3.2 Water protection and conservation

Freshwater is the lifeblood of Earth. Protecting and conserving freshwater is a major political challenge for the 21st century. Looking down from space, one sees that Canada encompasses one of the Earth’s most freshwater-abundant regions. On the ground, however, the story is different. Our water use is geographically concentrated; 60% of our water flows north while over 90% of our population is concentrated along our southern border. Sadly, Canadians are among the world’s most inefficient users of water, wasting more water per capita than any other nation on Earth except for the United States. While Europe has considerably reduced its water consumption, Canadians continue to put a heavy strain on water infrastructures and drain our valuable freshwater reserves.

As stewards of 9% of the world’s renewable water, we are ethically bound to conserving it for this and future generations. Ground water in Canada makes up over 90% of Canada’s fresh water. This resource is being exploited by oil and gas activities all across Canada with little to no knowledge of the impacts to major aquifers that are supported by the surface water. While most citizens have access to safe water, Health Canada indicates that as many as 85 First Nations communities (under the sole jurisdiction of the federal government) are under boil-water advisories. As our population, economic activities, and communities grow, water problems will become increasingly common. Some, like Walkerton and Kashechewan, are related to water quality; others, like recent droughts in the prairies and southern Ontario, are water quantity issues; some span provincial borders; others national borders. All speak to a need for renewed attention to national water policy developed by the federal government in partnership with provinces, territories, First Nations, NGOs, and municipalities.

Sustainable communities and sustainable livelihoods need healthy watersheds. The Green Party is committed to responsible water stewardship. That includes protecting watersheds from industrial and urban activities and restoring those that have been damaged by such activities. We advocate a renewed federal government role in water management, focused on strong regulations and programs created in collaboration with provincial and municipal governments. When it comes to our vision for freshwater, the Green message is clear: Keep it. Conserve it. Protect it.

  • Keep it. Pressure is mounting to export freshwater south of the border, with trade agreements such as the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) leaving us susceptible to relinquishing control over our water. The Green Party supports current Federal Water Policy that emphatically opposes large-scale exports (bulk exports) of our freshwater.

  • Conserve it. The federal government must work to ensure sustainable use of our water resources and at the same time maintain and improve access to safe water for all Canadians. This includes water metering and pricing that both reflect a fair value for water and foster efficient use, and regulations that protect and enhance water quality and ensure that Canada does not become a haven for water-wasting industrial technologies.

  • Protect it. To protect and restore freshwater ecosystems and their ecological services (e.g. as habitats for fish and freshwater species, as domestic water supplies for energy-generation and recreation, as sources of water for irrigation and other economic uses) the federal government has to use its powers, including the Fisheries Act, and its role in inter-jurisdictional water sharing. This is especially important when considering the changes in quality and quantity of Canada’s freshwater that will occur due to climate change. The Great Lakes’ levels will fall, resulting in higher concentrations of toxic chemicals and other pollutants. B.C. rivers will become over-heated, preventing salmon spawning; and farmers will face increasing drought. The Athabasca River is already experiencing significant declines in flow and water quality due to climatic impacts and oil sands developments.

The federal government needs to ensure that watershed protection is the first priority of water protection and establish in-stream flow needs in every 1st and 2nd order stream in Canada. Ecological function of river basins must be protected through strict land use management in those river basins.

Green Party MPs will:

  • Protect the fundamental right to clean freshwater for all Canadians today and in future generations by amending the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to enshrine the right of future Canadians to an ecological heritage that includes breathable air and drinkable water;

  • Establish a Canada Water Fund of $215 million per year for five years to focus on long-term watershed health, alleviating the problem of run-off of pollutants and nutrients, and to fund the continuation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Protocol;

  • Push government to strategically implement the 1987 Federal Water Policy to meet the requirements of sustainable water management – equity, efficiency, and ecological integrity – by:

    1. Passing federal legislation to prohibit bulk water exports, building on the current law banning exports from transboundary basins, and immediately remove water from the scope of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) currently being negotiated;

    2. Take action to prevent radioactive waste shipments such as the highly radioactive worn out steam generators from nuclear reactors approved to be shipped out of the Owen Sound harbour, through the St. Lawrence Seaway and to Sweden;

    3. Establishing regulations and product standards to promote water-efficient technologies in Canada;

    4. Ensuring secure, safe water supplies for all citizens, with a focus on First Nations communities, through establishing regulations requiring protection of drinking water at its source, public inspection of domestic water supplies, and mandatory and regular drinking water testing;

    5. Provide funding to municipalities through a new ‘Water and Waste Treatment Facilities Municipal Superfund’ (see Section 1.14 Infrastructure and Communities for more on federal-municipal relations) to enable replacement of chlorination systems with ozonation, ultraviolet sterilization, sand filtration, and other safe water purification systems;

    6. Conduct an inventory of all polluted groundwater and water bodies. Develop and implement strategies for cleaning them;

    7. Enhance the capacity of federal departments and agencies to protect and restore the health of aquatic ecosystems.

  • Ensure that water is managed in a way that helps create healthy, sustainable communities and fosters sustainable livelihoods by demanding that government:

    1. Replace federal guidelines for drinking water quality with binding national standards that secure clean drinking water and human health;

    2. Make federal funding for urban water infrastructure contingent on water efficiency plans that include measurable and enforceable goals and objectives;

    3. Provide adequate funding for local and regional flood protection and drought management planning;

    4. Provide strategic climate change program funding for water conservation on the basis that water conservation results in energy savings and reduced GHG emissions;

    5. Revive the InfraGuide program providing internships in leading-edge municipal infrastructure projects;

    6. Shift subsidies and funding away from dams and diversions (including feasibility studies) toward comprehensive ‘ground to the glass’ drinking water protection strategies, especially source water protection, watershed restoration, and community-based water conservation and efficiency planning and programs;

    7. Review federal agricultural subsidies and develop transitional strategies to shift production away from water-intensive crops toward less water-intensive local sustainable agriculture.

  • Address inter-provincial/territorial and international water-related concerns by demanding that government:

    1. Restore ecosystem health to Canada’s coastline and inland watersheds by funding improvements to municipal wastewater treatment systems, with particular emphasis on ensuring shoreline communities and industries stop dumping untreated waste into rivers, lakes, and oceans;

    2. Ensure that binding water-sharing agreements among provincial, territorial and federal governments are created within the Mackenzie Basin (within one year). The agreements must reflect contemporary scientific knowledge and principles of social equity, efficiency and ecological integrity. Elements to include:

      • Capping withdrawals from the Athabasca River based on assessment of instream flow needs;

      • Ensuring oil sands developers deal responsibly with polluted waters in oil sands tailings storage ponds (the largest man-made structures on Earth);

      • Placing a moratorium on further oil sands development (i.e. increases in annual production).

    3. Review the Prairie Provinces Water Board Master Agreement on Apportionment to ensure it is consistent with contemporary scientific knowledge and principles of social equity, efficiency, and ecological integrity;

    4. Address invasive species in the Great Lakes by developing stringent, science-based protocols for ballast water flushing prior to entering the St. Lawrence waterway, and funding for monitoring and enforcement of these protocols;

    5. Strengthen the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to ensure it deals with emerging issues such as endocrine disrupters and pharmaceuticals.

  • Support international momentum for the human right to water by establishing a national legally binding human right to basic water requirements for all Canadians (both quality and quantity);

  • Increase Canadian aid for access to basic water requirements and sanitation consistent with the Millennium Development Goals;

  • Fulfill the need to increase science capacity related to water issues by demanding the government:

    • Enhance funding for data collection and integrated information systems on water use, availability and quality;

    • Link research spending in the natural and social sciences to water policy goals to ensure our higher education institutions create the knowledge base needed for 21st century water management (e.g. emerging issues such as endocrine disrupters, pharmaceuticals and toxics, instream flows and sustainable groundwater yield, climate change adaptation).