. It seems to me that you would have a whole bunch of people running around and you would not necessarily get some serious monitoring.
I want to direct my first question to you, Mr. Moffet, with respect to the issue of fracking. It's largely a water issue but also an air issue. New York has taken the position that fracking is banned until the industry can prove that it is not of health concern. I don't know the basis for Quebec's ban, but I think it's still in place. New Brunswick is dealing with it. I'm not quite sure where New Brunswick will land on it. You probably know better than I the state of other jurisdictions.
The big issue with fracking seems to be this chemical soup that gets injected into the shale and the process itself. Whether it's the soup or whether it's the emissions or whether it's the discharges, you get all kinds of contradictory evidence going one way or another as to whether this is or is not a safe process. The evidence seems to be growing that this is less and less of a safe process. I'd be interested to know Environment Canada's level of jurisdiction and whether in fact Environment Canada sets up a monitoring site at each fracking site, each wellhead site.
Could you enlighten the committee on those issues, Mr. Moffet?
I'll start, and I think perhaps both of my colleagues might be able to add more detail.
The primary jurisdiction over fracking is provincial. Environment Canada could have jurisdiction if, for example, there were evidence that substances that had been assessed as toxic and added to schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act were being created or released in a way that created risk to the environment or to human health. Our science colleagues are remaining abreast of the scientific developments with respect to the toxic impact of fracking.
Other than that, it's the result of a local industrial activity that may have some geological impacts. It may have impacts on the water table. We don't have jurisdiction with respect to that. Of course, under the Fisheries Act we have jurisdiction over water that's frequented by fish.
So in terms of jurisdictional impacts, at the moment, as I say, unless we concluded that there was release of substances considered to be toxic, we would not have jurisdiction, but—
A lot of questions come to mind in this study. We could have easily had four meetings on water management. I think we would have had enough questions for that.
Ms. Gelfand, I would like to ask you about your risk-based approach. You mentioned that the 2010 report contained questions about the fact that the approach was not risk-based. You said that some adjustments had been made in the 2012-13 report.
What actual adjustments have been made to this risk-based approach? What do you think about it? Are you satisfied? Have enough changes been made?
We're talking about risks, but are the observations well situated geographically? Of course, there are risks like climate change, in particular. Could you please tell us a little about how things have developed and whether you think it is satisfactory?
Thank you to all of our witnesses for being here today and for talking to us about this important report.
The focus of my questions will be on the Great Lakes area, as my picturesque riding of Mississauga South is situated on Lake Ontario.
My first question is with regard to the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health. My understanding, from page 20 of the report, is that this agreement came about in order to meet the commitments made in the 2012 Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
This report, which is about a year old I think, mentions that the Canada-Ontario agreement was expected to be finalized and posted for public comment by 2014-15. I'm wondering if that's happened and if the implementation has begun in any way. I know it covers a broad range of issues. I was wondering whether you could tell us what the issues are in terms of restoring and protecting water quality in the Great Lakes.
My question is for Mr. Goetze.
Yes, I'm pleased to confirm that the Canada-Ontario agreement is in place now. It is an integral part of meeting the Canadian commitments under the Canada-U.S. agreement, which was renewed in 2012.
As a general comment, it's important context, I think, to understand that federal governments on both sides of the border, and provinces and states have worked very hard on the environment, particularly on the water environment of the Great Lakes, over the past 40 years. I think we can say unambiguously that water quality has improved—I personally would say dramatically improved—in that period. There are, however, emerging risks across the Great Lakes on things that we continue to need to pay careful attention to.
You may recall from the past year that there were problems with algae blooms in Lake Erie. Toledo was quite impacted by those. They had to shut their municipal water system. We are working very hard with our partners in Ontario and on the U.S. side of the border to address those things. We're looking at nutrients in the Great Lakes. We are gathering the data and creating models so that we can set targets and understand how those targets will improve water quality for citizens on both sides of the border.
We're also looking at a range of what we would call “legacy” contaminants in the Great Lakes. These are things that were chemicals in the past. There's a large range of these types of chemicals. PCBs, I guess, are among the more famous ones. We've monitored PCBs in the Great Lakes since the late 1970s. We continue to keep tabs on those legacy chemicals as well. We are, with our partners in the U.S., looking at new and emerging chemicals that require our attention.
So there's a comprehensive effort on water quality across the Great Lakes. This is an ongoing and intensive effort involving all the partners around the Great Lakes.
Good morning. Thank you for being here.
One of the issues I'm quite interested in is the St. Lawrence action plan. Mr. Moffet, you mentioned that there were great risks of altering the quality of the water in the St. Lawrence because of human activity.
In my riding, the Montreal airport's activities are of particular concern to us. A small stream runs from the Montreal airport and flows into the St. Lawrence River. Unfortunately, there are fairly huge quantities of ethylene glycol in the stream, which does not freeze in the winter. It's quite worrying. All of this ends up in the St. Lawrence River near Lake Saint-Louis, which has plant life and an ecosystem that are fairly diverse. The St. Lawrence action plan is responsible for monitoring all this.
I would like to know what can be done. What is your department doing with situations like this one? I have tried to navigate through all of this for three years to see what I could do for my community. Several people have submitted petitions. Many people are concerned about this stream. What exactly do you do in cases like this one? I have had discussions with the representatives of the Montreal airport. They have a recovery system for ethylene glycol. It's going well. But this substance is still in the St. Lawrence River.
So what can be done?
The other question I have is regarding your transboundary partners.
Again, regarding the extension of the initiative, we talked about the transboundary partners. You mentioned the United States. A lot of the water is coming in from the States through the Red River. You also talked about Ontario, and I know there's work with Ontario, especially through Lake of the Woods and the water coming through there.
The other one that's not mentioned specifically in the initiative, but you did touch on it in your remarks, is Saskatchewan. We've seen a great increase in water flow from Saskatchewan through the Assiniboine basin, which will ultimately end up in Lake Winnipeg.
Is there any work being done in your assessment, your monitoring, to extend further into Saskatchewan as part of that basin and look at the water flow from there and the extent of its impact on Lake Winnipeg?
The principal or most prominent issue that Lake Erie is facing right at the moment is related to nutrients—phosphorus and nitrogen—that cause algal blooms that are quite prominent. Many of you may have seen pictures on the NOAA website, which takes pictures from space of these algal blooms. They are very large and very prominent.
What we're trying to do, in partnership with our colleagues on the American side, is to understand, first of all, how nutrients are coming into the lake from both sides of the river. It is a problem, I would say, and an issue that is predominantly related to the American side. The corn belt is south of Lake Erie, but there are sources of nutrients on the Canadian side as well.
We're trying to look at the tributaries. We're monitoring them and understanding what the inputs to the lake actually are. We're understanding how levels of nutrients are changing in the lake. We're studying and doing research on the nature of the algal blooms, where they occur, under what conditions they occur, how big they get, and what kinds of species are involved.
With all of the data we've collected, we're trying to set some targets for phosphorus and nitrogen reduction in Lake Erie. We are building computer models that will allow us to simulate what will happen if you reduce levels of nutrients in the lake. This will allow policy-makers to then implement measures on both sides of the border that will reduce the inputs of nutrients to the lake and hopefully address the algal problem over time.
Mr. Woodworth and I have something going here.
I want to go back to my front door-back door analogy here and maybe direct this to Mr. Goetze.
What if I stood on the edge of my riding of Scarborough—Guildwood, which, like Ms. Ambler's, is right on the edge of Lake Ontario but causes her some level of jealousy, because it is so beautiful—and I poured in benzene, a known carcinogen; toluene, which affects the nervous system with long-term exposure; ethylbenzene, which creates blood disorders; xylenes, which cause irritation to the nose and throat if absorbed in high levels; methanol, which causes blurred vision; naphthalene, which causes abdominal pain; and formaldehyde, which is a human carcinogen, etc.?
All of this stuff is going into fracking sites. I don't understand why. You tell me the jurisdictional reason why Environment Canada doesn't know, or doesn't monitor, or doesn't regulate that stuff, because I dare say that if I stood at the edge of my riding and poured all that stuff into Lake Ontario, you'd be all over me.
A voice: Probably.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. John McKay: Exactly.
Tell me what is the intellectual or the legal distinction between my pouring all that stuff into Lake Ontario—and don't give me international jurisdictions, or water laws or jazz—but right into those fracking sites.... Why is it that you guys aren't all over that?
Thank you for the second opportunity. I was hoping the first time around to ask about the Environment Canada funding of multi-stakeholder projects to restore Great Lakes areas of concern and, in particular, about the Great Lakes sustainability fund, which funds stewardship initiatives.
Has research been done on whether we're seeing the benefits of these stewardship programs and initiatives, especially at the local level, if they're being measured and how well they're working?
I know that in my area significant efforts have been undertaken to clean up the shoreline, to restore wildlife habitat, and to protect the fish. This is an important issue for residents of the area, but I always try to make the point, I think and I hope you'll agree, that it's not just for the local residents. It's a bigger issue when the government understands the importance of these small local efforts to clean up the water in urban areas and how important it is on a larger scale.
I'm wondering if you could comment on that fund, the stewardship initiatives, and if they're working.