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Nova Scotia Water Policy Data

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In 2010, as part of a 2008 commitment to the public the Government released, Water for Life: Nova Scotia's water resource management strategy (Government of Nova Scotia, 2010).  As part of implementing its 10-year water strategy, which proposes action in four key areas (Integrated Water Management (IWM); Understand the quality and quantity of our water; Protect the quality and quantity of our water; and Engage in caring for our water) Nova Scotia is reviewing and renewing much of its water and wastewater policy. 

Nova Scotia water policy photo essay

Nova Scotia water policy facts
(click any title below to reveal policy details)
Basic Introduction
1: Central Water Legislation (Mar 14/14)
The Environment Act (1995) is the primary piece of legislation for the regulation of water resources.  It is through the Environment Act (chap.10), in combination with the Activities Designation Regulations and the Approvals Procedures Regulations, that the provincial government is given a mandate to regulate water resources. 

The Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (2007) is another important piece of legislation that contains 21 environmental goals with associated deadlines.  The Act includes five water-related objectives: (a) municipal public drinking water supplies will meet the province's treatment standards by the year 2008; (b) a comprehensive water resources management strategy will be developed by the year 2010; (c) wastewater treatment facility discharges will be provided at least primary treatment by the year 2017; (d) a policy of preventing no net loss of wetlands will be established by the year 2009 and; (e) sewage treatment facilities will be operated in accordance with the Guidelines for the Handling, Treatment and Disposal of Sewage by the year 2011.

The Municipal Government Act (1998) sets out municipal responsibilities and powers for the regulation of the built environment, which can also impact water quality and quantity. In 1999, the province adopted Statements of Provincial Interest (1999) by way of Regulation under the Municipal Government Act(1998) to assist in protecting the land and water resources of the province. The two related to water resources are the Statement of Provincial Interest Regarding Drinking Water (2001) and the Statement of Provincial Interest Regarding Flood Risk Areas (2001). Each statement is treated as a regulation and requires that activities of the province, as well as planning documents adopted by municipalities under the Municipal Government Act(1998), be reasonably consistent with other relevant statements.

Other acts pertinent to water management include:  Ditches and Watercourse Act (1989); Municipal Government Act (1998); and theWater Resources Protection Act (2000).

2: Key Ministries & Departments (Mar 14/14)

The Government of Nova Scotia, Department of Environment is designated as the lead agency of Government to manage water resources (Environment Act, 1995, Section 104). Within the department, the Environmental Monitoring and Compliance Division is responsible for field operations, including issuing approvals and permits. The Environmental Science and Program Management Division, through the Water and Wastewater Branch, is responsible developing and implementing plans, standards, guidelines, and policies for the management, and protection of water and wastewater.  The Water and Wastewater Branch is also responsible for the development of the Water Strategy, drinking water (municipal and private wells), regulation of groundwater withdrawal approvals and groundwater management initiatives, wastewater, and operator certifications.

Other departments that also have responsibilities for water resource management include the Department of Agriculture: Resource Stewardship Division and Land Protection Water Task Group (established in 2002) and the Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, which is responsible for the Ditches and Watercourse Act (1989). 

3: Water Rights (Mar 14/14)
Nova Scotia manages water allocation under riparian rights.  The agency primarily responsible for water allocation is the Department of Environment mandated under the Environment Act (2004) and Water Resources Protection Act (2000). 

In Nova Scotia, a water withdrawal approval is required if a surface water withdrawal exceeds 23,000 litres per day (5,000 gallons per day). Most households do not require withdrawal approvals because they typically use between 700 and 1,400 litres per day (150 to 300 gallons per day). Commercial and industrial operations typically use more than 23,000 litres per day and, therefore, would require withdrawal approvals (Nova Scotia Environment, 2009).  Water withdrawal approvals are required for both surface and groundwater and they are based on water volume and type of water use.  The priority of use is given for drinking water and the first come and first serve framework. Under the Environment Act (1995), Section 59(1), and Approvals Procedure Regulations (1995), Section 12(1), with the minister's approval, transfers of licenses are allowed.  Part of the process requires a consultative process as a requirement of license.  Water licenses last 10 years.  There are guidelines for proponents that set out the requirements for application for an approval. These are currently being revised. First Nations rights to water are not yet explicitly and legally acknowledged in any provincial or federal legislation. The 1987 Federal Water Policy (Environment Canada, 1987) acknowledges Native interests in water but this has not generally been reflected in provincial allocation decisions.

4: Data Collection/Monitoring (Mar 14/14)


The Government of Nova Scotia, Department of Environment is part of a joint federal-provincial program called the Hydrometric Network (Government of Canada, 2009) Monitoring is also conducted through the groundwater observation well network (established in 1965), the Nova Scotia Lake Survey Program, Automated Surface Water Quality Monitoring Program, Gulf of Maine Gulfwatch Program, Pockwock Lake Study, Kings County Nitrate Monitoring Program and the Lake Acidification Monitoring Program.   

The Department of Environment also manages a well logs database, to which well drillers are required to submit (Government of Nova Scotia, 2009).

The Government of Nova Scotia, Department of Natural Resources also conducts soil moisture monitoring which is relevant for fire hazards and agriculture.


5: Transboundary Issues (Mar 14/14)
Nova Scotia does not share any significant surface water or groundwater resources with another jurisdiction. The province can almost be considered an island.

There are no provincial or territorial programs to monitor drinking water or water resources in First Nations communities. There are no agreements between any levels of government acknowledging First Nations water rights, except those delineated under land claim or self-government agreements, such as the Nisga'a Agreement. 
Water Quality
1: Drinking Water Laws (Mar 14/14)

The Drinking Water Strategy (2002) provides guidelines, but not standards, for drinking water protection in the province. Under the new Nova Scotia's water resource management strategy regulations are being reviewed. 

First Nations communities are located on Federal Reserve land, which falls within Federal jurisdiction. Provincial drinking water legislation does not apply to these communities. 

2: Source Water Protection (Mar 14/14)
Key government documents that address source water protection include:  Drinking Water Strategy (2000); Environment Act (1995) with Protected Water Area Designations and Regulations (1995); Municipal Government Act (1998) with Statement of Provincial Interest Regarding Drinking Water (1998).

As per the Drinking Water Strategy (2000), it is suggested that all municipal water utilities must develop a source water protection plan as part of their approval to operate the water utility.  A source water protection plan involves forming a committee, delineating boundaries, identifying risks and management options, and monitoring and evaluation. Water utilities can manage source water protection through land acquisition, public education, best management practices and developing contingency plans. If these tools are inadequate, the water utility may apply for a Protected Water Area Designation under Section 106 of the Environment Act (1995).  This requires more time commitment and a high level of public approval.  The level of protection and stringency for protected water supply areas varies considerably depending on the date of the regulation. Given that the process dates back to the 1960s, some of the earlier designations are less comprehensive than the more recent designations. The province enables designations, under the Protected Water Area Designation and Regulation (2002) to be reviewed and updated to incorporate lessons learned and new advances in source protection. 

Source water protection policy does not address protection of First Nations water.

3: Wellfield Protection (Sep 30/11)
Municipal groundwater supplies are required to develop a source water protection plan (as discussed above).

Approximately 46% of Nova Scotians rely primarily on groundwater from dug or drilled wells for their private supply (Expert Panel on Groundwater, 2009).  There are provincial standards for construction of wells and it is the responsibility of the citizen to meet the standards for construction and water testing.

4: Groundwater Permitting (Mar 14/14)
The Government of Nova Scotia, Department of Environment distributes groundwater licenses as per the Environment Act (1995) and Activities Designation Regulations (1995).  Reporting requirements are by location, source, and purpose of extraction.  Water use records must be kept as a condition of approval.  Notification for permit applicants is not required by applicants, although it is at the discretion of the minister or administrator to provide an opportunity for public participation.  There is a public database of permit information. Of the approximately 80 municipal water supplies in the province, according to the Protected Water Area Designation and Regulations (2002) there are 22 Protected Water Area designations.  Only one of these designations is for a groundwater supply.

Provincial permitting processes do not apply to Federal lands such as First Nations reserves and communities.

5: Storm/Waste Water Management (Mar 14/14)
Nova Scotia's Municipal Government Act (1998) gives power to municipalities to make bylaws with respect to stormwater management standards and system requirements, including requiring stormwater to be directed to or retained in specified areas.

The Activities Designation Regulations (1995) require wastewater facilities to have an approval to operate. Nova Scotia Environment issues the approval which includes terms and conditions that facilities must comply with in order to maintain their approval. The facilities classification also determines various requirements such as monitoring, certification level of operators, etc. In February 2009, the Province of Nova Scotia endorsed the Canada-wide Strategy for Municipal Wastewater Effluent (Canadian Council of Minister of the Environment, 2009).
6: Ecosystem Quality Needs (Mar 14/14)

The integrated water management strategy Water for Life: Nova Scotia’s Water Resources Management Strategy (2010) includes a commitment to assess the current and future use of setbacks from fresh and coastal water resources.  The strategy also includes long-term goals to evaluate regulation pertaining to land-use, such as by improving guidance for sediment control and protection of water quality from land development activities.

Water Quantity
1: Water Conservation Strategy (Mar 14/14)
A water conservation plan is currently under development as part of the Drinking Water Strategy.

Water conservation is a core principle in the integrated water management strategy Water for Life: Nova Scotia’s Water Resources Management Strategy (2010).  The strategy commits the province to actions under the following general categories: (a) understanding the quality and quantity of water through sound knowledge and assessment capabilities; (b) protecting the quality and quantity of water, such as by requiring conservation plans from large water users; and (c) by promoting public engagement and caring for water.

Provincial or territorial policies and strategies do not apply or include First Nations reserves or communities.

Learn more about Nova Scotia conservation initiatives and requirements at the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

2: Ecosystem Quantity Needs (Mar 14/14)
There is not specific legislation concerning instream flow regulation, but through the approval process, habitat requirements are considered. Additionally, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has habitat requirements that are included within the withdrawal approval process (Government of Nova Scotia, Department of Environment, 2009).

In Nova Scotia, under the Environmental Assessment Regulations (1995), undertakings that disrupt a total of two or more hectares of any wetland are classified as Class I undertakings. As such, they do not initially require full environmental assessment reports, but they do require the submission of registrations to the Minister of Environment describing the project and the affected area including: area's sensitivity, environmental baseline information, public funding sources, steps taken to identify the concerns of the public and Aboriginal people, and steps taken to address these concerns (from Regulations). Following registration, the minister may require the submission of a focus report, an environmental assessment report, or any additional information. 

3: Interbasin Transfers (Mar 14/14)
Bulk water withdrawals and interbasin transfers are addressed within the Water Resources Protection Act (2000).  This Act uses the precautionary principle to achieve sustainability of water resources.  Bulk removal of water from the part of the Atlantic Basin within Nova Scotia is prohibited. There are exceptions including in containers under 25 litres and in quantities up to the maximum limit as set by regulations. Requirements of the Environment Act (1995).

4: Climate Change Linkage (Mar 14/14)
The Government of Nova Scotia, Department of Environment (2009) released a Climate Change Action Plan to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve efficiency and adapt to climate change.  The following details actions relevant to water:

Action 10
Require low-flush toilets and permit the use of water-free technologies and the re-use of grey water as of January 1, 2009, under the Nova Scotia Building Code Act. (p. 17)

Action 54
Develop statements of provincial interest on adaptation by 2010 to provide guidance on land-use planning. This is a formal tool, established under the Municipal Government Act, to protect the province's interest in such areas as land use, water resources, and community planning. (p. 31)

Action 58
Begin work on a provincial vulnerability assessment and progress report on adaptation to climate change in Nova Scotia. This report, which will be updated biannually, will provide updates on the latest climate research, review critical information gaps, and provide policy direction for the province. (p. 31)

Action 61
Ensure that design standards and plans for new provincial construction, and for the renewal of existing provincial infrastructure, reflect projected climate trends, not historical records, by 2010. (p. 32)

Action 63
Take sea-level rise into consideration and place priority on conserving coastal wetlands in preparing a policy to prevent net loss of wetlands. The Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act requires that this policy be developed by 2009. (p. 32)

The integrated water management strategy Water for Life: Nova Scotia’s Water Resources Management Strategy (2010) commits the government to building capacity to adapt to capacity to climate such as increased storm frequency, and it recognizes the greenhouse gas impact of over-using water, due to the energy required to treat, move, pump, and use water.

References (Mar 14/14)

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.


Activities Designation Regulations, N.S. Reg. 47/95, (Environment Act).

Approvals Procedure Regulations, N.S. Reg. 48/95, (Environment Act).

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. (2009).  Canada-wide Strategy for Municipal Wastewater Effluent. Retrieved March, 29, 2010 from

Ditches and Water Courses Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 132  

Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, S.N.S. 2007, c. 7 

Expert Panel on Groundwater. (2009).  The Sustainable Management of Groundwater in   Canada.  Retrieved March 29, 2010, from

Government of Canada. (2009). Hydrometric Program. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from

Government of Nova Scotia. (2002). Drinking Water Strategy. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from

Government of Nova Scotia. (2007). Nova Scotia's Water Resources Management Strategy. Retrieved March 29, 2010 from

Government of Nova Scotia, Department of Environment. (2009).  Toward a greener future: Nova Scotia's climate change action plan. Retrieved March, 29, 2010 from

 Government of Nova Scotia. (2009). Well log database. Retrieved March 29, 2010 from

Municipal Government Act, S.N.S. 1998, c. 18

Nova Scotia Environment. (2009).  Permits and Forms - Water Approvals. Retrieved March, 29, 2010 from

Nova Scotia Environment. (2010).  Guidelines for Monitoring Public Drinking Water Supplies - Draft for Consultation. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from

Protected Water Area Designation and Regulations, N.S. Reg. 218/88, [Repealed or spent], (Environment Act)

Statements of Provincial Interest, N.S. Reg. 101/2001, (Municipal Government Act)

Water and Wastewater Facilities and Public Drinking Water Supplies Regulations, N.S. Reg. 186/2005, (Environment Act)

Water Resources Protection Act, S.N.S. 2000, c. 10

Build a table comparing Nova Scotia policy to any of the following provinces & territories: (MAX of 2)

British Columbia


New Brunswick


Northwest Territories



Prince Edward Island




Nova Scotia water policy documents