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Great Lakes Article:

Frequently Asked Questions about bulk water export-Canadian Perspective

From Environment Canada
Posted 10/17/2002

  1. 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 containers.

    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.
  1. 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, and municipal.

    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 distribution.

    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 tap.
  1. 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 Basin.

    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.
  1. Why not simply ban bulk water removal?

    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 resources.
  1. 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, glaciers, etc.

    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 agreements.

    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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