Rural Water Resources Planner: Water Governance in Canada

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Water Governance in Canada

Management of water resources in Canada is legislated through a number of federal and provincial acts. The federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments,  and in some instances the Aboriginal governments under self-government agreements, all have a role in the management of water resources in Canada.

The federal and provincial governments jurisdiction over water is defined in Canada's Constitution Act, 1867 (now The Constitution Act, (1982). The text of The Constitution Act can be accessed on the Department of Justice website.

The Provincial Governments have the powers to make laws concerning the ownership and management of water. Some of the areas of legislative powers include:

  • water supply
  • water quality protection
  • authorization of water use development
  • hydro-electric power development
  • flow regulation

Municipalities are not given any powers by the Constitution. Most provinces delegate some of their authorities to municipalities (e.g. drinking water treatment and distribution and urban wastewater treatment) and some delegate some water resource management activities, in particular areas or watersheds, to local authorities.  Provincial water management authorities also permit or license most major water uses.

The Federal Government has jurisdiction over protection and conservation of the oceans, fisheries, navigation, and boundary waters shared with the United States. The federal government also has responsibilities for managing water in its own lands (e.g. National Parks), facilities (e.g. office buildings, labs, prisons, military bases), First Nations reserves, as well as Nunavut and Northwest Territories. Management of the water resources in the Yukon was transferred from the federal government to the Government of the Yukon on April 1, 2003. 

The provinces and federal government share responsibilities in the areas of agriculture, significant national water issues and health.

Additional information links:

  • Federal government's responsibilities in Nunavut and Northwest Territories
    • Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's Water Management web page