Media Release

Federal Government Ban on Bulk Water Removals Only Partially Closes Off Exports Threat Says CELA

Nov 26 1999

Toronto. The Canadian federal government this week announced draft legislation to prohibit bulk water removals from Canadian boundary waters. It proposes to amend the Boundary Waters Treaty Act which covers all rivers, streams and lakes that cross Canada's international boundary with the U.S. According to the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the federal government's action is an incomplete step in the right direction. On the positive side, the new law is probably adequately insulated from trade challenges because it focuses on the protection of ecosystems and the integrity of water basins. It takes the approach that water in its natural state is not a "good" under international trade agreements. The draft legislation also includes tough enforcement provisions including steep daily fines, liability of officers and directors, and the ability to fine companies for the amount of any monetary benefit that they obtain from breaking the new law. However, until regulations accompanying the revised law are passed, the role of the public and of federal environmental assessment law is inappropriately unclear. It is crucial that these regulations require federal environmental assessment of decisions made under the new law to ensure both adequate environmental review and public participation and scrutiny. Furthermore, the federal announcement deals only with boundary waters. It remains essential to deal with interior waters, a fact that the federal government acknowledges. The federal proposal highlights the need and importance for coordinated and complimentary action by provincial governments. A unified cross-Canada approach is essential and must give top priority to water conservation for the sake of ecosystem protection. This issue will be on the table at federal-provincial meetings of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment scheduled in Kananaskis, Alberta next week. A key weakness of the announcement is the lack of a concerted water conservation strategy for Canada. The imposition of national water conservation goals, with measures such as water efficiency standards would assist in reducing water consumption rates in Canada. At present, individual Canadians and especially Canadian industries are the second most wasteful users of water in the world. If the federal government is serious about protecting Canada's water resources, a water conservation strategy must be a top priority. - 30 - For more information: Paul Muldoon, Executive Director, or Theresa McClenaghan, Counsel, or Sarah Miller, Coordinator, or Kathleen Cooper, Researcher (416) 960-2284