Export of Water

Res #: 3-02M
Number: 3
Year: 2002
Midterm: Yes
Expired: Yes
Responses Received: No
Departments: Matters Pertaining to SARM

Resolution 3-02M 

WHEREAS, water resources are essential to the long term sustainability of countries; and 

WHEREAS, there have been movements towards the sale of water from Canada through bulk water exports;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the SARM Board, in cooperation with the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities), investigate this issue and report back to the members at the Spring Convention.

Response from SARM:

In 1987 the Federal Government implemented its Federal Water Policy that committed the federal government to, among other things, preventing large-scale removal of water by inter-basin diversions. Proposed legislation to that effect died on the order paper when an election was called. Nothing else was done for the next decade.

In February of 1999, the Federal Government announced a new strategy to prohibit the bulk removal of water, including water for export from Canadian watersheds. The strategy is based on principles of sustainable watershed management and is in keeping Canada's international trade obligations.

The strategy on bulk water removals comprises the following three components:

1) Amendments to the International Boundary Water Treaties Act (IBWTA). These amendments received Royal Assent in December, 2001 and came into force in December, 2002. The Act establishes a licensing system for projects affecting waters that run along the Canada-US border. The related regulations also came into force in December, 2002. They limit the prohibition to the removal of waters in bulk, which is defined as being more than 50,000 litres/day (about the size of a tanker truck and trailer), or removals by diversion. They also define the water basins to which the removal prohibition applies.

2) Joint reference, with the United States, to the International Joint Commission (IJC)

3) A Canada-wide accord on bulk water removals.

The federal government is working with the three territories to prohibit the removal of waters in the north. All provinces either have in place or are developing legislation or regulations that prohibit the bulk removal of water. In Saskatchewan, The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority Act was passed, effective October 1, 2002. It prohibits the transferring of water out of a watershed, except within Saskatchewan, or when packaged in containers less than the prescribed capacity.

Although the Government of Canada's policy officially opposing large scale exports has been in place since 1987, the public remains concerned over the possibility of such exports under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to the Government of Canada, water in its natural state (ie lakes and rivers) is exempt under NAFTA. If water, in any form, has entered into commerce and become a good or product, it is covered by NAFTA.

A closely related issue arising from trade agreements is the establishment of a precedent with national implications as a result of the export from one jurisdiction. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) is of the opinion that nothing under Canada's international trade obligations would require future projects for the removal of bulk exports be given approval.

The amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and regulations, as well as the passing of The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority Act will help to protect boundary waters from bulk water removals. However, uncertainty persists as to whether the NAFTA may constrain the ability of federal and provincial governments to prohibit bulk water exports.