Thank you for the opportunity to share our views on the Canada Water Act Annual Report for April 2013 to March 2014.
In our review of the report, we did not identify any areas of significant concern to the Government of the Northwest Territories; however, we noted a shortage of detail relevant to the north in some sections of the report when compared with the descriptions for other jurisdictions, such as in the water quality and Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network monitoring sections.
The Government of the Northwest Territories has a strong interest in Canada's basin-wide quality, quantity, and biological monitoring commitments, especially with regard to implementation of the Mackenzie River Basin Bilateral Transboundary Water Management Agreements, which I will talk about a bit later.
It is encouraging to see the work being done under the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network or CABIN program. The GNWT has a strong interest in broadening water monitoring to include monitoring of biological indicators. We see value in moving forward to complete the CABIN large river protocol so that such an approach could be applied to important rivers such as the Slave River. In addition, the GNWT has a community-based monitoring program that could benefit from adding a biological monitoring component.
Regarding monitoring, we note that while there is some information in the report, we'd be interested in more information regarding the joint oil sands monitoring program, particularly about the expansion of biological monitoring under this program into the Northwest Territories.
The report notes that many jurisdictions in Canada have water quality agreements. The Canada-Yukon Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystem Monitoring and Reporting Memorandum of Agreement, which we understand is awaiting signature, is broader in scope than water quality. Such agreements may be an approach our government wants to consider.
Finally, the report notes on page 17 that the MRBB tracked the progress of three bilateral water management negotiations, between British Columbia and Alberta, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories and Alberta.
I'd like to take this opportunity to update the committee on recent progress on bilateral transboundary water agreements, as well as on regulatory changes in other water initiatives in the Northwest Territories that are not included in the report.
I will turn first to the transboundary water agreement.
The transboundary water management agreement negotiations process between Alberta and the Northwest Territories is complete. The final agreement was signed on March 18, 2015. Input from aboriginal involvement and public engagement informed this final agreement. We're now working with Alberta to develop an implementation plan for the Northwest Territories-Alberta agreement. We're also working with aboriginal governments on an inter-governmental agreement to provide clarity on aboriginal government involvement and implementation of transboundary water management agreements.
The Northwest Territories and British Columbia intentions document and appendices—basically a draft agreement—are finished. We have completed aboriginal consultation and public engagement processes on these documents. British Columbia is still completing its consultation process. Once the intentions document for the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories-Yukon bilateral agreements are complete, further public engagement and aboriginal consultation will be done.
We met with the Government of Saskatchewan in late January 2015 to discuss the process and work required to negotiate a transboundary water management agreement for the waters along our shared border. Our government, the Yukon territory government, and other parties to the existing Yukon-Northwest Territories Transboundary Water Management Agreement met in late February 2015 to discuss the existing agreements and the next steps to renegotiating the existing agreement for the Peel basin.
We anticipate meeting with Saskatchewan in late spring 2015 to continue negotiating a transboundary water management agreement. We have officials in Nunavut today and tomorrow talking about the possibility of a similar transboundary water agreement to cover the whole boundary between the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
As previously indicated and mentioned, our government is seeking a long-term commitment from Environment Canada to conduct water quantity, quality, and biological monitoring within the Mackenzie River basin to assess ecosystem health and support implementation of the transboundary water management agreements.
I'd now like to talk about water stewardship in the Northwest Territories. We recognize that the key to protecting such a precious resource as water lies in partnerships and collaborations with water partners, including those within our borders and those in neighbouring jurisdictions.
To address concerns related to upstream development and climate change, we developed the Northern Voices, Northern Waters: NWT Water Stewardship Strategy in 2010. The strategy was created to safeguard our water resources for current and future generations. It was followed by the Northwest Territories Water Stewardship: A Plan for Action 2011-2015.
We developed a strategy and action plan with the Government of Canada in partnership with seven aboriginal governments, and with input from numerous water partners and the public. Through many meetings with aboriginal leaders across our territories, as well as workshops with federal and territorial government departments, regulatory boards, non-governmental organizations, community members, academics and industry, we crafted the goals and visions for the strategy, along with the other core elements.
The vision for the water strategy is that the waters of the Northwest Territories remain clean, abundant, and productive for all time. The water strategy sets a common path forward for achieving effective water stewardship in the Northwest Territories. It is a key guiding document that identifies our approach to maintaining aquatic ecosystem health, involving communities in aquatic monitoring and research, and ensuring safe drinking water in the Northwest Territories. The strategy integrates western science and traditional local knowledge and is the basis for our mandate of negotiating transboundary water management agreements with other Mackenzie River basin jurisdictions.
I would like to conclude with some words on changes to water management and regulation in the Northwest Territories following devolution, which occurred on April 1, 2014. On April 1, 2014, the Government of the Northwest Territories became the primary land and water manager in the Northwest Territories. As the primary water manager, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources undertakes a number of water quality and water quantity monitoring programs, including programs that monitor sites in collaboration with communities. Our monitoring programs are designed to address identified community concerns and provide robust technical information for use in making sound resource management decisions.
The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the new territorial Waters Act define the legal authorities for water management. A co-management regime has been established. Regional land and/or water boards have defined authorities with respect to water licensing for various undertakings throughout the Northwest Territories. GNWT technical experts actively participate in regulatory processes, providing input and advice to land or water boards for their use in their decision-making processes. Data obtained through our water monitoring programs is provided to compliment data collected by project proponents and other parties. Our government has new authorities with respect to the approval of type A water licenses, and type B water licenses where a public hearing has been held. For activities on lands transferred through the devolution and final agreement, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources must approve all type A water licenses and any type B water licenses where a public hearing was held. Type A water licenses are generally associated with larger projects of longer duration, for example, producing metal, a diamond mine, or an oil and gas production facility.
Type B water licenses are generally associated with smaller projects of shorter duration, such as an advanced mineral exploration project or an oil and gas exploration program. Recent legislative changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act have introduced legislative timeframes for ministerial decision-making with respect to water licenses. The minister has up to 45 days following receipt of a board recommendation to render a decision. The minister may, however, under legislation, extend the decision period for an additional 45 days, corresponding to a maximum of 90 calendar days. The first type A water license approved by me as Minister of Environment and Natural Resources occurred on April 24, 2014, 22 days after receiving the board recommendation. Since April 1, 2014, nine type A water licenses have been approved.
My final comment would be of a broader nature. As we talk about a national energy strategy in Canada, I want to once again make the point that you cannot talk about a national energy strategy without talking about some type of national water strategy, because the two are inextricably linked, almost without exception. So as we once again have that national debate, we have to keep in mind that with hydro, with the water for oil and gas development, with the water required in nuclear plants, the two are linked.