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Northwest Territories Water Policy Data


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The Northwest Territories (NWT) is known for possessing a wealth of clean freshwater resources (Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources, 2009). NWT is largely located within the Mackenzie River Basin, which is the largest river basin in Canada (Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources, 2009).

Much of the Northwest Territories are covered by either the Canadian Shield or permafrost, both of which inhibit groundwater flow. The major exceptions include the Mackenzie Mountains in the western Northwest Territories and Yukon (Environment Canada, 1999). Key water issues in the Northwest Territories include wastewater spills from sewage and salty groundwater brought to the surface by oil and gas extraction operations and mine tailings (Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources, 2009).  The oil sands industry is currently one of the most significant threats to Northwest Territories water due to its intensive water use and production of harmful by-products (Holroyd & Simieritsch, 2009). Hydroelectric development on the Peace River has a significant impact on altering the seasonal flow of the Slave River (Mackenzie River Basin Board, 2003)

An important water policy document in the Northwest Territories is Northern Voices, Northern Waters: NWT Water Stewardship Strategy released in 2010. NWT Water Stewardship: A Plan for Action 2011-2015, was released in 2011, and outlines the implementation plan for the Water Strategy.  Important sections of the implementation include engaging NWT communities in aquatic research and monitoring, development of bilateral water agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions, addressing gaps in the aquatic monitoring regime in the NWT, inclusion of traditional knowledge in research and monitoring, and ensuring efficient data sharing between water partners.     
Northwest Territories water policy photo essay

Northwest Territories water policy facts
(click any title below to reveal policy details)

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Basic Introduction
1: Central Water Legislation (May 27/14)
The purpose of the Waters Act (1992) is to outline the administration of water use in the Northwest Territories, specifically the authority of the Northwest Territories Water Board, regulations, and enforcement.

On April 1st 2014, responsibilities for administering the laws that regulate water in the NWT were transferred from the federal government to the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). This legislation includes responsibility for regulating water use, and is outlined in the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (1998) established an integrated co-management structure for water, private and public lands all through the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories.

The Environmental Protection Act (1988) provides overarching administration of pollution control including discharge to waters. 

The Environmental Rights Act (1988) provides the environmental rights of the citizens of the Northwest Territories to a healthy environment and the right to protection of the environment.

Other relevant legislation include the: Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act (2003), Public Health Act (2007), and the Public Utilities Act (2004).
2: Key Ministries & Departments (May 27/14)
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) is responsible for managing water resources in the Mackenzie Valley and inland waters in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region through the administration of the Waters Act and regulations.

Regulation of water use in the Northwest Territories is a shared responsibility. The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, along with the Sahtu, Gwich'in and Wek'eezhii land and water boards, issues water licences in the Mackenzie Valley. The Inuvialuit Water Board issues water licences in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. ENR reviews water licence applications and evaluates proposals and licences issued by the boards. These are delegated responsibilities under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA).

The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources approves Type A water licences and Type B water licences, where a hearing has been held. ENR is also responsible for inspections and enforcement of those licences and conducting the analysis to enable Boards to set securities for water licences, which the Department then holds.

ENR also regulates deposit of wastes regarding activities and development on, or which impact, public land and waters. (Environment and Natural Resources, 2014).
3: Water Rights (May 27/14)
The water boards, created under the Waters Act (1992) and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (1998), grant licenses for water use. The Boards can place conditions on water use licenses.

The Northwest Territories Water Board was originally created under the Northern Inland Waters Act (the Northern Inland Waters Act and Regulations were replaced with the Waters Act and Regulations in 1992). The Northwest Territories Water Board issues licenses within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northwest Territories Water Board, date unknown).

Under the Waters Act (1992) a license issued by the Northwest Territories Water Board is required before any water use or waterborne waste disposal is permitted. These conditions also apply to governmental departments. Exceptions from the Act's requirements are only permitted for domestic water use, in-stream users (e.g., fishing, swimming, and boating), firefighting and other emergencies, and flood control and prevention.

The Northwest Territories Water Regulations (1993) set out licensing criteria for the municipal, agricultural, power generation, and industrial sectors (with specific conditions for mining and milling operations). The regulations allow for water use and or waste disposal without a license if the proposed use has no potential for significant environmental impacts, does not interfere with existing rights of other water users or waste depositors and satisfies the criteria set out for municipal, mining, agricultural, recreational, industrial, and power generation undertakings outlined in the regulations.

The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (1998) established the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, as well as the Gwich'in Land and Water Board, the Sahtu Land and Water Board and the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board.  The Gwich'in Land and Water Board, the Sahtu Land and Water Board and the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board issue water licenses in their own respective settlement areas. The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board issues water licenses in areas with unsettled land claims, oversees transboundary water use and maintains consistency in how water legislation is administered in the Mackenzie Valley (Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, date unknown).

First Nations rights to water are explicitly acknowledged in Appendix D - Right to Water Motion of the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy (Government of the Northwest Territories and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2010). The 1987 Federal Water Policy (Environment Canada, 1987) acknowledges aboriginal interests in water but this has not generally been reflected in provincial allocation decisions.
4: Data Collection/Monitoring (May 27/14)
The Government of the Northwest Territories' Department of Municipal and Community Affairs maintains a publically accessible drinking water quality database.

Water licences granted to the communities by the Land and Water Boards include requirements for monitoring related to sewage discharge and solid waste facilities.

The State of the Aquatic Ecosystem Report authored by the Mackenzie River Basin Board (2003) used existing data to assess the state of the ecosystem as well as identify gaps and provide recommendations to improve management.  Another state of the ecosystem report was expected in 2010 but was never released. Instead, a shorter issues document was released in 2012 (Mackenzie River Basin Board 2012). 
5: Transboundary Issues (May 27/14)
Pollution from oil sands development is the most significant transboundary issue facing the Northwest Territories. Holroyd & Simieritsch (2009) have called for a moratorium on new oil sands development until new rules to protect water resources are in place.

The Mackenzie River Basin Board was established 1997 through the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement (1997), which was signed by the Federal Government and the Governments of Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and the Northwest Territories (Holroyd & Simieritsch, 2009).  The agreement requires the signatory provinces and territories practice sustainable water use, maintain aquatic ecosystems across the basin, and consult with other jurisdictions on any development that may impact ecosystem health. The Transboundary Waters Master Agreement allows for the creation of bilateral agreements between provinces and territories, but out of all the signatories only a bilateral agreement between the Yukon and Northwest Territories has been signed and implemented (Holroyd & Simieritsch, 2009).

A memorandum of understanding with Alberta is in place and was signed in 2007 for upcoming negotiations. Alberta and the NWT shared background information and preliminary interests from September 2011 to April 2012. Currently, Alberta and Nunavut are negotiating options to address and protect common interests. Nunavut and Alberta are hoping to finalize an Intentions Document, which will lay out the main commitments for a final agreement.  Discussions with British Columbia have begun, and discussions with Saskatchewan and Yukon are said to begin in 2014.

The Mackenzie River Basin Board currently has no regulatory authority or legal basis to manage resource use in any of the signatory jurisdictions.  This board also has a limited budget and no research or monitoring capacity (Holroyd & Simieritsch, 2009).  The board also has a mandate to resolve any disputes that arise, but this function has never been used (Holroyd & Simieritsch, 2009).
Water Quality
1: Drinking Water Laws (May 27/14)
The Northwest Territories Public Health Act (2007) was established in 1957.  Fifteen public water supply regulations were added in 1990 to the Act.

There is also Managing Drinking Water Quality in the NWT: a Preventative Framework and Strategy (Government of the Northwest Territories, 2005) but it is unclear if it has been fully implemented.  The framework proposes updates to the Public Health Act (2007) and Public Water Supply Regulations (1990).

The Canada-Wide Strategy for Municipal Wastewater Effluent was approved in February 2013 on a national basis.  It gives the "far north" 5 years to research what regulations would be best for the Northwest Territories. 


2: Source Water Protection (May 27/14)
Source water protection and watershed-based planning are proposed in the Northern Voices, Northern Waters (Government of the Northwest Territories and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2010) strategy as well as in the Government of the Northwest Territories (2005) Drinking Water Quality Framework.  Timelines for implementation are not given in the Northern Voices Northern Waters discussion paper. In collaboration with Trent University, a guidance document and a workbook were developed and are publically available. These documents are designed for NWT communities and can be used when developing source water protection plans Environment and Natural Resources, 2012).

Drinking water is managed on a municipal level and in licence process, Maintenance of water treatment plants is supported by Municipal and Community Affairs.


3: Wellfield Protection (May 27/14)
No information available at this time.

4: Groundwater Permitting (May 27/14)
The Northwest Territories Water Regulations identify eight activities that require licenses.  These include industrial undertakings, mining and milling undertakings, municipal undertakings, power undertakings, agricultural undertakings, conservation undertakings, recreational undertakings, or miscellaneous undertakings.  Fees are charged where water is extracted under a license.  Addressing environmental concerns in mandatory in the decision making process for an undertaking (Christensen & Magwood, 2005).  These provisions all apply to groundwater but in most cases there are not groundwater uses large enough to trigger the regulations (Christensen & Magwood, 2005).

Water quality monitoring for groundwater is common and monitoring sites are included in the various licences and fall under the Surveillance Network Program. Type B (smaller projects) can be municipal sewage lagoons, dumps etc. Type A (larger projects) include sampling around tailings ponds, waste rock piles, fuel storage etc. A mine can have 50-60 SNP sites and a number of those can be monitoring of ground water. The mines report on the SNP sites annually to the Land and Water Boards.

Both surface water and groundwater are regulated under the Waters Act and will trigger a licence process if the usage is large enough it.


5: Storm/Waste Water Management (May 27/14)
There is a Water and Effluent Quality Management Policy (MVLWB, 2011).

There are Wastewater planning guidelines (MVLWB, 2011).

NWT is part of the Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent and sits on the coordinating committee as well as the Northern Working Group.


6: Ecosystem Quality Needs (May 27/14)
Ensuring sufficient water for ecosystem function is prioritized in the Northern Voices, Northern Waters (Government of the Northwest Territories and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2010) strategy.  The water boards also have a mandate to maintain the ecological integrity of the entire basin.

Ecosystem quality needs are also met through the water licence process. For example, large mines have Aquatic Effect Monitoring Programs as a requirement under the water licences. Municipal licences need to measure effluent water from sewage lagoons (MVLWB, 2011 and Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board).


Water Quantity
1: Water Conservation Strategy (May 27/14)
The Northern Voices, Northern Waters (Government of the Northwest Territories and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2010) strategy outlines some water conservation and efficiency measures, but there is not a dedicated water conservation and efficiency strategy for the Northwest Territories.


2: Ecosystem Quantity Needs (May 27/14)
The water boards have a mandate to ensure ecological functions but they do not have a legal basis to make sure there is aquatic ecosystem protection for water withdrawals. The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources approves Type A water licences and Type B water licences, where a hearing has been held. ENR is also responsible for inspections and enforcement of those licences and conducting the analysis to enable Boards to set securities for water licences, which the Department then holds. Large projects go to environmental assessment where impacts on the aquatic ecosystem would be included.


3: Interbasin Transfers (May 27/14)
Any major diversion or use of water requires the issuance of a licence by the appropriate water licensing board and approval by The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, GNWT. Under the current legislation the federal Minister will not approve any licence issued to allow bulk water removal out of a major river basin.


4: Climate Change Linkage (May 27/14)
The Northwest Territories Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Report was published by Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2008. This report appears to be largely an assessment of current and potential future impacts of climate change in the Northwest Territories and provides possible response options.  No specific measures or strategies are proposed.


References (May 27/14)

Document Disclaimer:

Every effort has been made to ensure complete accuracy of the content of this briefing note but this document is only a summary and should not be considered legal or planning advice.  Please refer to the relevant legislation and regulations for further information.

References

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. A-12

Christensen, R., & Magwood, S. (2005). Groundwater Pricing Policies in Canada. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.buriedtreasurecanada.ca/SierraLegalGroundwaterPricingCaseStudy2.pdf

Environment Canada. (1999). Groundwater - Nature's Hidden Treasure. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=en&n=3F93145A-1

Environmental Protection Act, R.S.N.W.T. 1988, c. E-7

 

Environmental Rights Act, R.S.N.W.T. 1988, c. 83 (Supp.)

 

Government of the Northwest Territories. (2005). Managing Drinking Water in the Northwest Territories: A Preventative Framework and Strategy. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from http://www.maca.gov.nt.ca/operations/water/docs/waterframework.pdf

 

Government of the Northwest Territories and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (2010). Northern Voices, Northern Waters: A Discussion Paper On Strategy Development. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/_live/documents/documentManagerUpload/NWT_Water_Stewardship_Strategy.pdf

Holroyd, P., & Simieritsch, T. (2009). The Waters That Bind Us. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from  http://www.pembina.org/pub/1790

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (2003). A Policy Respecting the Prohibition of Bulk Water Removal from Major River Basins in the Northwest Territories. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.mediabox.com/clients/INAC/nunavut/english/pdf/Acts_Leg_Reg_Pol/Policy_Bulk_Water.pdf

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada . (2009). Water Monitoring Business Plan. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/nth/wa/pubs/wmbp/wmbp-eng.asp

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (2008). Water Management: Mandate. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/nth/wa/wm-eng.asp

Mackenzie River Basin Land and Water Board (n.d.). Permits and Licenses. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.mvlwb.com/html/lupandwl.htm

Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (n.d.). State of the Environment Report: Water. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/_live/pages/wpPages/soe_water.aspx 

Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources (n.d.). Water Resources. Retrieved May 26, 2014.

Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources (2012). Source Water and Assessment Protection (SWAP) Guidance Document. Retrieved May 27, 2014 from http://nwtwaterstewardship.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/default/files/SWAP_Guidance_web.pdf

Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources (2012). Source Water and Assessment Protection (SWAP) Guidance Document Workbook. Retrieved May 27, 2014 from http://nwtwaterstewardship.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/default/files/SWAP_Workbook_web.pdf

Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (2008). NWT Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations Report. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/_live/documents/documentManagerUpload/NWT_Climate_Change_Impacts_and_Adaptation_Report.pdf

Northwest Territories Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment. (2007). Draft NWT Hydro Strategy:  The foundation for a sustainable energy future. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.iti.gov.nt.ca/publications/2008/energy/HYDROSTRATEGY.pdf

Northwest Territories Water Board. (n.d.). Responsibilities. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from http://www.nwtwb.com/html/responsibilities.html

 

Northwest Territories Waters Act, S.C. 1992, c. 39

 

Northwest Territories Waters Regulations, SOR/93-303, (Northwest Territories Waters Act)

 

Northwest Territories Water Stewardship Activities - Transboundary Water Agreements. Retrieved May 26, 2014 from http://nwtwaterstewardship.ca/?q=transboundary

 

Mackenzie River Basin Board. (2003). State of the Aquatic Ecosystem Report. Retrieved March     23, 2010, from http://www.mrbb.ca/documents/Final_MRBB4_HighlightsEng1_pg.pdf 

 

Mackenzie River Basin Board (2012) 2012 Issues Report. Retrieved May 26, 2014 from http://www.mrbb.ca/uploads/files/general/30//mrbb-report_web.pdf

 

Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement. (1997). Retrieved March 26,   2010, from http://www.ngps.nt.ca/Upload/Interveners/Government%20of%20the        %20Northwest%20Territories/j-gnwt-00027/documents/08_Mackenzie_Master_Agree      ment.pdf

 

Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, S.C. 1998, c. 25

 

Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (2011). Water and Effluent Quality Management Policy. Retrieved May 27, 2014 from http://mvlwb.com/sites/default/files/documents/MVLWB-Water-and-Effluent-Quality-Management-Policy-Mar-31_11-JCWG.pdf

Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (2011). Guidelines for Developing a Waste Management Plan. Retrieved May 27, 2014 from http://mvlwb.com/sites/default/files/documents/MVLWB-Guidelines-for-Developing-a-Waste-Management-Plan-Mar-31_11-JCWG.pdf

 

Public Health Act, S.N.W.T. 2007,c.17

 

Public Utilities Act, R.S.N.W.T. 1988, c. 24 (Supp.)

 

Water Supply System Regulations, N.W.T. Reg. 108-2009

 

Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board  - Community-Based Monitoring. Retrieved May 27, 2014 from http://wlwb.ca/content/community-based-monitoring


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