Canadian Geographic
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INSIDE: Power to protect Go now!

Since the Canadian Constitution divides legislative power over water resources among federal, provincial, territorial and First Nations groups and governments, no one governing body provides an overarching framework for protecting Canada’s water resources.

Canada is a country synonymous with water, with over two million lakes and one-fifth of the world’s fresh water lying within its borders. While Canada’s land mass stores 20 percent of the world’s freshwater supply, it is gifted with only 6.5 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water each year, and that figure shrinks even further to 2.6 percent in southern Canada, where the majority of Canadians live. In order to conserve the nation’s water heritage for future generations, Canadians need to live within the constraints of the country’s renewable-freshwater budget.

Given that Canada has less than one percent of the world’s population, the nation still possesses a large amount of renewable fresh water. But the quality and quantity of this water have not been without problems and must be carefully monitored. In 2004, about one-quarter of responding Canadian municipalities reported water shortages, and there were more than 1,700 boil-water advisories in Canada in 2008. Health Canada estimates that poor water quality is responsible for 90,000 illnesses and 90 deaths each year. Meanwhile, Environment Canada measured the quality of fresh water, as it relates to protecting aquatic life, at 176 monitoring sites in southern Canada between 2006 and 2008. At 18 percent of the sites, the water was rated “marginal” or “poor.”

Canadians are increasingly impacted by watersheds and, in turn, are impacting them more than ever by altering river flow and diverting river water. Over 22 million Canadians live in river basins where 10 percent or more of river flow is used in some way. As of 2000, there were 849 large dams and thousands of smaller dams in Canadian rivers and streams. Canada diverts more water than does the United States, a country with nearly 10 times our population.

In addition, climate change and increasing urbanization promise to further stress Canada’s water resources and underscore the importance of revisiting water governance with an eye toward sustainable and integrated watershed-based management, balancing the needs of nature with the needs of stakeholders.

Canada’s waterways are inarguably the lifeblood of the nation, providing invaluable ecosystem services and fuelling its economy. Water’s annual measurable contribution to the Canadian economy ranges from $7.5 billion to $23 billion, and by some estimates, 60 percent of the country’s GDP is directly dependent on water.

Water not only slakes thirst and gives Canadians a sense of identity but supports healthy aquatic and terrestrial organisms, provides a myriad of ecological services and is the backbone for a competitive economy.


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Quiz :

Provincial powers over water include:

Migratory birds, provincial parks and well water
Fisheries, navigation and federal lands
Flow regulation, water supply and pollution control