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Threats to Water Availability in Canada

15. Integrated and Cumulative Threats to Water Availability

Stewart J. Cohen,1 Rob de Loë,2 Alan Hamlet,3 Ross Herrington,4 Linda D. Mortsch5 and Dan Shrubsole6

1 Environment Canada, Meteorological Service of Canada, Adaptation and Impacts Research Group, and University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
2 University of Guelph, Department of Geography, Canada Research Chair in Water Management, Guelph, ON
3 University of Washington, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Seattle, WA
4 Environment Canada, Meteorological Services of Canada, Regina, SK
5 Environment Canada, Meteorological Service of Canada, Adaptation and Impacts Research Group, and University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON
6 University of Western Ontario, Department of Geography, London, ON



The institutions that have guided development of Canada’s water resources have been varied and have evolved in response to different and changing human and biophysical circumstances. Canadians have sought ways to promote development through providing additional storage of water, reducing variability of river flows, and redirecting and utilizing groundwater flows. Only recently have there been concerted efforts to reduce the demand for water. Harnessing water resources has often led to unintended impacts and problems, some of which are described in earlier chapters. Since water is connected through the hydrologic cycle, it is sometimes difficult to manage one water use without significantly affecting another. Many water resource problems can be termed “wicked” or “meta-problems” because they extend beyond the scope of a single government agency and level of government, and are associated with high levels of change, complexity, uncertainty and conflict (Mitchell, 2002). Differences of opinion over the goals to be achieved, and uncertainty and disagreement about the means to solve meta-problems are common. Problems can be chronic or acute, and may be bound or framed in technical, economic, legal, political and social ways. Proposed solutions will be multifaceted; hence information concerning human use and biophysical aspects of water and related resources will be required if decision making is to be adequately informed.

Integrated and cumulative threats to water supply are types of meta-problems. Integrated threats to the water supply are threats that emerge when combinations of stresses occur (e.g., conjunctive groundwater and surface water problems, expected changes in climate and population with associated changes in water demand, simultaneous changes in water uses, etc.). Cumulative threats refer to evolving impacts over time. These emerge slowly and evolve over long periods. The process of attempting to solve these kinds of problems will commonly involve participation of various agencies, possibly from all levels of government, the private sector, users/clients, relevant non-government organizations, and the general public. Furthermore, the problem-solving process may itself evolve over time rather than being predetermined at the outset. Climate change is a good example of a potential cumulative threat.

Previous chapters have dealt with some specific aspects of these meta-problems and have highlighted various uncertainties, complexities, conflicts and changes associated with water quantity challenges. Rather than reviewing all aspects of the problem, this chapter turns its attention to two elements:

  1. A description of how integrated and cumulative threats to water supply can develop. The case of the Columbia basin illustrates the ways in which decisions made by government agencies with relatively narrow mandates and acting independently from one another contributed to the escalation and creation of a meta-problem.
  2. Illustrative examples of agencies that have initiated mechanisms that promote broad approaches to water management. These provide a status report on several current attempts at solving meta-problems. Each agency relies on the best information available to make informed decisions, and on collaboration with other agencies, governments, stakeholders and the public.

Current Status--Recent Experiences in Managing for Integrated and Cumulative Threats

Management plans for future threats will vary within and amongst jurisdictions, and within each watershed. Watershed planning, groundwater management studies, and impact assessment procedures can help formulate decisions. In Canada, provincial governments have primary responsibility for managing natural resources, including water. The federal government has narrower, but important, responsibilities relating to areas such as fisheries, navigation, federal lands, and transboundary matters. Federal, provincial and municipal governments may collect information on natural resources and provide this information to the public. Water resource agencies may regulate or license water-use activities and charge applicable fees.

Governments at all levels have developed processes to ensure that the public interest is well served; however, no “single” perfect management arrangement exists to address and respond to integrated and cumulative problems. It can be difficult to identify a central management authority for each major watershed that could respond effectively to cumulative threats (e.g., globalization effects, climate change, technological change/risks). Meeting such challenges would require a coordinated response among many parties (e.g., hydro, irrigation, flood control, aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, navigation, municipal/domestic/industry) and jurisdictions.

Examples of integrative approaches to water management reflect the ability of institutional arrangements to address integrated and cumulative threats. We present here an overview of water problems in the Columbia River basin, followed by a description of the integrated approaches applied by the Prairie Provinces Water Board, and the Great Lakes Charter.

Example of an Integrated and Cumulative Threat--the Columbia River Basin

A case study of the historical development of the Columbia River basin, and the evolving institutional response to various issues in the basin over time, presents a useful illustration of the importance of the evolution of a cumulative threat, and the formidable challenges associated with defining appropriate problem boundaries for planning, impacts assessment, and institutional response. Figure 1 illustrates how the problem boundaries have expanded since the ratification of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) in 1964. The CRT led to the construction of a reservoir operating system, comprised of several dams in the U.S. and Canada (e.g., Keenleyside, Duncan, Mica, Libby, etc.). The system was oriented toward transboundary aspects of winter dominant hydroelectric production and flood mitigation. Following construction of the four new storage projects authorized by the CRT, and Dworshak Dam 1 (1973) in the U.S., the timing of regulated flow in the Columbia was dramatically altered. Despite far-reaching ecological implications of these changes in flow regime, ecological considerations were not within the institutional problem boundary at the time, and the CRT defined no formal, binational, coordination mechanism for maintaining instream flows for the ecosystem.

Figure 1: Challenge of expanding water management problems: evolution of Columbia basin management issues from 1965 to present
YearBoundary Evolution
~1965Columbia R. Treaty
Flood Control
~1975Altered hydrologic response
Creation of Lake systems in upper basin
Displacement of people
Beginning of major salmon impacts
~1990US Endagered Species Listings for Salmon
Kootenay sturgeon threatened
Columbia Basin Trust
1995 Biological Opinion Proposals for dam removal
~2000Climate variability and change
Aboriginal concerns
Additional US ESA listings
Transboundary issues
Privitization of hydro

The completion of the Libby Dam in 1976 marked the end of the period of major dam construction in the Columbia authorized by the CRT 2 , and the beginning of an evolving awareness of, and institutional response to, the impacts of development. Perhaps the most far reaching of these impacts have been those relating to the Columbia's salmon fishery. While commercial fishing, dam blockage, and habitat destruction had created considerable impacts to salmon stocks in the Columbia prior to the CRT, the completion of the CRT dams and poor ocean survival from 1977 to 1995 quickly brought the salmon issue to a crisis level. Institutional response followed. The Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act (1980) in the U.S. established the equality of hydropower and salmon in the Columbia under U.S. law, and the Northwest Power Planning Council was formed in the U.S. to attempt to establish a more equitable relationship between reservoir operations for hydropower and fish. Despite this legislation and a host of ongoing "engineering" solutions to the salmon problem (e.g., increased use of hatcheries and barging of juvenile fish to the ocean to avoid problems in the freshwater habitat), no substantive adjustments were made to the Columbia's reservoir operating policies until Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings for several salmon stocks in the late 1980s in the U.S. forced an intervention by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which ultimately resulted in some significant changes in the Columbia's reservoir operating policies in 1995 (National Marine Fisheries Service, 1995) and again in 2000 (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2000).

In the 1990s institutional problem boundaries expanded markedly to include the following:

  • protection of additional salmon species in the lower basin, and the Kootenay (Kootenai) River sturgeon listed under the U.S. ESA
  • protection and restoration of riparian and instream habitat
  • increased monitoring and management for water temperature and gas content
  • increased protection of lake ecosystems in the upper basin (in conflict with U.S. instream flow needs)
  • compensation for people displaced or affected by dam construction (e.g., The Columbia Basin Trust)
  • proposed removal of four large run-of-river dams in the lower Snake River
  • impacts of climate variability and climate change
  • proposed changes to water law and water allocation practice for irrigation (e.g., water banks and water markets), and
  • changes in regional and international energy policy (e.g., deregulated energy markets).

Most of the issues listed above have emerged outside the relatively narrow institutional problem boundaries in place less than a decade ago (Bankes, 1996; Volkman, 1997; O’Neil, 1997; Miller, 2000; Cohen et al., 2000). The result is that managers and policy makers on both sides of the international border are being called upon to manage the Columbia's water resources on a more integrated basis, involving ecological, economic, political, and cultural factors within a relatively narrow framework of institutional arrangements that were never designed to encompass these diverse management concerns.

Example of Integrated Approach: Great Lakes Charter

While the Great Lakes is a large freshwater system, it is a finite system and only a small proportion of the waters are renewed annually. Increasing or new consumptive uses such as irrigation, manufacturing and industrial processes, exports (bulk water transfers and bottled water sales) as well as diversions (into and out of the Great Lakes watershed for navigation, municipal water supply and waste assimilation, hydro generation) may have adverse impacts on the sustainability of water resources in the Great Lakes region. Historically, conflicts and controversies have occurred about use and diversion of water from the Great Lakes, particularly at Chicago where the U.S. Supreme Court intervened on several occasions over matters of water quality, navigation, increasing domestic and industrial demand, and diversion for drought mitigation outside the region. Climate change may exacerbate these (Changnon and Glantz, 1996).

In 1983, the Council of Great Lakes Governors created a task force to develop an institutional framework for dealing with diversions of water from the Great Lakes; this framework led to the 1985 Great Lakes Charter. The Charter builds upon the initial intent to “preserve levels and flows” in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. It also recognizes that Great Lakes waters are interconnected and should be treated as a single hydrologic system transcending basin political boundaries, and that multiple uses of the water resource, maintenance of habitat, and balanced ecosystem are interdependent. Water resources management is guided by five principles: integrity of the Great Lakes basin; cooperation between jurisdictions; protection of Great Lakes water resources; prior notice and consultation; and cooperative programs and practices. While the Charter is considered a “soft law” instrument and is not legally binding on the signatories, through consensus and cooperation it does help guide the behaviour of the eight Great Lakes states and two provinces (Saunders, 2000). Most importantly, any major new or increased diversion or consumptive use of Great Lakes basin water requires prior notification, consultation and concurrence of all affected parties. The Charter states that it is the "intent of the signatory states and provinces that diversions of basin water resources will not be allowed if individually or cumulatively they would have any significant adverse impacts on lake levels, in-basin uses and the Great Lakes ecosystem" (Council of Great Lakes Governors, 1985).

Recognizing that implementation of measures to protect the water resources of the Lakes will fall to the signatories, the Charter states that the eight states and two provinces will implement legislation to establish programs to manage and regulate diversions and consumptive uses. Ontario is an example of a jurisdiction that has addressed this commitment. The Ontario Water Taking and Transfer Regulation (Ontario Regulation 285/99), made under the Ontario Water Resources Act (Revised Statutes of Ontario 1990, Chapter O.40), requires that decisions made regarding water allocation through Permits to Take Water “shall ensure that Ontario's obligations under the Great Lakes Charter with respect to the application are complied with (Ontario Regulation 285/99, Section 4)."

A potential application of the Great Lakes Charter may arise in the context of the proposed pipeline from the Great Lakes to the Regional Municipality of Waterloo (RMOW). Pressure on sub-regional water resources (the Grand River basin) comes from urban growth. This has tested the limits of the available supply for several decades. The RMOW, currently 80% groundwater dependent, is planning for a pipeline to one of the Great Lakes by 2035. Low water levels due to recent droughts in 1997 to 1999 and 2001 to 2002 have necessitated water-use restrictions in urban areas, and have created conflicts in areas of heavy irrigation. Threats to water quality originate from agricultural activities, treated wastewater discharges, and industrial and commercial activities (Grand River Conservation Authority, 1998). Wellhead and aquifer protection planning at the local level have emerged as a priority for the Grand River, with the RMOW playing a leading role due to its early experience with contamination of the water supply of the Village of Elmira from N-nitrosodimethylamine in 1989 (Neufeld, 2000). If one is developed, and depending on which lake is the source, this project could be viewed as an interbasin transfer and undermine the intent of the Boundary Waters Treaty--to preserve levels and flows. If other communities within and adjacent to the basin had similar proposals, the cumulative effects on some economic, social and ecological activities could be significant.

In 2001, a Supplementary Agreement to the Great Lakes Charter was signed. It reiterates the commitments under the Charter but commits the Great Lakes states and provinces to prepare a basin-wide binding agreement, establish a decision-making standard for review of proposals, develop public participation, and identify decision-making and dispute-resolution mechanisms (Council of Great Lakes Governors, 2001). This mechanism might anticipate the potential problems with interbasin transfers and provide for an effective and equitable allocation of water resources between instream and withdrawal users. Developing mechanisms and procedures that effectively balance basin-wide interests and needs with regional and local ones is an emerging theme related to cumulative and integrated threats.

The Charter is an innovative example of trans-national cooperation, yet problems exist at the sub-national level (Saunders, 2000). To implement the Charter, signatories agreed to collect common water use and management data, facilitate data exchange, establish a Water Resources Management Committee, develop a Great Lakes Basin Water Resources Management Program, and coordinate research. Some aspects are not fully implemented (International Joint Commission, 2000). Deficiencies in the water use data make accurate accounting difficult. The trigger level for notification of water diversion or consumptive use projects (greater than 19 million litres per day over a 30-day period) is high; smaller projects can have cumulative impacts but are not addressed. While affected parties must be notified and consulted on diversions, they lack a veto for projects.

Example of an Integrated Approach: Prairie Provinces Water Board

Runoff from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains is the major source for the larger southern rivers of the Prairie Provinces. These larger rivers flow eastward across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to empty into the Hudson Bay. Some streams originate off the Prairies and from heights of land, such as the Cypress Hills. These streams may also flow east across provincial boundaries before joining the larger rivers or forming landlocked lakes. Ownership of the waters of a river system flowing through two or more jurisdictions can give rise to many administrative and water-use problems.

In 1948, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Canada agreed to establish the Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB) to recommend the best use of interprovincial waters in relation to associated resources in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and to recommend allocation of water between each province for streams flowing from one province into another.

In 1969, the four governments entered into the Master Agreement on Apportionment to provide an apportionment formula for eastward flowing interprovincial streams, to recognize the problem of water quality, and to reconstitute the PPWB to administer the Agreement. The Master Agreement was amended in 1984 to clarify apportionment arrangements for the Battle, Lodge and Middle creeks, which are international as well as interprovincial streams: in 1992 to add a Water Quality Agreement, and in 1999 to define interprovincial lakes as water courses under the Agreement.

The Master Agreement is based on the principle of equitable sharing of available water in the Prairies. The formula generally states that each province may use one half of the natural flow of water originating within its boundaries and one half of any flow entering the province. Natural flow is broadly defined as the volume of flow that would occur if a river had not been affected by human activity. The Agreement also allows comparing water quality at interprovincial boundaries to acceptable levels, and facilitates a cooperative approach for the integrated development and management of interprovincial streams and aquifers to ensure their sustainability for the benefit of the people of the Prairie Provinces.

The PPWB Secretariat performs the day-to-day work of the Board, with its office in Regina. The Secretariat, made up of Environment Canada staff, reviews and analyzes monitoring data, calculates natural flow at the boundaries, determines conformity with water quality objectives, and reports on apportionment and water quality at the interprovincial boundaries. The PPWB has three permanent committees on water quantity, water quality and groundwater to assist in technical work and to provide advice to the Board.

Environment Canada fulfills the monitoring conditions described under the Master Agreement and provides information from 75 long-term water quantity monitoring stations, 16 meteorological stations and 12 water quality monitoring sites. Other agencies provide information from an additional 13 water quantity monitoring stations. This information is used to calculate natural flows and levels of water quality parameters.

The values calculated for 14 water quantity and 12 water quality monitoring sites along the Alberta-Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan-Manitoba borders are used by the PPWB to decide whether or not requirements of the Agreement are being met. Although the Agreement applies to all eastward flowing interprovincial streams, formal apportionment calculations are only done for streams with significant water use.

Since being signed, the Master Agreement on Apportionment has allowed the equitable sharing and protection of interprovincial streams while developing a consensus approach to preventing interprovincial surface and ground water problems. The PPWB has always sought a consensus of its members, so provincial governments, the primary regulator of water supplies, have always complied with the Agreement. Therefore, the Master Agreement could be considered a model for dealing with interjurisdictional issues.

City of Guelph outside water use program, in "Level 2 Red." | Photo: Charles Priddle

Trends in Management, Planning and Research

From an initial reliance exclusively on supply management (e.g., reservoir expansion), the recent trend in areas with tight supplies appears to have an increasing emphasis on demand management options (e.g., metering, pricing, information campaigns). Regarding water allocation, the focus had been more on withdrawals than instream issues, and instream concerns in managed waterways focussed on navigation, recreation and dilution of pollutants. In natural rivers, instream flow (in allocation criteria) has often been defined by probability of minimum flow (Pearce et al., 1985). This definition is now changing toward a broader concept that incorporates ecosystem requirements, as illustrated in the South Saskatchewan River case discussed below.

Research priorities and changes in institutional arrangements have frequently been related to changes in the resource itself, such as immediate threats of inadequate supply, conflicts among users, and threats to human health (e.g., contamination of the municipal water supply in Walkerton, Ontario, in 2000). A broad list of emerging drivers includes external forces, such as climate change, globalization, perceived need for sustainability, etc., and domestic forces, such as land-use change, land-use intensification, changing government structures, and ageing infrastructure (Fig. 2). The process evolving to address challenges posed by various drivers includes institutional change and new consultation and assessment procedures.

Figure 2. Framework for evaluating and responding to cumulative threats to water supply.
DriversClimate variability
Climate change
Technological change
Changing government structures
Population growth
Land use changes
Land use intensification
Aging infrastructure
Changing water demand
Perceived need for "sustainability"
Data acquisition
Impacts assessment
Investigative research
Long-term planning
Economic analysis
Policy analysis
ResponseIntervention to avoid potential
disruption of existing institutional
arrangements and/or degraded
effectiveness of management
systems or infrastructure, or to
increase robustness of existing
institutions and management
systems in the face of uncertain
cumulative threats.

Potential impacts of climate change on water resources systems have presented special challenges to the water management community because the impacts are uncertain, cumulative in nature, and will probably evolve over a very long time horizon. Ongoing efforts to find appropriate institutional responses to the potential impacts of climate change may serve as an illustration of the challenges involved in attempting to include integrated effects of uncertain cumulative drivers in long-range planning. In the research community, climate change research is moving beyond sensitivity studies based on assessments of hydrologic impacts to include increased emphasis on integrated assessment, incorporating institutional and socio-economic considerations (e.g., Okanagan/Columbia--Cohen et al., 2000; Miles et al., 2000; Hamlet, 2003; Cohen and Neale, 2003). Dialogue on cumulative issues such as climate change is also increasingly evident in professional and umbrella organizations, including the Canadian Water Resources Association, American Water Resources Association, British Columbia Water Supply Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and within regional watershed groups (e.g., Fraser Basin Council). In the U.S., a few recent planning exercises in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., Palmer and Hahn, 2003) and in California (State Water Plan, Bulletin 160-03) have begun the process of integrating climate change scenarios with more traditional elements of long-term planning. Experience gained in these first attempts may help to provide a road map for similar studies in other areas of the U.S. and in Canada.

Example of Broader Management: South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Management Plan – Alberta

The South Saskatchewan River comprises part of the Saskatchewan River basin. As noted earlier, water apportionment among the Prairie Provinces is guided by the Prairie Provinces Water Board. Water allocation within the Province of Alberta is the responsibility of Alberta Environment, and is guided by the doctrine of prior appropriation. Water rights were traditionally assigned to users with limited consideration for instream water uses. This shortcoming has been addressed in an incremental manner over the last 25 years in response to an increased awareness to maintain instream flows, increased competition among water users, and recent periods of low water flows. At that time, the government introduced, among other measures, water trading.

In response to continued demands on the water resources of the South Saskatchewan River basin (SSRB), Alberta is developing a SSRB Water Management Plan. Phase I of the SSRB Water Management Plan, completed in June 2002 (Alberta Environment, 2002), has the following attributes:

  • authorizes a designated “Director” to consider applications for water allocation transfers and to use water conservation holdbacks
  • provides guidance to the Director on matters to be considered when reviewing an application for a water allocation transfer
  • provides information to the Director on water conservation holdbacks, and an interim closure of the Oldman River’s southern tributaries to new allocations, and
  • commits Alberta Environment to a number of actions, including an additional phase of water management planning for the establishment of water conservation objectives.

The second phase of the Water Management Plan will focus on determining requirements for human needs and the needs of the aquatic environment. The key goal of the second phase will be to reach compromises between these competing interests and make wise choices. The second phase is scheduled for completion in early 2004.

Alberta is also undertaking a southern Alberta Regional Strategy that will develop a vision of the future for Southern Alberta and the desired environmental, social, and economic benefits for the region. Alberta then will address the issues and follow a plan to achieve the vision. The first phase, Defining the Agenda, will appraise the current state of the region, identify a vision, goals, and principles for sustainable development, make policy recommendations and identify key issues to be addressed, and in what order of priority. Phase 1 will compile air, water, land-use and socio-economic data, build landscape modelling and simulation tools, and gather information about important resource sectors. Phase 1 should be completed before the summer of 2003.


Recent experiences with water meta-problems can be summarized as follows:

  1. cumulative threats to watersheds can result from fragmented decision making
  2. there are good examples of integrated management approaches for a number of Canadian watersheds, and
  3. research and dialogue are expanding, but there is a need to broaden the range of tools available, including those that support demand-side management, and to apply these throughout Canada.

Knowledge and Program Needs

A general framework for generating policy and management responses to integrated and cumulative threats is shown in Fig. 2. The process includes a wide range of technical, economic and social analyses. Measures of performance for management activities may include ecosystem health, human health, economic measures, long-term sustainability, and whether expectations of stakeholders have been met.

The focus of this chapter is on management aspects of addressing integrated and cumulative threats. One overarching question is whether this framework is able to address future challenges (e.g., population growth, globalization impacts on regional development, climate change, etc.) that water systems and institutions may be unable to plan for. Management issues have been generated as a result of human demands to use water resources. In response, governments have developed institutional arrangements to promote further economic development by providing secure water supplies or to allocate water among users (municipal, industrial and rural uses, navigation, electric power production, and low flow augmentation). However, if a change in operating conditions occurs (e.g., due to new facilities, climate change, etc.), and reservoir rule curves or allocation systems no longer work as they were originally intended, a lengthy decision-making process would be needed to make changes. Examples include the IJC levels order for Kootenay Lake within the Columbia system (Bankes, 1996), and regulation plans for lakes Superior and Ontario (Sousounis and Bisanz, 2000; Mortsch et al., 2000).

New Questions?

Questions arising from this chapter include:

  • how sustainable are Canada's groundwater and surface water resources in the context of the past 250 years of climate variability and potential changes in climate expected in the next 100 years? How do we measure sustainability? Are the uncertainties so large that we cannot answer the question in any meaningful way? If so, what then?
  • how (and on what basis--e.g., economic, social considerations) can water best be allocated between competing uses and users of water?
  • how should instream flow requirements be determined and managed (tradeoffs between ecological considerations and human needs)?
  • how can more flexible water management institutions be developed that can respond to changing conditions without recursive policy intervention as unanticipated problems emerge?
  • how can issues of governance be addressed in water management to ensure that institutional fragmentation does not dominate response capability to changing conditions?
  • what role can technological innovations play in coping with increasing demand and limited supplies? Where will different technologies find their best application and at what cost?, and
  • what formal linkages between water resources planning and land-use planning are needed to ensure sustainability?


In conclusion, our main recommendations for addressing integrated and cumulative threats to water availability in Canada are that government and non-government water interests should:

1. Assess integrated and cumulative threats and create appropriate linkages to water planning and management

At the broadest level, there is a need to identify and assess more fully the integrated and cumulative threats deriving from all the individual threats identified in other chapters of this book, and to use this information effectively in water resources planning and management at the river basin, provincial, national, and international levels of governance.

2. Make dialogue an explicit tool of management

Water resources managers and planners frequently involve, collaborate and partner with stakeholders for a variety of reasons. Given the expanding complexity of water meta-problems, regular dialogue with stakeholders provides opportunities to expand the knowledge base beyond discussions on the physical attributes of a water system. This will facilitate a broader framing of the problems at hand. The challenge is to create processes that can assess and possibly improve the capacity of government and non-government bodies to manage effectively for cumulative threats. This includes: (i) identifying various forms of partnerships and their relative strengths and weaknesses; (ii) assessing the capacity of government and non-government partners to enter into partnerships; (iii) determining factors that support effective partnerships; and (iv) ensuring that appropriate levels of accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, and equity are maintained in the management of water quantity.

At a program level, there is a need to clearly define the role of governments in building capacity among relevant non-government partners, and to provide training in group processes and conflict resolution strategies to improve the effectiveness of institutional arrangements and interactions with stakeholders.

3. Utilize a broader range of policy instruments

A broad range of choice to solve problems has been one indicator of effective water management; however, programs have often become dominated by one approach, as illustrated in the construction of reservoirs in the Columbia River. There are a range of well-known options that can support demand-side management, including information campaigns, subsidies for applying new technology (e.g., drip irrigation), regulation, and pricing structures for public and private delivery of services.

On a practical level, program needs involve ensuring that financing projects does not bias one approach over effective alternative solutions; and that the direct and indirect impacts of implementation are carefully considered. In the absence of the latter, unintended consequences will have to be "fixed" continually, as evidenced in the Columbia basin.

4. Give consideration to equity and sustainability in decision making

Traditional measures of effectiveness and efficiency that have dominated the establishment of program goals and program evaluation frequently have a relatively short time horizon. The concept of sustainable development challenges us to broaden these criteria to embrace measures of meeting intergenerational needs. In the absence of further technological developments that might decrease water demand or provide alternative supplies, increased demands on water resources also promote the need to devote more attention to fair treatment of water users in both the decision-making process and the final decisions concerning water allocation. This aspect is highlighted by the treatment of aboriginal communities in Canada who may resort to the legal system to assert their rights to adequate water supplies. For example, Rush (2002) described a claim to a water right made by the Piikani Nation under Treaty 7 to the water of the Oldman River flowing through the reserve in southern Alberta. Although no Canadian Court has decided a case involving a claim to water rights, Rush (2002) maintained that the case law developed to date in Canada in relation to land might support the existence of aboriginal rights to water. In 2002, a negotiated settlement between the Alberta Government and the Piikani included the following:

  • payment of $64.3 million in settlement funds to be paid into trust
  • annual pay-out of $800,000 (indexed to inflation)
  • estimated $125 million in revenues over next 50 years generated on the trust
  • $3000 per capita distribution to Piikani members
  • Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District (LNID) canal lands to be transferred to Alberta
  • assured water supply from the instream of the Oldman River to meet residential, community, and agricultural needs; and allocation of 37,000 acre feet of water under Alberta Water legislation for the Band’s commercial needs
  • participation in the Oldman River Dam Hydro Project
  • settlement of nine specific claims against Canada (for $32.17 million)
  • discontinuance of water rights litigation by Piikani
  • discontinuance of claims in respect of LNID headworks
  • Piikani agreement not to bring forward any other litigation for so long as Alberta needs the LNID headworks for diversion of water from Oldman river, and
  • no prior or superior entitlement to water.

    Aboriginal communities who wish to seek the support of the courts in ensuring their water rights might file similar legal suits in the future.

5. Increase the capacity of institutions to respond

Capacity building has been defined as increasing the ability of people and institutions to do what is expected and required of them. Over the past 10 to 15 years, the roles, expectations and requirements of government and non-government participants and the public in water management have changed. Capacity is based on several sectoral factors, including access to technical resources (data, skill, staff); availability of financial resources; quality of institutional arrangements; extent to which citizens are involved in decision making; and leadership (de Loë et al., 2002). These various dimensions of capacity are closely interrelated. As responsibilities shift among the various parties involved in water management, and as new challenges emerge, attention should be directed to the capacity of organizations and communities. Capacity building is thus emerging as an important feature of water management.

To complement ongoing research on the hydrologic cycle itself, or on improving supply and demand planning and management, future research should consider the drivers that influence the resource as well as the region’s management capabilities. In addition, since many watersheds in Canada cross provincial and international borders, Canada, in collaboration with regional partners and the International Joint Commission, should systematically review various models of interjurisdictional water management.

6. Increase the investment in databases and improve access to data

Canada, in collaboration with regional partners, has invested in a long-term water quantity monitoring system. Some short-term information is also available for water demand and water chemistry. Little information is available on aquatic and riparian biology.

Since the major users of water information may not collect the data, access to information collected at public expense is a major issue. But it is not an easy task to create and maintain detailed databases. Investment in database infrastructure will require a range of stakeholders. The water management community as a whole (stakeholders, managers, administrators, policy makers) should consider how best to create such partnerships. The evaluation of integrated and cumulative threats to water availability may require many different kinds of data from a wide variety of sources.

7. Broaden the research effort

A review of water resources research was completed as part of the 1985 Inquiry into Federal Water Policy (Pearce et al., 1985). Among its many findings, it suggested the following:

  • Canada had a record of providing only modest support for water research of most kinds
  • water quality research had received the majority of federal funding, and much of it focussed on Ontario and Quebec
  • groundwater and efficiency of water use were two topics requiring further study, and
  • much of the research was oriented towards engineering and natural science relative to the social sciences.

Research developments since that time have been mixed. On the one hand, the NSERC Canada Research Chair program and the Networks for Centres of Excellence have promoted water-oriented research at universities. What is less clear is to what extent these and other initiatives address water quantity concerns, especially from social science perspectives. The capacity of governments to undertake research has diminished as a result of cutbacks in the 1990s. The state of water resources research in Canada should be revisited to determine what, if any, progress has been made since the 1985 Federal Water Inquiry, and to identify future opportunities.

We have not attempted to rank these in order of importance. We hope that as these recommendations are considered, a consensus can be reached on how they may be implemented in watersheds throughout Canada.


The authors would like to thank external reviewer Peter Gleick, and internal reviewers for their constructive assessment of this chapter.


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Bankes, N. 1996. The Columbia basin and the Columbia River Treaty: Canadian perspectives in the 1990s. Faculty of Law, University of Calgary, submitted to Northwest Water Law and Policy Project.

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1 Although Dworshak Dam was completed before Libby Dam, Dworshak's construction was not directly associated with the CRT. RETURN

2 Several non-CRT dams were constructed later. BC Hydro constructed Revelstoke Dam as a run-of-river facility below the Mica Dam in 1984 (Bankes, 1996). In the Okanagan, the U.S. built the Zosel Dam in 1987, just south of Osoyoos Lake. RETURN

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