Rural Water Resources Planner: Federal Departments

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Federal Departments

The federal government has jurisdiction over protection and conservation of the oceans, fisheries, navigation, and boundary waters shared with the United StatesThe 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 federal government shares responsibilities, in the areas of agriculture, significant national water issues and health, with the provincial governments.

Over 20 federal departments and agencies are involved in water management activities; however, the primary responsibility for federal water management rests with five departments: Environment Canada, Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The following menu links to information for these and other federal departments:

Environment Canada

Environment Canada is the lead federal department for water management. It administers the Canada Water Act which provides for the management of Canada's water resources and for formal consultation and agreements with the provinces.

Environment Canada's Water webpage provides access to comprehensive information on the nature of water, water governance and legislation, the management of water, water pollution, quality and quantity, water sources and use, and water-related publications. The webpage also provides information on environment-related water issues over which Environment Canada has jurisdiction and acts as a portal to water information on other Canadian and international websites. 

Other areas of the website include:

  • RésEau is a demonstration initiative that focuses on provision of water information. The interactive web portal provides access to water data, interpreted information, tools, and services to facilitate the interconnection of water information from distributed sources, to promote a greater understanding of complex water issues for enhanced decision making. 
  • The Water Survey of Canada is the national authority that is responsible for collection, interpretation, and dissemination of surface water quantity data and information. 
The agency website provides access to water resource data and information in Canada. This includes access to HYDAT which is Canada's national archive for water quantity data, access to real time data for over 1200 stations in Canada, and linkages to provincial agencies that are responsible for water policy and legislation.

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Health Canada

Although the provincial governments are generally responsible for ensuring that water supplies are safe, the federal government through Health Canada also has some responsibilities in this area.

Health Canada's role includes:

Details of Health Canada's role can be found on their Water Quality page and specific water quality topics can be accessed from the A-Z Index.

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National Resources Canada

Although Natural Resources Canada's (NRCAN) contributions related to freshwater data collection and interpretation are modest in comparison to other agencies, their activities are quite varied and diverse in other areas pertaining to surface water. Key surface water related activities include water resource mapping, source water composition and protection, climate change impacts, riparian zone and forest ecology and hydrology, small hydro development and hazard mapping. 

Resource materials include:

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Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) leads the management of Canada's fisheries and develops programs and implements policies supporting scientific, ecological, social and economic interests in the oceans and freshwaters.  

DFO is also responsible for safe and accessible waterways through its Special Operating Agency, the Canadian Coast Guard

DFO's guiding legislation is the Oceans Act and the Fisheries Act.

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Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Agriculture is a major water user in Canada and water management is critical for agricultural sustainability. 

Although Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has no regulatory responsibilities for water, the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA), established in 1935, had an active role in water development and water management infrastructure, primarily on the Canadian Prairie Provinces. PFRA worked cooperatively with three provinces and planned, designed and developed a large number of water storage, management and control structures. In Manitoba PFRA developed most the provincial water supply structures and some of the larger flood control works (e.g. Shellmouth Dam, Assiniboine River Dykes). (More information on PFRA dams)

PFRA applied its expertise in the biological, geological and engineering disciplines to ensure secure supplies of good water quality and water infrastructure for agriculture and rural water supplies. Assistance was available for regional initiatives such as ground water exploration and mapping, community water conservation and supply projects, basin studies, water supply pipelines and tank-loader facilities. PFRA also provided technical assistance in the planning, investigation and design of water supply projects, including wells, dugouts, springs, rural water pipelines and water quality enhancement projects.

PFRA was integrated into the Agri-Environment Services Branch (AESB) in April 2009. The AESB continued to work with the provinces and territories and various other stakeholders to address agriculture water-related issues and protect the environment. The work included the provision of services and information on surface and groundwater development, quality, treatment and protection; livestock watering and watershed protection. 

AAFC ended its water engineering services and activities in 2013.

Information on agricultural water use in Canada can be found in the AAFC report The Health of our Water - Toward Sustainable Agriculture in Canada, 2000 (PDF).

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Other Federal Departments

Statistics Canada

Statistics Canada produces statistics to help Canadians understand their water resources. The information available includes availability, demand, distribution, use and quality of water.  A statistical portrait of Canada's fresh water resources is provided on the Human Activity and the Environment webpage.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) shares the responsibility for the provision of water and wastewater services to First Nations, with the Band Councils, Health Canada and Environment Canada, as described on the Roles and Responsibilities webpage.

AANDC also has the responsibility for management of the water resources of  Nunavut and the Northwest Territories as discussed on the Water Management page.