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Canada Water Act Annual Report for April 2010 to March 2011

Executive summary

The Canada Water Act provides an enabling framework for joint consultation and partnering among the federal and provincial/territorial governments in matters relating to water resources. This annual report on the Canada Water Act highlights Environment Canada's activities under the Act from April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011.

The fall 2010 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) included the findings of an audit of Environment Canada's water monitoring resources. The Department has put in place an action plan to fulfill its commitment to meet the recommendations presented in the report.

Hydrometric agreements have been administered as cooperative endeavours between most provincial governments and the federal government since 1975. These agreements provide for the collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of water quantity data. During 2010–2011, Environment Canada's Water Survey of Canada (WSC), the federal partner in the National Hydrometric Program, continued to operate 2300 hydrometric stations in Canada, of which approximately 1000 are federal stations; the remaining stations are operated on behalf of the provincial and territorial partners. ­There were no significant changes to the size of the national hydrometric network, although the network did undergo some adjustments. Work also continued on outreach, technology development and maintaining the program's International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification. Notably, the Department launched its Wateroffice website, which provides public access to real-time hydrometric data. In 2010–2011, the WSC continued to provide assistance during flood events, many of which occurred as a result of extreme weather conditions such as heavy rains.

The Okanagan Basin Water Supply and Demand Project continued to evaluate present and future water needs and availability, which included assessing the effects of climate change impacts, population growth and water conservation measures.

The Water Availability Indicator was developed by a federal interdepartmental working group, led by Environment Canada, to describe water availability across the country. The first nationwide results of the initiative, released in 2010–2011, indicate that the overall threat to water availability is low across the country; however, in some areas, such as the Okanagan Valley, the southern Prairies and southwestern Ontario, water availability is a concern.

Environment Canada collaborated on water quality monitoring under agreements with British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. Cooperative water quality monitoring in Quebec is conducted through mechanisms similar to those used in the St. Lawrence Plan (terminated in March 2010, but a new plan was under negotiation as of publication of this report). In 2010–2011, measurements at numerous water quality monitoring stations for groundwater, inland freshwater and transboundary waters were used to assess and report on status and trends, and to evaluate the progress of protection and remediation programs. Benthic and aquatic habitat monitoring was also undertaken as part of the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network, which provides a nationally standardized protocol for the collection, identification and reporting of data.

Federal–provincial/territorial water quality data, as well as data from numerous other federal sites, contribute to the calculation of the Water Quality Index, which the federal government publishes as one of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI). The 2010 CESI report is based on data collected from 2006 to 2008. Freshwater quality measured at 176 river stations across Canada was rated as “good” or “excellent” at 42% of sites, “fair” at 40%, and “marginal” or “poor” at 18%.

This report includes summaries of the 2010–2011 activities of four inter-jurisdictional water boards: the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, the Prairie Provinces Water Board, the Mackenzie River Basin Board, and the Lake of the Woods Control Board. These boards tailored their activities to the needs in each region. These activities address issues such as the integrated management of reservoirs, flood protection, transboundary apportionment, water quality, relations between adjoining jurisdictions and development activities.

The report also describes a variety of partnership-based, ecosystem approaches through which Environment Canada works to ensure that Canadians have access to clean, safe and healthy water, and that the country's water resources are used wisely, both economically and ecologically. These approaches include three ecosystem initiatives (Great Lakes Program, St. Lawrence Plan, and Atlantic Ecosystem Initiatives), the Action Plan for Clean Water, and the Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Cooperation in Atlantic Canada.

In 2010–2011 the governments of Canada and Ontario extended the Canada–Ontario Agreement to June 2012, and added six new commitments to maintain momentum on the restoration, protection and conservation of the Great Lakes, while negotiations proceed between the federal governments of Canada and the United States to amend and strengthen the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Canadian Federal Great Lakes Program, a partnership of federal departments, provides the framework for working toward Canada's commitments under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Canada's activities are integrated with those of Ontario through the Canada–Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem, which outlines how the two governments will cooperate and coordinate their efforts to restore, protect and conserve the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. Highlights of actions in 2010–2011 include a wide range of research, monitoring and restoration projects in Great Lakes Areas of Concern through the Great Lakes Action Plan and the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative; projects to reduce the amount of nutrients, solids and bacteria entering watercourses; and research in support of Canada–U.S. Lakewide Management Plans.

The St. Lawrence Plan, initiated in 1988, is a Canada–Quebec Ecosystem Initiative to protect, conserve and restore the St. Lawrence River ecosystem. The 2005–2010 Canada–Quebec Agreement on the St. Lawrence signed between the federal government and the Province of Quebec ended on March 31, 2010. The Government of Canada has since been negotiating with the Government of Quebec to define the terms of a new agreement. Although 2010–2011 was a transitional year, given that the previous agreement has expired and a new agreement is being negotiated, a network of governmental and non-governmental partners pursued various programs, such as the Priority Intervention Zone (ZIP) Program, the Community Interaction Program, and the Monitoring the State of the St. Lawrence River Program, and a number of activities such as monitoring shore erosion and invasive alien species, restoring and improving wetlands, and publishing fact sheets and reports on the health of the St. Lawrence ecosystem.

The Atlantic Ecosystem Initiatives implements an ecosystem-based approach to environmental management through internal engagement, external engagement and the Atlantic Coastal Action Program, a unique community-based partnership program between Environment Canada and 16 multi-stakeholder community organizations and four regional coalitions in the Atlantic provinces. In 2010–2011, 34 projects, representing almost 65% of all projects under the Initiatives, dealt with water issues, including restoration, enhancement and improvement of water quality and watersheds through proactive activities such as environmental education and outreach, water quality monitoring and research and data collection.

In Environment Canada's regional offices, work is under way to coordinate the Department's intervention in priority ecosystems when neither formal agreements nor ecosystem initiatives exist. In the Pacific and Yukon Region, the Ecosystem Coordination Office works with the Okanagan Basin Water Board, a water governance body tasked with identifying and resolving critical water issues at the scale of the Okanagan watershed. Funding was also provided to the Squamish First Nation for the Coast Salish Gathering, the Burrard Inlet Environmental Action Program, and the Fraser River Estuary Management Program.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Environmental Cooperation in Atlantic Canada is a significant federal–provincial collaborative effort to preserve, protect and enhance the environment in Atlantic Canada. A Water Annex and associated work plan under the MOU were developed in 2010, and approved for implementation by the Management Steering Committee in November 2010. The purpose of the Water Annex Work Plan, which comprises 13 projects, is to facilitate increased cooperation and coordination among the parties in their efforts to understand and protect the water quality and ecological health of the Atlantic provinces, and to achieve the vision of healthy, prosperous and sustainable watersheds for present and future generations.

This report also describes Environment Canada's work under the federal government's Action Plan for Clean Water, which provides $96 million in cleanup funding to restore Lake Simcoe, Lake Winnipeg and Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes. In 2010–2011, projects funded in the Canadian Great Lakes Areas of Concern consisted of the implementation of remedial plans for contaminated sediment. The Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund provided $8.3 million in 2010–2011 for 43 projects that focused on pollution reduction and the restoration of the lake's ecological integrity and cold-water fishery. Work under the four-year, $18-million Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative (LWBI) in 2010–2011 included the signing of the Canada–Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding on Lake Winnipeg, initiation of several additional stewardship projects to reduce nutrients, and further implementation of research, information and monitoring activities under the LWBI science plan.

As part of its involvement in the Government of Canada's Health of the Oceans Initiative, Environment Canada received $8 million over five years (2007–2012). Of that, $0.75 million was designated to support activities aimed at maintaining and enhancing the environmental quality in the transboundary Gulf of Maine ecosystem. In 2010–2011, funding supported the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment and activities associated with its five-year action plan, which focus on protecting and restoring habitat, fostering environmental and human health, and supporting vibrant communities.

In 2010–2011, Environment Canada scientists carried out research projects on various current and emerging issues, including the following: testing new pollution-control methodologies; examining wastewater treatment technologies; assessing impacts of municipal wastewater effluents; determining factors controlling the extent of pathogens and parasites; quantifying the fate of agricultural and industrial runoff and assessing aquaculture impacts; investigating algal blooms and the health of aquatic ecosystems; examining water-related issues in northern Canada; and conducting hydro-meteorological modelling and prediction.

In response to the recommendations made by the federal Oil Sands Review Panel in its report to the Minister of the Environment in December 2010, the Government began developing a world-class environmental monitoring plan for the oil sands. The first phase of this plan was released in March 2011.

Environment Canada continued to provide water-related public information and water awareness activities through its Water website. In addition, the Biosphere Environment Museum offered interactive exhibitions and guided activities designed to help visitors better understand major environmental issues, including those related to water. As well, Environment Canada has partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to promote WaterSense, a voluntary, market-based partnership program that seeks to promote water efficiency and enhance the market for water-efficient products, programs and practices.

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