Exchanging Ideas on Climate
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy
Exchanging ideas on Climate

Charting a Path: Water and Canada?s Natural Resource Sectors

Synthesis of Workshop Discussion
February 24, 2009 - Ottawa

Adobe PDF version


Water and Canada?s Natural Resource Sectors

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) is undertaking a new research program on Water and Canada?s Natural Resource Sectors.

The NRTEE will add value to the national water agenda by examining the relationship between the energy, mining, forestry and agriculture sectors and water sustainability in the context of changes in supply, availability and distribution flowing from climate change and rising economic demand.

Throughout the two-year Program, the NRTEE will engage industry sector leaders, representatives of federal, provincial, territorial governments; academia; non-government organizations; Aboriginal and regional groups and, civil society as part of the research process.



The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) launched its national Program on Water and Canada?s Natural Resource Sectors in November 2008 to:

  • Identify the critical issues and opportunities associated with the water, natural resource and climate change interrelationship; and,

  • Catalyze the design and implementation of new policies, approaches and mechanisms through which water can be managed to foster both ecosystem health and economic sustainability of the sectors.

The Program is based on the premise that the economic sustainability of the agriculture, forestry, mining, and energy sectors and the sustainability of Canada?s water resources are intimately interrelated. The NRTEE will explore this relationship, and examine in depth, the key issues, trends, challenges, and vulnerabilities facing the sectors in Canada. Developments and experiences in the international arena will provide the context for Canada?s resource sectors and water issues themselves.


Experts from across the country representing academia, the four sectors, governments, non-governmental organizations and the Aboriginal community were invited by the NRTEE to a day-long workshop to assist in ?charting a path? that would shape the Program?s focus.

The event?s purpose was to:

  • Confirm current and emerging issues and opportunities in water use and the natural resource sectors; and,
  • Solicit advice on where the NRTEE can, within the existing Program outline, best contribute to the national water agenda.

A discussion paper highlighting issues and challenges identified to date through the NRTEE?s initial scoping phase was used as a starting point for the day?s deliberations.

Christopher Hilkene, NRTEE Member and Chair of the Program?s Expert Advisory Committee.

  The workshop was chaired by Christopher Hilkene, NRTEE Member and Chair of the Program?s Expert Advisory Committee. Bill Borland, Chair of the Canadian Water Network and Vice President, Canadian Federal Programs, AMEC Earth Environmental, provided the opening address asking participants to consider where Canadians want to be in terms of managing and preserving our freshwater resources in the next 10-20 years.

NRTEE Senior Policy Advisor Liza Campbell set the stage for the day?s deliberations warning that ?there is no clarity on the extent to which sectors are reliant on a predictable supply of useable water?each sector will have a different vulnerability relationship.?

The following trends were used to frame the discussion:

  • Competing demands for water resources creates water quantity, quality and
    allocation issues.
  • The climate is changing and this will affect groundwater, rivers and streams,
    lakes and reservoirs, wetlands, and the cryosphere in different ways.
  • Water will act as a constraint on future development in Canadian energy,agricultural, forestry and mining sectors.
  • Solutions that are grounded in an integrated approach to water management will
    be needed to meet competing demands.

Questions to Workshop Participants:


Experts validated that the issues identified in the discussion paper are in-line with their understanding of water issues and challenges in Canada. They also confirmed that the NRTEE has identified an important niche area within the broader water area by taking an integrated approach and focusing on the four natural resource sectors. While much research has already been undertaken in Canada on water itself, and on water and climate change, relatively little has been done on the interrelationship between water,
climate change and the four sectors.

There was solid support for the Program as it is currently defined, and recognition that the next steps will involve further narrowing of its scope. Climate change was viewed as an important variable, but not seen to be the primary focus.

Robert Dubé
Round Table Member

The NRTEE was encouraged to focus on its strength as a catalyst and convenor. The agency is viewed as well-positioned to take an important, leadership role and engage the four sectors. The absence of leadership on water management at the federal level over the years was viewed by many as a long-term barrier to progress on effective water management in Canada.

It was suggested that through the design of consensus-building and stakeholder engagement processes, combined with solid research into sector-specific and cross-sectoral/watershed issues, the Program will result in effective policy and governance recommendations. Participants felt that the process itself should result in receptivity for new tools and mechanisms aimed at enhancing the natural resource sector?s sustainability.

A key message from experts was for the NRTEE to first identify what science, knowledge, data and information are already ?out there? as there is a wealth of information, however it is fragmented across the country and housed within academia, government departments and the industries themselves. Developing a solid understanding of each sector?s relationship with water will provide the foundation for an examination of issues such as the role and value of water; allocation; ecosystem requirements; and, governance and policy needs.


The following section captures the main discussion points and range of advice provided to the NRTEE in response to the following questions raised both in the workshop discussion paper and at the event. These points do not necessarily reflect the NRTEE?s position on these issues. However, this advice will be considered in our next steps.

Discussion Questions:

(1) What are the critical water trends and related challenges currently faced by the agriculture, energy, forestry and mining sectors?

(2) How well positioned are these sectors to address the current and future water availability and quality concerns?

International Drivers

  • One issue raised is the fact that the biggest demand for water worldwide is for irrigation to produce food. The population of the world is expected to reach 8 to 9 billion by 2050, requiring 3,800 cubic kilometres more water in irrigation to meet food demands, which is almost all the water available on the surface of the earth. This will necessitate some challenging public policy trade-offs and can be seen as both an opportunity for Canadian agriculture and an obligation for Canada to change current water management practices and service a global economy.

Bill Borland

Bill Borland
Chair of the Canadian Water Network

Paradigm Shift

  • The paradigm of growth and abundance that has traditionally governed natural resource management, rather than sustainability, has not been reflective of ecological limits nor a value of ecological goods and services. For example, the monetary cost of a bushel of wheat does not include the cost of environmental degradation nor the cost of the water used for its growth and production. This paradigm is changing but not quickly enough, resulting in the rapid depletion of resources and degradation of the ecosystems that support the very viability of the sectors.

Data and Knowledge Gaps

  • There is insufficient science, data, knowledge and other information on the current and projected impacts on water of the changing climate. No one sector knows how much water is being used nor will be available for resource use in the future and most industries, including those in the four sectors, underestimate the severity and impact of alterations in supply.
  • The twin threats of drought and excess are increasingly affecting hydroelectric dams.

Water Management & Governance

  • Each sector is adapting differently to changing water availability with size, scale and geographic location playing important roles. The agricultural sector, for example, is distinctly different from the other three in terms of the size of the establishments; its capability to undertake research or to react or adapt to climate change; and in its ability to seize opportunities. The government will have to recognize that there are sizeable differences between the typical farmer as an entrepreneur and small (or large) businesses in the mining, forestry, and energy sectors.
  • Competition for water is on the rise in Canada. Current water laws are not equipped to deal with allocation or regulation in situations of decline in availability. Laws are fragmented, decision-making processes are non-collaborative, and the sectors are regulated in silos.
  • New water management mechanisms, tools and approaches are needed and those that do exist, should be more widely adopted. Governance barriers and lack of political will are considered significant obstacles to progress on more effective water management. It was noted that?we? have been ?doing the wrong thing with great enthusiasm? in relation to public policy development.

Discussion Question

(3) What are the shared water challenges across the natural resource sectors?


  • Canada is not viewed as having a good record of developing processes that go beyond site-specific impacts to assess and consider cumulative environmental effects of natural resource development activities. More of these types of processes are required as they promote understanding of the issues and impacts, provide creative tensions, and provide third-party validation. In addition, there is no logical point of entry for the broader community in shared processes should it wish to become involved.
  • Too often, policies, regulations and decision-making processes have not kept pace with sector development and ecosystem needs. Within the forestry sector, pulp and paper effluent regulations and the Fisheries Act were effective at improving effluent quality. However, the sector is now focused on significantly improving its water consumption and the current regulations are a major barrier.
  • Water quantity and quality needs should be integrated into policies and regulations. As well an assessment of the policy framework should be undertaken to determine which policies are working at cross-purposes.
  • Aboriginal governments and representation continue to be on the periphery of water
    management discussions and the NRTEE is well-positioned to address this issue.

Water Allocation, Value and Pricing

  • The ability of sectors to address changes in water availability needs to be determined. This can be achieved with a detailed analysis within selected watersheds to review conflicts, trends, and best practices. There is a need to balance sector water use and ecosystem requirements, given the sector?s reliance on a readily available supply of water.
  • Historic allocation and governance mechanisms are not reflective of the changing ?value? of water and decrease in its availability. Some allocations go back 100 years ago and were assigned for purposes no longer relevant. Regulatory barriers are seen to be the primary obstacle to permitting reforms. This issue crosses all four sectors and will continue to become more of a challenge, as competition between the four sectors, municipal water use, and ecosystem needs rises.

  • Until recently, little or no attention has been paid to water use and efficiency within the four sectors. Pricing water is viewed as an effective means of better valuing water and triggering greater efficiencies in its use. The resistance to pricing and full-cost accounting for water will be a challenge in the medium to long term. It could be detrimental to the four sectors if these tools are not implemented in a pro-rated fashion.

  • It is anticipated that it is just a matter of time before Canada will have to determine what kind of role it wishes to play globally in the face of declining water supplies and rising international demand for this country?s water. Recognizing that it is a highly emotive issue, it was suggested there are markets internationally (particularly south of the border) for Canada?s water should a price be given to this resource. How rising international demand is addressed from a policy perspective must be factored into a national approach to Canada?s water resources. It will be imperative for political decision makers and resource managers to fully understand the status of
    Canada?s water, and to the extent possible, develop future scenarios to be able to assess what the implications could be should there be interest in exploring those markets.

  • As part of a suite of economic instruments, incentives for innovation should be considered. However, while innovation and technological solutions are part of the water management solution, promoting innovation across the sectors is a challenge. Very different incentives and market structures drive innovation and these must first be understood.

Discussion Questions

(4) In what areas is change required to address trends and vulnerabilities and leverage responsibilities?

(5) What substantive changes are needed to address each of these areas?


  • It was deemed that for action on water management to happen in Canada a champion is needed.
  • The first change required is for water to be recognized by senior decision-makers as a priority with national goals established. A national water strategy is viewed as a very necessary tool to drive a new public water ethic and bring about policy changes and new governance structures and mechanisms. Greater involvement of stakeholders in decision making is viewed as critical to the policy?s successful implementation.
  • Through a national water strategy, roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for different levels of government and players would be better clarified and barriers to interjurisdictional cooperation reduced. It is viewed that this approach would give indigenous communities a point of access to the Canadian water dialogue. A strategy would provide a collective sense of the significance of water, including its contribution to GDP; role in productivity; importance to ecosystem health; and, broad societal considerations.
  • With or without a national water strategy, adaptation of the policy framework is required to incent enhanced conservation efficiency and water productivity. However, there is first a need to better understand the relative roles and potential for incentives and regulations in water management.
  • In moving forward with the creation of any new governance mechanism, an examination of successful initiatives locally and regionally, such as the Fraser Basin Council, should be performed. The basin or watershed level decision-making body is attractive, particularly as it could be used as the basis for allocation.

Science, Data and Knowledge Transfer

  • Canada needs to re-invest in its scientific knowledge base and re-build its capacity within government.
  • While much information already exists, particularly at the local level, it is not widely shared, nor collated and incorporated into decision making at higher government and industry levels. The NRTEE is viewed as being well-positioned to play such a coordination and information dissemination function as part of its water program.
  • It was pointed out that there are not likely to be any significant improvements in modeling in the near future, and techniques such as risk assessment and risk management to determine probabilities of climate induced water-related events occurring are viable alternatives.

Water Allocation

  • Change is required in allocation systems as ecosystem needs for water to deliver essential ecosystem services must first be determined. Only then should water be allocated.

Discussion Question

(6) Given the NRTEE?s mandate and the other ongoing initiatives in Canada on water, what are the most important research and policy questions the NRTEE can best address to fill a knowledge and policy gap?

  • Gather information: Gather current information and data at the interface of water and climate change. This does not involve new research, but rather is a survey of the state of the issue. This then needs to be translated into politicianese?politically understandable language that cuts through the Gordian knot of this complex issue.

  • Trends analysis: Document and examine both international and domestic tends related to demand for Canada?s natural resources and for water. This exercise would contribute to a collective understanding of where the world is heading and what it might be like in 25 years. A forward-looking approach would contextualize more immediate science, data, management and policy needs, building a foundation for a pro-active rather than reactionary approach.

  • Convene the sectors: Convene the four sectors separately to talk about what they are doing, how they see their futures with respect to water, and the impact of climate change. This strategic approach is best coordinated by the Round Table given its unique capacity to communicate to both the public and politicians. In contrast, many industries struggle to reach those audiences. The NRTEE could then synthesize and distil the results of these four managed dialogues and where possible, reach conclusions and make recommendations.

  • Survey best practices: Conduct a survey of best practices in each of the four sectors with respect to adaptation to climate change, rising demand and changes in water availability. Determine how have some industries or sectors successfully adapted with respect to water. The Round Table could assemble these as examples of catalytic actions. This could include industrial practices, water conservation approaches, governance, institutional structures, and the connection between governance and decision makers. Another part of this is to consider how water is currently

  • New water management processes: Catalyze the development of water conservation, productivity, and efficiency process for the four natural resource sectors.

  • Communicate the urgency: Building on the research findings and momentum created
    throughout the Program, communicate a clear message to the federal government on the urgent need for water policy reform in Canada.

  • Establish Leadership Networks

    • Supply-side networks: Examine the different organizations at play in the public policy environment on the supply side of public policy. These include Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP), and the Gordon Foundation, among others. There is a risk that these organizations will duplicate efforts and thus be inefficient.

    • Demand-side networks: Second, because the issue of water is fragmented across the country, there is a risk that much of this work will not ?find a home.? To help alleviate this, create demand among industry for better coordinated public policy.

    • Community of practitioners: Catalyze the establishment of a community of
      practitioners who need to share information and best practices, much like a network of excellence.

  • Cost of inaction: Analyse the cost of inaction to Canada, its exports, the sector?s sustainability, and long-term water availability. Invite the four sectors to assess the risk in the context of international and domestic changes and trends for their particular sector. The sectors would then explore how best to maintain economic and environmental prosperity in the future, identifying the necessary changes needed along the way. The results of this dialogue would be delivered to senior government decision makers in order to empower change.

  • Collate best management practices: Develop an inventory of lessons learned?both positive and negative?regarding watershed management. This is required in order to begin to understand cumulative climate changes and to properly inventory each sector?s vulnerability. Share with stakeholders and use to support the NRTEE recommendations.

  • Forests: Highlight the role of forests in sustaining and restoring water resources, and how forest management can be used as a bioremediation strategy for damaged ecosystems. Examples of where this is used could be highlighted.

  • Present findings: Present to key decision makers water policy reform measures that would improve the capacity of the four sectors to adapt to an uncertain water future.


  • There are 200 jurisdictions in Canada claiming responsibility for water. As the Round Table has had success in the area of governance, it could be quite effective in putting together a governance framework for water, noting where the redundancies lie, and ultimately recommending an effective framework. This would not be intended to centralize water jurisdictions, but coordinate when one entity oversteps its line.

National Water Strategy

  • Firstly, develop a national consensus on where Canada needs to go vis-à-vis a national water strategy where areas of mutual benefit, cooperation and accountability among stakeholders are identified. Encourage federal leadership as part of this process.

  • Secondly, catalzye the creation of a national water strategy that reflects Canada?s science and social values and incorporates its natural resources sectors. Begin with the Canada?s existing water policy that was tabled in 1987 (http://www.ec.gc.ca/WATER/en/info/pubs/fedpol/e fedpol.htm). Examine where it is still applicable and where it needs to be updated.
  • Involve Aboriginal communities in defining and implementing a new water ethic. Climate change, water quality and quantity, community-based knowledge, adaptation, and governance, are all issues that affect all Aboriginal communities.

Watershed Management

  • Place more emphasis on watershed management and citizen engagement rather than promotion of a centralized approach. Watershed management uses a neighbourhood approach that involves people, and it is ultimately the population that will have to change.

Attaching a Value/Price to Water

  • Foster the development of insitutions that reveal water?s value in competing uses and establish prices that reflect that value. Consideration of water?s critical role in ecological sustainability and implications from a cost perspective for sectors would have to be taken.

Liza Campbell

Liza Campbell
NRTEE Senior Policy Advisor

Communicating the Urgency?bring the issue to public consciousness

  • Bring water to public consciousness?to the mainstream. This is not just a problem for the environment in terms of water conservation, it is also one for the economy. Demonstrate how future demand for water will limit growth in these four sectors. Document how avoiding action now will lead to significant future impacts for industries that will not be able to expand.
  • Sound the alarm about water quality and quantity and communicate that the crisis is already here. There is unlikely to be much action until policiticians believe we have a crisis. The NRTEE can bring together a unique set of partners to express concern and issue a national call for leadership. Collaborate with industry to make this case.

Examine Specific Policies or Approaches

  • Recognize the opportunity that dams present as a solution to adapt to increasing water needs and water variability, and address misperceptions e.g., the bias against hydropower. Dams have a huge storage capacity that could be used to mitigate some of the fluctuations that result from climate change, both for flood control purposes and to supply drinking water in times of drought.
  • Promote policies that lead to improved water supply. Consider irrigation as an opportunity and the role of dams to assist irrigation efforts. If climate is becoming more variable, irrigation will have to play a part in maintaining and expanding agricultural lands, which will be needed for food production for a growing domestic and international population.
  • Start nationally with something practical, efficient, and quick, such as conservation, efficiency, and productivity. Seven sectors in Alberta will be taking this approach. Three recent water crises in Alberta have prompted the province to move forward, but it would be helpful to also be moving nationally.
  • Develop a metric to measure an industry?s or a sector?s water footprint. There is currently much disagreement about this. Setting a standard would also engage the industries and serve as a metric for measuring success.
  • Define what the so-called ?new economy? will look like globally and nationally and determine what this means to Canada?s water resources. Detemine as well what Canada?s national capacity will need to be, especially in regard to science and national guidelines.
  • Undertake a deeper analysis of the water situation in Canada. All recent examples have been ?a mile wide and an inch deep? and lack data analysis. The first step would be to measure water?s contribution to the four sectors.
  • Consider how innovation and water use can be helpful. Industry has already begun to go down this road, so develop best practices.
  • Look for actions with short- and medium-term impacts. Promote instruments that will change behaviour.

Discussion Question

(7) What are the criteria for the selection of an appropriate watershed case study site?

  • Use watersheds that already have sophisticated processes that are moving the water issue forward as a way to examine public policy reform. A single case study or even multiple case studies of watersheds could assist in this analysis.

5. Summary and Next Steps

This summary presents a broad range of views and advice from experts on key issues and possible areas in which the NRTEE could focus its Program. The NRTEE wishes to thank all participants for their valued advice and contribution. Input and direction received at the workshop will be considered and used to further define the NRTEE?s Program scope, focus and research agenda. Over the coming months, the Expert Advisory Committee and NRTEE Water Sub-committee will be meeting to further guide the Program and launch into the research stage.



Allen, Paul
Assistant Director, Freshwater, Horizontal, Policy and Science Coordination
Natural Resources Canada

Balpataky, Katherine
Research Associate
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTE)

Boisclair, David
Research Director
Institute for Research on Public Policy

Borland, Bill
Vice President, Canadian Federal Programs AMEC Earth Environmental

Brooks, David
Senior Advisor, Fresh Water
Friends of the Earth Canada

Brubaker, Elizabeth
NRTEE Member; (Executive Director, Environment Probe)

Campbell, Liza
Senior Policy Advisor
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Cantin, Bernard
Policy Research Initiative

Carignan, Serge
Executive Director, I.C.I. Environment
Université du Québec à Montréal

Chamberland, Hubert
Le president du COVABAR
Comité de concertation et de valoristion du bassin de la rivière Richelieu

de Loë, Rob
Professor and University Research Chair in Water Policy and Governance, Department of Environment and Resource Studies
University of Waterloo

Drolet, René
Director of Policy & Research
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Dubé, Robert
NRTEE Member; (Président, ATOUT PERSONNEL)
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Edwards, Denise
Administrative Assistant
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Fortin, Pierre
Canadian Hydropower Association

Gagnon, Luc
Senior Advisor, Climate Change, Environment and Sustainable Development Unit

Gardiner, Elizabeth
Vice President, Technical Affairs
The Mining Association of Canada

Hilkene, Christopher
NRTEE Member; (Clean Water Foundation)
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Kelly, Mike
Vice President, Alberta Water Council; Former Director, Water Resources, TransAlta

Kreutzweiser, David
Research Scientist, Aquatic Ecology and Ecotoxicology, Canadian Forest Service
Natural Resources Canada

Kulshreshtha, Suren
Professor, Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics (PBE)
University of Saskatchewan

Lambert, Gordon
Vice President, Sustainable Development
Suncor Energy Inc.

Marshall, David
Founder and CEO
Fraser Basin Council

Martel, Jean-Pierre
President & CEO
Forest Products Association of Canada

McCuaig, James D.
Program Advisor
Munk Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto

McLaughlin, David
President and CEO
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Merchant, Jamshed
Assistant Deputy Minister
Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration and Environment
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Mitchell, Clyde
Senior Engineer/Project Manager
Triton Environmental Consultants Ltd.

Mitchell, Jon
Lead, Environmental Strategies
EnCana Corporation

Morris, Tim
Programme Officer, Fresh Water Resources Protection
Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation

Munroe, Geoff
Associate ADM and Chief Scientist
Assistant Deputy Minister?s Office
Natural Resources Canada

Noble, David

Nowlan, Linda

Painchaud, Jean
Service de la gestion intégrée de l?eau
Direction des politiques de l?eau
Ministère du Développement durable, de l?Environnement et des Parcs (MDDEP)

Paradiso, Christina
Policy Advisor
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Pentland, Ralph
Canadian Water Issues Council

Phare, Merrell-Ann
Executive Director and Legal Counsel
Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER)

Phillips, Richard
Alberta Irrigation Projects Association

Prokopanko, Richard
NRTEE Member; (Director, Corporate Affairs for B.C. Rio Tinto Alcan Inc.)
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Renzetti, Steven
Professor, Department of Economics
Brock University

Sandford, Bob
Chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative United Nations, Water for Life Decade;
Western Watersheds Climate Research Collaborative

Saunders, J. Owen
Executive Director, Canadian Institute of Resources Law
University of Calgary

Servos, Mark
Scientific Director, Canadian Water Network, Canada; Research Chair, Water Quality Protection, Department of Biology
University of Waterloo

Slater, Robert
NRTEE Member; (Adjunct Professor, Environmental Policy, Carleton University)
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Sopuck, Robert
NRTEE Member; (Vice-President of Policy, Delta Waterfowl Foundation)
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

Vescovi, Luc
Chercheur et coordonnateur de programme
Ouranos Inc.

Watt, Shannon
Policy Research Analyst
Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Webster, Alain
Vice-rectorat à l?administration et au développement durable
Université de Sherbrooke

Westmacott, Chad
Senior Policy Analyst
Environment Policy Division
Natural Resources Canada

Yap, Robert
Director, Water Resources
Ontario Power Generation