Thank you for the opportunity to share our views on the Canada Water Act Annual Report for April 2013 to March 2014.
In our review of the report, we did not identify any areas of significant concern to the Government of the Northwest Territories; however, we noted a shortage of detail relevant to the north in some sections of the report when compared with the descriptions for other jurisdictions, such as in the water quality and Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network monitoring sections.
The Government of the Northwest Territories has a strong interest in Canada's basin-wide quality, quantity, and biological monitoring commitments, especially with regard to implementation of the Mackenzie River Basin Bilateral Transboundary Water Management Agreements, which I will talk about a bit later.
It is encouraging to see the work being done under the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network or CABIN program. The GNWT has a strong interest in broadening water monitoring to include monitoring of biological indicators. We see value in moving forward to complete the CABIN large river protocol so that such an approach could be applied to important rivers such as the Slave River. In addition, the GNWT has a community-based monitoring program that could benefit from adding a biological monitoring component.
Regarding monitoring, we note that while there is some information in the report, we'd be interested in more information regarding the joint oil sands monitoring program, particularly about the expansion of biological monitoring under this program into the Northwest Territories.
The report notes that many jurisdictions in Canada have water quality agreements. The Canada-Yukon Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystem Monitoring and Reporting Memorandum of Agreement, which we understand is awaiting signature, is broader in scope than water quality. Such agreements may be an approach our government wants to consider.
Finally, the report notes on page 17 that the MRBB tracked the progress of three bilateral water management negotiations, between British Columbia and Alberta, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories and Alberta.
I'd like to take this opportunity to update the committee on recent progress on bilateral transboundary water agreements, as well as on regulatory changes in other water initiatives in the Northwest Territories that are not included in the report.
I will turn first to the transboundary water agreement.
The transboundary water management agreement negotiations process between Alberta and the Northwest Territories is complete. The final agreement was signed on March 18, 2015. Input from aboriginal involvement and public engagement informed this final agreement. We're now working with Alberta to develop an implementation plan for the Northwest Territories-Alberta agreement. We're also working with aboriginal governments on an inter-governmental agreement to provide clarity on aboriginal government involvement and implementation of transboundary water management agreements.
The Northwest Territories and British Columbia intentions document and appendices—basically a draft agreement—are finished. We have completed aboriginal consultation and public engagement processes on these documents. British Columbia is still completing its consultation process. Once the intentions document for the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories-Yukon bilateral agreements are complete, further public engagement and aboriginal consultation will be done.
We met with the Government of Saskatchewan in late January 2015 to discuss the process and work required to negotiate a transboundary water management agreement for the waters along our shared border. Our government, the Yukon territory government, and other parties to the existing Yukon-Northwest Territories Transboundary Water Management Agreement met in late February 2015 to discuss the existing agreements and the next steps to renegotiating the existing agreement for the Peel basin.
We anticipate meeting with Saskatchewan in late spring 2015 to continue negotiating a transboundary water management agreement. We have officials in Nunavut today and tomorrow talking about the possibility of a similar transboundary water agreement to cover the whole boundary between the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
As previously indicated and mentioned, our government is seeking a long-term commitment from Environment Canada to conduct water quantity, quality, and biological monitoring within the Mackenzie River basin to assess ecosystem health and support implementation of the transboundary water management agreements.
I'd now like to talk about water stewardship in the Northwest Territories. We recognize that the key to protecting such a precious resource as water lies in partnerships and collaborations with water partners, including those within our borders and those in neighbouring jurisdictions.
To address concerns related to upstream development and climate change, we developed the Northern Voices, Northern Waters: NWT Water Stewardship Strategy in 2010. The strategy was created to safeguard our water resources for current and future generations. It was followed by the Northwest Territories Water Stewardship: A Plan for Action 2011-2015.
We developed a strategy and action plan with the Government of Canada in partnership with seven aboriginal governments, and with input from numerous water partners and the public. Through many meetings with aboriginal leaders across our territories, as well as workshops with federal and territorial government departments, regulatory boards, non-governmental organizations, community members, academics and industry, we crafted the goals and visions for the strategy, along with the other core elements.
The vision for the water strategy is that the waters of the Northwest Territories remain clean, abundant, and productive for all time. The water strategy sets a common path forward for achieving effective water stewardship in the Northwest Territories. It is a key guiding document that identifies our approach to maintaining aquatic ecosystem health, involving communities in aquatic monitoring and research, and ensuring safe drinking water in the Northwest Territories. The strategy integrates western science and traditional local knowledge and is the basis for our mandate of negotiating transboundary water management agreements with other Mackenzie River basin jurisdictions.
I would like to conclude with some words on changes to water management and regulation in the Northwest Territories following devolution, which occurred on April 1, 2014. On April 1, 2014, the Government of the Northwest Territories became the primary land and water manager in the Northwest Territories. As the primary water manager, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources undertakes a number of water quality and water quantity monitoring programs, including programs that monitor sites in collaboration with communities. Our monitoring programs are designed to address identified community concerns and provide robust technical information for use in making sound resource management decisions.
The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the new territorial Waters Act define the legal authorities for water management. A co-management regime has been established. Regional land and/or water boards have defined authorities with respect to water licensing for various undertakings throughout the Northwest Territories. GNWT technical experts actively participate in regulatory processes, providing input and advice to land or water boards for their use in their decision-making processes. Data obtained through our water monitoring programs is provided to compliment data collected by project proponents and other parties. Our government has new authorities with respect to the approval of type A water licenses, and type B water licenses where a public hearing has been held. For activities on lands transferred through the devolution and final agreement, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources must approve all type A water licenses and any type B water licenses where a public hearing was held. Type A water licenses are generally associated with larger projects of longer duration, for example, producing metal, a diamond mine, or an oil and gas production facility.
Type B water licenses are generally associated with smaller projects of shorter duration, such as an advanced mineral exploration project or an oil and gas exploration program. Recent legislative changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act have introduced legislative timeframes for ministerial decision-making with respect to water licenses. The minister has up to 45 days following receipt of a board recommendation to render a decision. The minister may, however, under legislation, extend the decision period for an additional 45 days, corresponding to a maximum of 90 calendar days. The first type A water license approved by me as Minister of Environment and Natural Resources occurred on April 24, 2014, 22 days after receiving the board recommendation. Since April 1, 2014, nine type A water licenses have been approved.
My final comment would be of a broader nature. As we talk about a national energy strategy in Canada, I want to once again make the point that you cannot talk about a national energy strategy without talking about some type of national water strategy, because the two are inextricably linked, almost without exception. So as we once again have that national debate, we have to keep in mind that with hydro, with the water for oil and gas development, with the water required in nuclear plants, the two are linked.
I want to start by saying how I came to be here today. The executive director from the CCME secretariat in Winnipeg was asked to present today and tell you folks about the water management committee. Unfortunately, he's meeting today with deputy ministers in Toronto, so he's asked me to fill in.
I'd like to take maybe about 10 minutes and just explain what our group does and how it may fit with what you folks are doing. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment secretariat is in Winnipeg. Of course, we're led by the council of ministers. Under the council of ministers there's a deputy ministers committee. Under the deputy ministers committee is a committee called EPPC, the environmental planning and protection committee. That committee is generally at the level of assistant deputy ministers or their designates, executive director folks.
Under those three committees there are committees that do work on specific items, and I'm currently the co-chair of the water management committee, WMC. The water management committee's mandate is that it manages intergovernmental approaches to water issues in Canada. The water management committee's work includes recommending priorities for cooperative action on existing and emerging water issues and coordinating the delivery of activities under CCME's strategic vision of water.
So, currently WMC is working under a strategic vision that was developed in approximately 2013. The vision right now has four goals. The strategic vision of water, the actual vision of it, is that “Canadians have access to clean, safe and sufficient water to meet their needs in ways that also maintain the integrity of ecosystems”. The mission of that vision is that “CCME facilitates forward-thinking research and integrated policy, standard and/or guideline development, that contribute to the sustainable management, protection, restoration and conservation of Canada’s water”.
Currently there are four main goals under the strategic vision:
Goal 1: Aquatic ecosystems are protected on a sustainable watershed basis....
Goal 2: The conservation and wise use of water is promoted....
Goal 3: Water quality and water quantity management is improved, benefitting human and ecosystem health....
Goal 4: Climate change impacts are reduced through adaptive strategies.
Under those four goals, the water management committee has developed specific projects, and those specific projects are led by a group of folks all across Canada who are experts in those particular projects. We make sure those specific projects fit under the four main goals of the strategic vision for water.
I just want to tell you quickly, at a high level, what six of those projects currently are. I'm not expert enough in every one of those projects to go into the scientific details of them, but I'd at least like to give you a bit of a flavour for the types of work that the water management committee does.
Current project number one concerns groundwater. Between 2010 and 2013, the water management committee developed and pilot tested an approach for assessing the sustainability of groundwater resources at a local, regional, or Canada-wide scale. A high-level framework was developed. That framework is called the groundwater sustainability assessment approach, GSAA. There's a current project to develop a guidance document to support the GSAA framework.
Project number two concerns environmental flow needs, EFN. Environmental flow relates to water flows that are required to sustain an ecosystem. There was a final report produced called the “Approaches, Successes and Challenges of EFN Assessments”. That assessment was a world-wide assessment and then an assessment across Canada as to what folks currently have in terms of environmental flows and perhaps what's needed in the future regarding environmental flows. The last task under that project title was to have a series of webinars for folks who specialize in that, to review several case studies that were submitted as part of that final report under environmental flow needs.
The third project currently going is under the title “nutrients as a resource.” That particular project was designed to analyze management frameworks for reducing nutrients going into waterways, specifically through recovery and recycling. The project was designed to try to get a flavour for the current state of recovery and recycling of nutrients across Canada and around the world, and to provide an inventory of current programs in Canada.
Another project came under the general title “water pricing.” This particular project was directed to the water management committee by the council of ministers when it met last June. It had a presentation specifically about water and about some projects that were ongoing in British Columbia at the time.
One of the discussion items there was water pricing. The council of ministers directed our group to figure out what's going on across Canada in terms of of water pricing. A final report was just submitted, April 23, 2015, so it's fairly recent.
The end result of that project was to outline 11 principles of water pricing that could be used across Canada. Five principles are designed to influence behaviour of water users. Six principles were designed to generate public revenue. No one pricing principle fits all water management situations across Canadian jurisdictions. That project, hopefully, will be wrapping up fairly soon.
Another project had the general title “climate change, water security, flood and drought.” There was an implementation framework for climate change adaptation planning at a watershed scale. That framework was designed and submitted as a document. The framework provides watershed managers with a structured, step-by-step process to identify and reduce climate vulnerability and risk. The group of experts we have pulled together to do that particular project is currently scoping out whether more work could be done under that general topic, particularly under the topics of flood and drought.
The last bit of work the water management committee is involved with is on the development of national water quality guidelines. The specific item it is currently working on is a silver guideline for freshwater aquatic life. It's scoping out what type of guidelines will be needed in the future, for example, with regard to hardness, estrogenic compounds, etc. It's scoping out its priorities and currently developing work plans and budgets.
That group is a long-standing group under CCME. For folks who are really familiar with water quality, it's the group that has developed over the last many years the CCME water quality guidelines that are used around the world.
In terms of the annual report, I would like to end by saying that the water management committee does not manage the waters of Canada, but we develop tools that can be used for water managers. In the annual report submitted under the Canada Water Act, for example, there's a section on water quality across Canada, which uses the water quality index that was developed by the CCME group.
So, there are linkages between the group and what you folks are interested in under the Canada Water Act.
The Mackenzie River Basin Board Transboundary Waters Master Agreement was signed by all the involved jurisdictions, including the federal government. That agreement enabled the setting up of the board. It also triggered the responsibility to negotiate these bilateral agreements.
Since 1997, things had been pretty well dormant. There was only one bilateral that was negotiated, in about 1999; that was between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. It's only been in the last three years where there has been a concerted, intense effort to get the bilateral agreements negotiated and the concern about the water has mounted.
The federal government has a key role at the Mackenzie River Basin Board level. They have a key role in all of the jurisdictions—Saskatchewan, B.C., Alberta, Northwest Territories, Yukon—because they have some very important water monitoring infrastructure that we were looking to make sure stays there as we move forward. They talk about including biological indicators, making sure that the networks and their infrastructure are expanded to do that. We will also be putting our resources into the mix with them as well.
The other critical point with these agreements is that we now share all that information across the Mackenzie River basin, which is one of the biggest basins in the country. It gives us a much more comprehensive look at baseline data in terms of water quality issues, water quantity issues. We're moving to groundwater, air monitoring, all these very critical areas.
First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Miltenberger for this information. The fact that there is only one meeting a year is quite troubling, given all the work that is needed on the water issue. That issue, of course, is vital for all Canadians.
I would like to ask Mr. Fox a question about it.
You mentioned the importance of safety in relation to water, and everyone in Canada is in agreement. You also mentioned the quite serious impact that climate change is having on the cycle of flood and drought.
In that connection, I am wondering about melting glaciers. According to a report by the National Climate Assessment in the United States, the acceleration in glacier melt is troubling. In British Columbia, there is concern about the Lloyd George Glacier, west of Fort Nelson, the Castle Creek Glacier, near McBride, and the Tiedermann Glacier, in the Coast Mountains, as well as those in the Columbia River basin.
Of the 200,000 glaciers on the planet, 17,000 of them are in British Columbia and 800 are in Alberta. They are very important for our water resources.
Are you looking at the impact of glacier melt as part of your study on climate change?
If you consider the timing of the political landscape, there are about six jurisdictions that will be going into election mode, so we'll see. I haven't seen the proposed agenda yet, but it will be interesting to see .
I would point out as well, just to give you a broader sense of scale here, that a few months back we had the first ever meeting of the environment ministers on the issue of biodiversity. It's a time when it's a very, very big issue, but it was our first ever meeting.
Earlier this year I went to a meeting, the first one in three years, with forestry ministers. I asked how we could say in any kind of way, shape, or form that we're managing the forest when we haven't met for three years. There are climate change issues, there are manufacturing issues, there are invasive species issues, and we were there for a day—in three years. It brings into question how valuable and how sincere we are and what our ability, realistically, is to do things.
If you're meeting regularly, it's once a year. If you meet once for the first time ever on biodiversity, and I'm not sure if we'll have another meeting again, those types of things.... How we split up the environment is very problematic.