What is the difference between
water export and bulk water removal? Why does the Government
of Canada use the term "bulk water removal"?
Bulk water removal broadly refers to large-scale removals
of water by man-made diversion, such as canals, tanker
ships or trucks, or pipelines. It is not necessarily
exported out of the province or country, but is "exported"
from its basin of origin. Also, it does not include
small-scale water removal, such as water in small portable
Water export refers to taking water and shipping it
to other countries for profit whether in
bottles, by tanker or pipeline, or by diverting rivers
and building canals.
The Government of Canada uses the phrase "bulk
water removal" because we are taking a comprehensive
approach to guarantee the security of our freshwater
resources. The removal and transfer of water in bulk
from its natural drainage basin or watershed can result
in similar ecological, social, and economic impacts
whether the water is destined for foreign markets, or
for other destinations within Canada. The Government
of Canada's strategy prevents the bulk removal of water
from major watersheds for any reason whether
for domestic purposes or for export.
Who is responsible for managing
Canada's freshwater resources? What are the federal,
provincial/territorial, and municipal roles?
In Canada, freshwater management is a shared responsibility
among all orders of government: federal, provincial/territorial,
The federal government has legislative authority over
fisheries, navigation, shipping, international boundary
waters, and federal lands.
The provinces manage water resources within their borders.
In the future, the territories will take on increased
responsibilities for water management. The provinces
legislate virtually all aspects of water demand and
supply, pollution control, hydroelectric and non-nuclear
power, and irrigation. They are also responsible for
providing safe drinking water, overseeing municipal
water and sewer infrastructure, and operating and maintaining
major irrigation projects.
In keeping with provincial jurisdiction over natural
resources, energy and economic development, the provinces
also own and operate or license most water development
and control projects.
Municipalities manage the infrastructure related to
water treatment and delivery, and they plan, finance,
and control the operations related to it. They carry
out these operations following legislation in place
in each province or territory.
The bulk removal of water from a watershed, whether
for export or not, is only one of the many challenges
to the long-term security of Canada's water resources.
Water issues are diverse and often complex, ranging
from water pollution and its impacts on human and ecosystem
health, sustainable management of water in the face
of increasing demand and use, to the impacts of floods
and droughts and, in the long term, to the potential
effects of climate change on water availability and
Because of these challenges, the Government of Canada
recognizes that we need to work closely with the provinces
and territories who manage water within their jurisdictions.
At the September 2001 meeting of the Canadian Council
of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), Ministers indicated
that they were taking comprehensive action to protect
the quality of drinking water from the source to the
What action has the federal
government taken to address bulk water removal?
On February 10, 1999, the federal government announced
its strategy to prohibit bulk water removals from major
drainage basins in Canada.
As a key contribution under the strategy, the federal
government introduced amendments to the International
Boundary Waters Treaty Act (IBWTA) on February 5,
2001 to prohibit bulk removal from the Canadian portions
of boundary waters, principally the Great Lakes. These
amendments received Royal Assent in December 2001. Given
current federal responsibilities for water management
in the north, the federal government is also working
with the three territorial governments to implement
the prohibition for waters in the north.
As part of the strategy, the governments of Canada and
the United States requested that the International Joint
Commission study the existing and potential consumptive
uses and diversions of Great Lakes water, the cumulative
effects of water removals, and the current laws and
policies in place in both countries to protect the sustainability
of the resource. This study provides a basis for establishing
a consistent approach for the protection and management
of these and other waters shared by the two countries.
The final report, Protection
of the Waters of the Great Lakes
released in March 2000, recommended that the governments
"should not permit any new proposal for removal
of water from the Great Lakes Basin to proceed unless
the proponent can demonstrate that the removal would
not endanger the integrity of the ecosystem of the Great
Lakes Basin". The Commission recommended strict
criteria should be applied, including giving full consideration
to the potential cumulative impacts of single and future
such removals, that there should be "no net loss"
of water to the area from which is taken, and that the
water is returned in a condition that protects the quality
of and prevents the introduction of alien invasive species
into the waters of the Great Lakes. Application of these
criteria would effectively prevent any large-scale or
long distance removal of water from the Great Lakes
In November of 1999, the Canadian Council of Ministers
of the Environment (CCME) considered the proposed Canada-wide
Accord and all jurisdictions (with the exception of
Quebec) agreed to a common objective, namely to prohibit
bulk water removals from major drainage basins in Canada.
All provinces have in place or are developing legislation
or regulations prohibiting the bulk removal of water.
This provides solid assurance that bulk removals and
exports will not proceed any time in the near future.
Why not simply ban bulk water
Canada's water is a precious resource that must be protected
and that requires a comprehensive approach to the issue
as a whole. The protection of Canada's freshwater resources
is not an economic or a trade issue, but is first and
foremost an environmental conservation issue. The federal
government's three-part strategy to respond to bulk
water removals is designed to prohibit the bulk removal
of water whether for domestic purposes or
for export from Canada's major watersheds. The watershed
approach is broadly recognized as the most effective
way to protect the quality and quantity of our water
What impacts could bulk water
removal have on Canadians?
Water is a finite resource. We have about 20% of the
Earth's freshwater, but only 7% of the world's renewable
freshwater supply the rest is fossil water,
water left over from the ice ages trapped in ice, snow,
The watershed or drainage basin is widely recognized
in Canada and elsewhere as the fundamental unit for
protecting the quality and quantity of freshwater resources.
The approach used in the strategy recognizes that bulk
removal of water from drainage basins should be managed
differently from within-basin uses. Bulk removal, involves
the permanent loss of water to the basin. Given the
dependency of ecosystems and communities within the
basin on this supply of water, bulk removal is considered
to represent an unsustainable use of water. A prohibition
on bulk water removal would represent a significant
step in protecting the health and integrity of Canada's
drainage basins by: recognizing that within-basin uses
are a priority, given cumulative impacts of all water
uses; preventing the introduction of non-indigenous
biota, parasites, and diseases into donor and receiving
basins; helping to sustain the rich biological diversity
and productivity of coastal and estuarine ecosystems
dependent on fresh water inflow; and by helping to ensure
sustainable use of water to meet the growing economic
and population requirements within our watersheds/basins,
particularly in light of the potential impacts of climate
change on water availability and distribution (e.g.,
some models predict that levels of the Great Lakes could
be lowered by a metre or more by the middle of the century).
Canada's water belongs to Canadians. We are free to
manage our water and protect our environment in our
own best interests.
Nothing in NAFTA or in any of Canada's international
trade agreements prevents us from protecting our water.
These agreements do not create new obligations for us
to sell our water, nor do they limit our ability to
adopt laws for managing our own water resources. To
ensure our sovereignty of this precious resource, Canada
issued a joint statement with the United States and
Mexico in 1993 declaring that NAFTA creates no rights
to the natural water resources of any of the countries.
Under these trade agreements, water in its natural state
in a lake or a river, for example is not
a tradable good or product (i.e., exportable commodity)
and is therefore not subject to the provisions of these
The federal government's strategy is based on a comprehensive
water basin approach that will prevent bulk removal
of water from its natural state.
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