The Sale of Canadian Water to the United States: A Review of Proposals, Agreements and Policies

Aruni de Silva
August 18, 1997

(Aruni de Silva, a student in the Environment and Resource Management program at the University of Toronto, researched and wrote this paper to fulfill the requirements of the Professional Experience Course offered by the university’s Innis College.)

Introduction

Water, the most highly demanded resource on earth, is unequally distributed around the globe. North America exemplifies the imbalance. Canada, with 0.5 percent of the world’s population, is blessed with 9 percent of the globe’s fresh, renewable water.1 The United States, home to 4.7 percent of the world’s population, has 1 percent of its water.2 With the exception of the prairie farmers, who have suffered periodic droughts, Canadians have experienced few severe water shortages. Our southern neighbours, in contrast, especially those living in the southwestern United States, have experienced acute water shortages. Canada’s water advantage has inspired a number of proposals for large scale water exports from Canada to the United States. Most such exports, requiring massive interbasin transfers, would dramatically alter the flows and levels of Canada’s inland waters, disrupting delicately balanced ecologies. As a result, the livelihoods of those who depend on those waters would also be adversely affected.

The United States

The western United States, the nation’s fastest growing region, has been dealt a poor share of the world’s fresh water. California, for example, does not receive much precipitation over the year, and the precipitation it does receive falls within one season. Nevada has virtually no rain at all, and the little that does fall is lost as there is no adequate soil to capture and use the precipitation. Lakes and rivers are minimal throughout the West.3

The lack of a sufficient natural supply of fresh water together with natural droughts and floods, poor pricing policies and poor water management have resulted in severe fresh water shortages during the past thirty years. The threat of global warming increases anxiety over the US water supply in the future.4

Agriculture

Although the American West lacks adequate supplies of fresh water, agriculture is an important sector of its economy. As virtually all agriculture in the region depends on irrigation,5 the largest consumptive use of fresh water in the western US is irrigation.6 In California, 85 percent of water used is for irrigation purposes and in Arizona, the number soars as high as 90 percent.7 The West has survived, grown and has succeeded with its agricultural industry by exhausting its ground water supplies and bringing in water from other regions. Poor irrigation methods have increased ground water extraction and wastage.8 The West is consuming ground water at rates far greater than naturally replenishable rates. One quarter of the ground water extracted in the US each year is not being replenished.9 Ground water in California has been pumped without regulation. Ground water levels in the Ogallala aquifer, which supports part of the agriculture of Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Nebraska, are declining.10 The West can no longer solely rely on its ground water supply to meet the demands for water.

Since there is not much water with which to irrigate in the West, engineers have built dams and created aqueducts through mountains, deserts and even across the Continental Divide. American water bodies and rivers have been diverted to meet water demands in the West.11

Droughts & Floods

The effects of natural droughts and floods have increased as the demand for a constant and greater supply of fresh water has risen over the past thirty years. The drought of 1988 placed such a great strain on the western states that 13 US senators called for the diversion of water from the Great Lakes into the Mississippi river.12

Floods and droughts increase an already bitter strain on agriculturists to supply adequate water to their crops. Drought periods fail to deliver sufficient precipitation, if any, and increase evaporation rates, leaving soils dry and biologically inactive and infertile. Floods can have disastrous effects as well. Contamination of fresh water with salt water can occur. Worse, sewers are apt to overflow into rivers and water bodies during floods. As the demand for water increases and the natural supply of water diminishes, the effects of floods and droughts magnify considerably.

Water Pricing Policy

Water in the US, as in Canada, has been highly subsidized. Many communities throughout the US do not metre the water used by households. Residents rarely pay the actual cost of the water they use. As a result, inefficient, wasteful water use and unrepaired leakages have increased, furthering the depletion of water.13

Agricultural water use is even more heavily subsidized. The US federal government has funded the majority of the country’s massive water projects since the late 19th century. In general, most farmers are required to pay only 19 percent of the real costs of irrigation. As a result, excessive amounts of ground and surface water are used to irrigate low value crops. Successive federal government attempts to reform the system through complex user-fee arrangements have not yet fully succeeded due to the lack of planning and structure needed to carry out the reforms.14

Global Warming

Threats of climate change increase uncertainties regarding future water supply both in Canada and the US. Climate change may decrease water supply reliability by altering the hydrologic balance. Some scientists expect Great Lakes levels to decrease and predict that the number of droughts and floods will increase. They also expect sea levels to rise, flooding coastal waters and reducing the amount of fresh water.15

With a doubling of carbon dioxide, Environment Canada predicts a 50 percent decrease in soil moisture which will adversely affect the Canadian prairies. Effects on US agriculture would be more severe.16

Canada

With 9 percent of the world’s fresh water, Canada is thought to have an abundant supply of this valued resource. Sixty percent of that water runs north to Hudson Bay and the Arctic, away from 80 percent of Canada’s population.17 Sixty percent of Canada’s fresh water is, therefore, largely inaccessible.

This “unused” water is regarded as a waste by interested US and Canadian politicians, engineers and economists. Canada’s western waters have also fallen under scrutiny because it is believed that British Columbia has 1600 times more fresh water than it consumes. A number of fresh water rivers flow into the ocean in British Columbia. Huge amounts of fresh water being “wasted” in this manner have inspired a minority of Canadians to urge the export of that water. Canada’s large deficit and poor economic conditions over the past ten years have also persuaded some economists to view water export with a favourable eye.18

Water Export Proposals

There have been a number of large scale water export schemes proposed since the 1950s. Many of them are closely related and all involve massive diversion of rivers and interbasin transfers. Supporters of these projects believe that water export would be beneficial to Canada economically and may enhance the environment of some of the affected areas. Others believe that the economic, environmental and social costs involved would be phenomenal and irreversible. For instance, the average cost of large scale water export would be $1500 per 1000 cubic metres of water. The US would likely pay $130 per 1000 cubic metres.19 Most of the proposals would rely on government subsidies.20

North American Water and Power Alliance

Ralph M. Parsons Limited, an engineering firm in Pasadena, California, first introduced the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) proposal in 1964. The plan was initially the brainstorm of Hillman Hanson, an employee of Ralph M. Parsons Limited, in the late 1950s. Francis Dale, a lawyer employed by the same company, adopted Hanson’s plan, with permission, and developed it further to what it is now.21

The NAWAPA plan proposes to divert 160 million acre feet per year of Canadian and Alaskan waters through Canada to the US and to the northern states of Mexico.22 The Yukon, Skeena, Fraser, Peace and Columbia rivers would be dammed and the Rocky Mountain Trench, a river-cut, glacial-carved valley running along the British Columbia-Alberta border, would then be flooded and used as a reservoir.23

Further, the Yukon, Tanana, Copper, Taku, Skeena, Stikine, Liard, Bella Coola, Dean, Chilcotin and Fraser rivers would be reversed and pushed back by pumps into the Rocky Mountain Trench. Some of this water would flow down the Peace river creating “The Canadian Great Lakes Water Way.”24 Waters would then be impounded in Flathead Lake, Montana Lake and Lake Mead. It is estimated that on the whole the plan would involve 240 dams and reservoirs, 112 water diversions and 17 aqueducts and canals.25 Francis Dale estimates that the NAWAPA project will supply Canada with 30 million acre feet of water per year for irrigation and industrial purposes as well as creating one hundred new lakes and reservoirs. Further, the Great Canadian Lakes Waterway, which would be created through the establishment of NAWAPA, would stabilize Great Lake fluctuations and open up shipping routes from the west to the east.26

According to Francis Dale, the scheme, projected to take 40 years to complete, if approved, would be privately funded and executed. The necessary funds, projected at approximately $300 billion, would be raised through the project’s supporters – Ralph M. Parsons Limited, Alaska Energy Authority (an independent firm) and Dillon Read and Company Incorporated – as well as through individual revenue bonds. Dale assured Canadians in 1992 that a feasibility study would be carried out at private expense, with environmental, economic and scientific experts. The public, however, would support a satellite study, using NASA equipment, that would provide the necessary information on the routes of the affected water bodies and the topography of the land. Although the construction of the project would be funded privately, the costs of using the NASA satellite, estimated at $50 million, would be covered by the Canadian, American and Mexican governments. An Independent International Advisory Board made up of scientists and environmentalists from all over the world would monitor construction of the project.27

Although the plan lay dormant for over 15 years, economic problems in the 1970s28 followed by the droughts in the 1980s29 alarmed US politicians, who feared severe economic depression if enough water was not available for agriculture, and led to the reintroduction of the proposal in the US in the late 1980s. Both US and Canadian politicians refused to admit to Canadian citizens that the plan was for water export. Rather, Canadians were told repeatedly that the damming and diversion of so many rivers was to increase hydroelectric power at Niagara, to increase irrigation for the Canadian prairies and to establish the Canadian Great Lakes Water Way.30

British Colombia’s premier in 1981 justified the proposal by stating that the fresh water going into the ocean was a waste.31 Fred Paley of Snowcap Waters, a glacial water bottling company in Union Bay, British Columbia, furthered this conception of wasted fresh water. At a conference sponsored by the Canadian Water Resources Association in 1992, Paley argued that the 294 billion gallons of fresh water entering into the Pacific Ocean from British Columbia each day should be put to better use.32

Proposed as separate projects, the Central North American Water Project, the Kuiper Diversion Scheme, the Western States Water Augmentation Concept, the Magmum Diversion Scheme, the Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin and the North Thompson Reservoir Project make up sections of the larger NAWAPA plan.

Central North American Water Project

Roy Tinney, director of the Washington State Resource Centre, proposed the Central North American Water Project (CeNAWP), in 1968, as an alternative to NAWAPA. CeNAWP proposes a series of canals and pumping stations linking Canadian western waters to Great Bear Lake, Great Slave Lake, Lake Athabasca, Lake Winnipeg and finally to the Great Lakes. The plan is very similar to a NAWAPA plan with fewer rivers involved.33

The Kuiper Diversion Scheme

Professor E. Kuiper of the University of Manitoba proposed this project in 1966. The scheme is very similar to CeNAWP. It proposes to begin water diversion from the Mackenzie river into rivers across western Canada, following the same route as CeNAWP.34

The Western States Water Augmentation Concept

In 1968, L. G. Smith proposed the Western States Water Augmentation Concept (WSWAC) to use western Canada’s drainages and the Rocky Mountain Trench to store and move water to the southern US. The WSWAC is a two-part proposal. The first half proposes to divert water from the Liard basin south to the Rocky Mountain Trench. Water would then be transferred through tunnels and canals into the Fraser, Columbia and Kootenay rivers to the US.

The second half of the proposal suggests transferring waters from the Smokey, Athabaska and Saskatchewan rivers through the Qu’Appelle river to Lake Winnipeg and then south to the US.35

The Magmum Diversion Scheme

Another western Canada diversion project, created by L. Magnusson in the late 1960s, proposes to divert water from the Peace River Basin via the Athabasca, the North Saskatchewan, the Battle, the South Saskatchewan and the Qu’Appelle drainages to the Souris river, which flows naturally to the US.36

Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin

The Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB) published a nine volume report in 1972, listing 23 diversion projects and 55 dam projects under the heading of the Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin (SNB). While purported to meet western Canada’s future water needs, critics fear that the scheme is intended to supply water to the US.37

Taking shape since the 1970s, the SNB proposes to link a number of lakes and rivers across western Canada. The Mackenzie river would be diverted into the Churchill basin and from there into Wollaston Lake, Reindeer Lake and finally into the Churchill River System. From the Churchill River System, the Saskatchewan river, Canada’s fourth largest river, would be used as storage until the water was delivered into Cedar Lake. The water stored in Cedar Lake would be diverted south through canals and drained into Lake Manitoba. This water would then be pumped into the Assiniboine river through an existing channel at the bottom of Lake Manitoba, into the Souris river. Critics fear that the water, through the Souris river, will then be delivered into the Garrison river in North Dakota.38

The North Thompson Reservoir Project

This scheme, to export one million acre feet of water a year from the North Thompson river to the US, was proposed by K.V.A. Resources Incorporated, a US dam building company, and by British Columbian William Clancy’s Multinational Power and Water.39 The plan would involve forcing the water into the Columbia Drainage and, from there, into the John Day Dam Reservoir. The water would then be pumped into southern California through the Sacramento river.

The following dams necessary for the progression of the project have already been built for other purposes: Mica, Bennett, Duncun, Libby, Pemba, Big Horn, Gardiner, Hungary Horse, Welson, Saskatchewan.40 The pipes used to pump the water during diversion would be placed under Mount Albreda, McNaughton Lake, John Day Reservoir and under the lower end of the Columbia river. The water would then be pumped through deserts and mountains into the Shesta Lake Reservoir in California.41

The Great Replenishment and Northern Development Canal

The Great Replenishment and Northern Development Canal (GRAND Canal) plan, actively promoted by the late Quebec premier, Robert Bourassa, in 1985, was first proposed by Tom Kierans, a Newfoundland engineer, in 1959. The GRAND Canal has been referred to as the “eastern version of NAWAPA.”42 The plan proposes to dam the mouth of James Bay. Sluice gates in the dike enclosure would open at low tide and close at high tide, allowing salt water to flow into Hudson Bay while retaining fresh water from local rivers in James Bay. Within a few years, James Bay would become a fresh water lake.43

Twenty percent of the fresh water from James Bay would be pumped down to the Great Lakes. Each second, 1125 cubic metres of water from Lake Superior would then be transferred to the dry regions of Canada and the US through a floodway system created for that purpose.44 Transferring water from the Great Lakes to the West would have to involve further diversions of rivers and lakes, including the Great Lakes, although the proposal itself does not discuss which water bodies would be affected or even how the plan proposes to transfer water to the West.

The project’s purpose is fourfold: to increase the water levels of the Great Lakes, where water is in great demand; to offset possible climate change, which may alter natural inflows of water; to enhance water quality in the Great Lakes and in Hudson Bay; and to provide relief from drought and floods in Canada and the US.45 Tom Kierans fervently believes that it is in Canada’s best interests to change James Bay into a fresh water lake and to use the abundance of fresh water, otherwise flowing into Hudson Bay and into the Arctic Ocean, where it is needed. According to Kierans, the “fundamental problem of the Hudson Bay is that there is too much fresh water.”46 Little biological productivity occurs, because of low salinity levels, in the upper 60 metres of the water. As a result, the water does not support any commercial fishery. In Kierans words, “only a few seals and beluga live up there anyway.”47 Kierans explains that low salinity levels result in early freezes and late melts, thereby creating a lot of ice. This is problematic, according to Kierans, as ice holds no salt and only “adds to the fresh water problem.” Kierans is adamant that Canadians “have to decrease the amount of fresh water” in Hudson Bay and that “anything that can be done to decrease the amount of fresh water is beneficial”48 as it would increase the biological productivity of the area. Kierans also suggests that by recycling up to 20 percent of James Bay run-off to the Great Lakes, Great Lakes fluctuations would decrease by 40 percent.49 Furthermore, floods and droughts in the Hudson-James Bay Region would decrease and the amount of ice in the area would diminish.50

Kierans describes the Grand Canal as a recycling project rather than a water diversion project. He differentiates between diversion and recycling through the following definitions: Diversion occurs before the water body reaches the sea and recycling occurs after the water body reaches the sea. As the dike enclosure protects fresh water from sea water, saved fresh water is recycled and pumped out of James Bay south towards the Great Lakes.51

Despite Kierans’ claims, the Grand Canal plan would involve trapping and reversing 17 percent of Ontario’s and Quebec’s fresh water, and sending augmented flows into the Ottawa river, then into Lake Nippissing, the French river and Lake Huron and from there into the drier regions of Canada and the US.52 Although Kierans did not explicitly mention the Magpie river, literature quotes versions of his proposal where dams developed for the Magpie River Development would be used to carry water into the Great Lakes.53 The Magpie River Development plan proposed to build three dams on the Magpie river, directing the flow of the river into Lake Superior for local industry. Although the proposal failed the Environmental Impact Assessment, some believe that it is still on a “long term” agenda.54 The GRAND Canal plan would require nine interbasin transfer locations; four of them would be situated in Canada. Pumps would individually regulate reservoirs, which would be built into rivers. The technology required to reverse many of the rivers is said to be already in place, for if the turbines used for hydro dams are reversed, they will act as pumping stations.55

In 1994 the capital costs for the Grand Canal were estimated to be $100 billion. Operation costs are projected to be $1 billion a year.56

Projects Related to Water Export

Various projects throughout Western Canada have been proposed for the purpose of irrigation, hydro power and power plant cooling. With the following proposed projects, there are various components that suggest that the projects are vital to the success of some of the interbasin transfers designed for large scale water exports discussed above.

Rafferty – Alameda Dam

The Rafferty-Alameda Dam (RAD), situated in Saskatchewan, has provoked an enormous amount of controversy, not only for its export oriented nature but also for its reliance on water diversion and its inefficient construction. Construction began on the dam before the completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment by the Canadian Environmental Review Board and there is considerable concern that the reservoir is too large to fill, accelerates evaporation rates and degrades water quality. Nevertheless, the Saskatchewan government signed an agreement with the United States in which the US provided the Saskatchewan government with one third ($50 million) of the dam’s total cost.57 The Saskatchewan government went ahead with the proposal, regardless of Federal appeals and warnings.58

According to the agreement between Saskatchewan and the US, the US has control over the operation and regulation of the dam for 100 years.59 As the dam relies on the Souris river, fed entirely on snow melt and precipitation, there is considerable doubt the Souris will fill the dam for one hundred years. It is feared that the Qu’Appelle river, 100 miles away and linked to the Saskatchewan River System, will be diverted to the Souris river. It is said that much of the infrastructure needed for the diversion already exists.60

The Saskatchewan government has promoted the dam for irrigation, power plant cooling and flood control in North America although much skepticism surrounds these justifications. The RAD is situated where both the NAWAPA and the GRAND Canal proposals require dam sites.61 However, the federal government did release a licence allowing the completion of the dam. Frank Quinn, Water Policy Advisor for Environment Canada, does not believe that the RAD is associated with any water export proposals.62

The Oldman River Dam

In 1987 the government of Alberta issued construction permits on the Oldman River Dam, despite declarations by the Environment Council of Alberta that existing reservoirs and canals in the area would suffice to serve farmers in the Oldman River Valley. It is suspected that the project is export oriented because it is unnecessary for irrigation and was included in a 1979 memo that illustrated a ten stage plan for interbasin transfers: The Oldman River Dam appeared as stage one.63 Once the Oldman River Dam is completed, conditions for interbasin transfers throughout western Canada will be ripe. Damming of the Oldman River would not only destroy the valley of the Oldman river but that of the Crowsnest river and the Castle river.

Small Scale Water Export

A number of Canadian companies extract limited quantities of water for the purpose of export to the US and other countries. Such exports generally require provincial licences. British Columbia began to grant water export licences in the mid 1980s, on the condition that the exporting companies would pay the province a yearly licencing fee.64 In 1990, BC granted seven water exporting companies licences to export a total of 44,626.3 acre-feet of water per year.65

Tanker shipments are one form of exporting Canadian water in bulk. Tankerised shipments of water do not require massive interbasin diversions of water and are, therefore, not as costly or as environmentally and socially damaging, but do have their own adverse effects.

Bottled water is another form of small scale water export. Numerous companies, such as BC’s Snowcap Waters Limited, are bottling Canada’s ground water to sell in the US.66 The degree of damage caused by bottled water exports depends on the methods used to capture and store the water. Most companies, like Blue Mountain Beverage in Ontario – which has a permit to extract 270,000 litres a day from three sources on property near Collingwood – promise not to deplete the ground water supply and to create numerous jobs. Nearby residents have nonetheless expressed concerns that such water takings are neither taxed nor carefully monitored.67

International Agreements

Trade Agreements

The US, Canadian and Mexican governments have frequently reassured Canadians that Canada is not obligated, under the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to export its waters. In a statement entitled “The Canada – US Free Trade Agreement and Water: Setting the Record Straight,” the Minister of International Trade, John C. Crosbie, reiterated that water is neither included as a “good” under nor otherwise subject to the FTA because the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) “enable a country to restrict the export of a natural resource for reasons of environmental protection.”68 Nonetheless, considerable concern surrounds this issue. According to a variety of legal experts, the GATT and the FTA, both of which NAFTA is founded on, include water as a good to be exported from and to the three partners of NAFTA.

A trilateral side agreement signed by Canada, Mexico and the US in December 1993 stated that NAFTA would not force any partner to export water. According to the agreement, water is not a good to be traded and no party to the agreement has any rights to another party’s natural water resources. Any international right to water would have to be negotiated through specific treaties and agreements such as the Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. There is a great deal of controversy among legal, environmental and political experts as to whether the trilateral side agreement is valid or not. Because the agreement was signed by all three parties of the NAFTA agreement before NAFTA was implemented in January 1994, the trilateral side agreement could very well be binding.69 However, some critics, such as the Canadian Environmental Law Association, are skeptical about the agreement’s validity. Some are concerned that even though NAFTA may not include rights to another party’s natural waters, the GATT and the FTA – both of which remain in force – do. Nelson Riis of the New Democratic Party is one MP who believes Canada does not have any legislation that would be binding enough to protect its water from large scale export. He reiterated that water is considered a good under the FTA and therefore would be eligible for export under NAFTA.70

The FTA between Canada and the United States, signed in 1990, adopts the GATT’s classification system which includes water as a good in tariff heading 22.01: “water, including natural or artificial mineral water and aerated water, not containing added sugar or other sweetening matter, ice and snow.” In article 201.1, the FTA defines goods as “domestic products as these are understood in the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade.” The two sections therefore suggest that water could, in fact, be subject to the FTA.71

Despite Minister Crosbie’s assurances, some experts are adamant that under the GATT, export of water cannot be restricted. The General Elimination of Quantitative Restriction, Article 11, forbids restrictions applied to any good to be imported or exported except under the following three conditions:72 import of agriculture and fish products; restrictions necessary for classification, grading or marketing of commodities in international trade; temporary export restrictions on products that are essential to the exporting country.

Under the FTA, Canada and the United States fall under the National Treatment Policy, which applies to all the imports and exports of goods included in the FTA. This policy obligates Canada and the US to treat each other the same as they treat themselves.73 One country cannot protect itself through taxes or duties unless it applies the same taxes at the same rates to its own industry. Therefore, Canada will not be able to tax water being exported by an American company unless it taxes water being exported by Canadian companies at the same rate.

In 1988, Canadian International Trade Minister John Crosbie amended Bill C-130, which implemented the FTA, so that the FTA did not include “natural surface and ground water in liquid, gaseous or solid state.” This emendation may not be legally binding however, because Canada amended the bill on its own, without US consent or agreement. Bilateral agreements generally dominate domestic legislation.74

The Boundary Waters Treaty

The Boundary Waters Treaty, signed in 1909 by Canada and the US, developed a set of principles to govern water diversions and water uses on the Great Lakes. Under the treaty, the bilateral International Joint Commission must approve diversions affecting the natural level and flow of boundary waters.75

Canadian Laws and Policies

The Federal Water Policy of 1987 promised “to take all possible measures within the limit of its constitutional authority to prohibit the export of Canadian water by interbasin transfer divisions” and “to strengthen federal legislation to the extent necessary to implement this policy.” Although specific legislation implementing this policy has not been introduced,76 a number of existing laws further the policy’s ends. The Fisheries Act, which first became law in 1905, regulates the alteration of water ways supporting fish.77 Section 35 of the act forbids “the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.”

The International River Improvements Act of 1955 requires federal approval for the construction of any facility that will alter the flow of water crossing the Canada – US boundary. Many do not feel that this law is adequate to protect Canadian waters from interbasin transfers and water export.78 The Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1985 regulates construction on navigable water ways.79

Provincial Legislation

The Natural Resources Transfer Act of 1931 gave the provinces authority over the use and regulation of their waters,80 provided they did not counter federal legislation.81 Although provinces have authority over their natural resources, because the federal government has authority over trade it can implement federal and international laws over provincial legislation where applicable. Therefore, provincial legislation is not binding over federal legislation with regard to water export as it falls under trade.82 In addition, the Navigable Waters Act, the International River Improvements Act and the Fisheries Act give the Federal government greater power over the regulation and alteration of waterways.83

The following summarizes Ontario’s, Manitoba’s, Saskatchewan’s, Alberta’s and British Columbia’s positions and legislation regarding water export.

Ontario

Ontario Natural Resources Minister Vincent Kerrio passed legislation in 1989 to ban large scale water export from Ontario.84 The law permits small scale exports and water export to another province in Canada. Under the law, only the Natural Resources Minister has the authority to approve small scale exports.85

Manitoba

Manitoba has no legislation regarding water export. The provincial Water Rights Act places the diversion of water within the province under the jurisdiction of the Manitoba Crown.86 To construct any works or to divert water, a licence is necessary. These provisions of the act, section 3(2)A states, do not apply to persons acting under federal legislation.

Saskatchewan

In Saskatchewan, water export or diversion proposals would need to be approved by the Saskatchewan Water Corporation, a provincial crown corporation responsible for the management, administration, development and control of water and related resources in the province under the Water Corporation Act of 1984. A senior resource planner with the corporation states that due to severe droughts, Saskatchewan is not considering large scale water export but would consider small scale water export proposals “subject to various conditions.” The Saskatchewan Water Corporation developed a policy on water export in 1992 and is confident that the policy, together with Saskatchewan’s Water Corporation Act, would “provide effective control over water export.” Section 2A of the policy states that water export proposals involving pipelines, canals or natural water courses will not be approved.87

Alberta

Alberta’s Water Act, (Part 4 Division 2), to take effect in 1997, states that no licence will be issued if the purpose of a proposed water project is the transfer of water out of Alberta or between major river basins within Alberta, unless a licence is granted by a special act of the legislature.88

British Columbia

The 1985 Water Protection Act prohibits the removal of more than 20 litres of British Columbia’s water to locations outside of the province. The act also lists nine major watersheds (Fraser, Mackenzie, Columbia, Skeena, Nass, Stikine, Taku, Yukon, South Coast Rivers) where the construction of projects that may divert or transfer water from one watershed to another is prohibited. While a number of companies are licensed to export limited quantities of water, the act clearly states that “proposals to divert large volumes of water … are now prohibited.”89

Water Export: Costs to Canada

The environmental, social and economic costs to Canada of large scale water exports far outweigh the benefits.90

Environmental Costs91

All the possible and probable environmental effects of water diversion and interbasin transfer cannot be discussed, as they are not known. The delicate and complex workings of nature, its functions and its structure have not been, and may never be, completely understood. It is therefore impossible to foresee the quantity of environmental damage water export involves. It can only be determined, based on what we do know, that the damage will be enormous and most likely irreversible.

Large scale exports, as well as small scale diversions, could wreak tremendous damage on the affected environments and their wildlife. Large super tankers, generally used for small scale exports, can contaminate water bodies as they travel between Canada and the US. Tankers discharge their ballast water before filling their holds with fresh water cargo. Contamination can occur in this manner as foreign biota can enter the receiving water body. Oil spills from tankers can also contaminate the water and the organisms in it.

Large scale structures required for the storage and transportation of exported water would disrupt the ecosystems of remote areas. Mercury contamination from the flooding required for water diversion projects could have disastrous effects on the food chain. Because mercury bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in the tissues of mammals, the lethal effects of mercury contamination would increase along the food chain.

Parasites, bacteria, viruses, fish and plants from one water body would be carried into another during interbasin transfers. This could have disastrous effects, as the receiving waters would lack natural population controls on the foreign species. Native species would have to fight growing populations of foreign species. The natural cycles and ecological balances of the environment would be destroyed, affecting all of the species within it as well as those depending on them.

The alteration and diversion of water bodies inevitably destroys the surrounding riparian vegetation. Riparian vegetation serves as both permanent and temporary habitats for a number of species. Some aquatic organisms inhabit banks sheltered by riparian vegetation for protection from adverse weather as well as for breeding purposes.

Fresh water inflows into brackish and salt waters are ecologically significant to the biological productivity of those environments. Because fresh water has greater nitrogen and organic carbon content than does salt water, the mixing of fresh water with salt water enhances the nutrient balance of the waters. Healthy, nutrient rich waters are important for phytoplankton growth and biological productivity. Fresh water flows into salt waters also reduce the density of salt waters, thereby increasing the stability of the water and its circulation processes. The beneficial effects of fresh water and salt water mixing can be seen hundreds of miles away. For example, the Labrador Current carries the mixed fresh and salt water from the Hudson Straight to the Grand Banks (off of Newfoundland) where it contributes to the circulation of ocean water.92

Because water bodies affect the temperature and moisture of their local environments, changes in the flow, fluctuation and temperature in an affected water body could alter the local climate.

As many species depend on the natural changes in temperature, salinity content, depth and rate of flow in water bodies to signal various stages of their life cycle, tremendous alteration in the habits and reproduction of species may occur.

Diversion and rerouting of water bodies would destroy shores and banks and increase turbidity in waters. As banks are frequently used as breeding grounds, in conjunction with the alteration of water temperatures and the amount of sunlight reaching the depts, a severe decline in aquatic organisms and biological diversity would result. Aquatic organisms, in turn, are a source of food for a number of both small and large terrestrial organisms, such as birds and black bears. As these very important sources of protein were lost, wild life populations would decline. Flooding of the Rocky Mountain Trench would reduce the elk, mule deer and high horn populations that live in the valley.93

Canada’s water bodies are used as migratory routes by a number of species moving north and south depending on the time of year. Canals and reservoirs would serve as barriers to these species, leading to a population decline of those migratory species, thereby affecting wildlife from other regions.

The Rocky Mountain Trench would likely not hold as great a volume of water as proposed by the NAWAPA plan. Earthquakes and slides are a possible consequence.

Social Costs94

Many communities, especially native communities, live beside and rely on waters that are slated for export or that would be affected by exports. For example, the livelihood of Klahoose Band in the coastal region of British Columbia depends on the environment and its waters. The Band relies on the Toba Inlet’s abundant shell fish for both food and income. The Toba Inlet is of spiritual and cultural importance to the tribe as well. Proposals to capture water from the Inlet for purposes of bottled water export have threatened this native band just as other water export proposals have threatened other communities.

The extraction and diversion of water could disrupt communities in a variety of ways. Alterations in water quality or water quantity could adversely affect the aquatic organisms and vegetation that communities rely on. Facilities, structures and workers required to store and load water could disrupt communities. Cultural traditions and social relations would be disrupted. Sites sacred for spiritual and medicinal values could be lost.

Fish populations, a major source of protein for native communities, would severely decline. Furthermore, reduced and contaminated fish populations could affect animals hunted by communities for food and livelihood. Hunting areas for natives could diminish and flooding could increase in certain areas.

Conclusion

The export of Canadian waters to the US, especially when involving interbasin transfer, is a highly complex issue. The probability and success of water export depends on the situations in both countries and on the attitudes of both Canadians and Americans, who at present are hardly keen on large scale water export or import.

Small scale water exports may likely continue, although the quantity of tankerised water may decline as the costs are further realized. Large scale water export to the US is unlikely for a number of reasons. Richard C. Bocking of BC’s Richard C. Bocking Productions Limited refers to various studies on water in the US which have shown that there is no water shortage in the nation that could threaten life or the economy. He argues that proponents of water exports exaggerate the shortage of cheap water. Bocking does admit that California is in great need of water but explains that, because it has not used its water in a responsible manner, it has enormous potential for conservation. Therefore, he concludes, export of Canadian waters is neither necessary nor feasible.95

The US West has been seeking ways to support itself with its own water supply. Tougher conservation measures, new rights to buy and sell water, increased efficiency in agriculture, control of evaporation through the construction of smaller reservoirs, waste water reclamation, ground water development and recharge, saline water irrigation and desalinization projects are increasingly enabling water users to rely on local sources of water.96

Furthermore, it is evident from the numerous outcries that have arisen over the potentially exploitive nature of both the FTA and the NAFTA that Canadian citizens will not sit by and let massive schemes divert their waters. Politicians have also taken steps to establish legislation to ensure Canada’s right to successfully defend its waters, should the need arise. Given this overwhelming consensus against large scale water export, proposals will likely be relegated to positions on unrealistic planners’ long-term agendas.

NOTES

1 Gamble, Donald J. Water Export and Free Trade: A Summary Analysis with a Critique. Montreal: Rawson Academy of Science, August 24, 1988. p. 8.

Dale, Francis. “Water, Water, Everywhere, How to Get It from Here to There.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water be for Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resources Association, May 1992. p. 39.

2 Stanford, Quentin H. Canadian Oxford World Atlas. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992.

3 Reisner, Mark. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. p. 3.

4 Sullivan, Don. “Divine Intervention: The Great Canadian Water Supply Proposal.” Water Lands Advocate. Volume 3, Number 2, April 1995. p. 4.

Gamble, Donald J. Water Export and Free Trade: A Summary Analysis with a Critique. Montreal: Rawson Academy of Science, August 24, 1988. p. 10.

5 Simpson Jeffrey. “American Developments Need New Source of Water – Canadian Water.” Globe and Mail. Toronto: August 3, 1994.

6 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 46.

7 Reisner, Mark. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. p. 3.

8 Ibid., pp. 3-12.

Simpson Jeffrey. “American Developments Need New Source of Water – Canadian Water.” Globe and Mail. Toronto: August 3, 1994.

9 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 46.

10 Reisner, Mark. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. p. 10.

11 Ibid., p. 12.

12 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 46.

13 The Conservation Foundation. America’s Water: Current Trends and Emerging Issues. Washing DC: The Conservation Foundation, 1984. p. 74.

14 Ibid., p. 78.

15 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 46.

16 Ibid., p. 46.

17 Luciani, Patrick. “Why We Should Sell Our Water To America.” Financial Post Magazine. Toronto: September 1994. p. 63.

18 Ibid., p. 62.

19 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993.

20 Anderson, Terry. Continental Water Marketing. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute For Public Policy, 1994. p. 74.

Holm, Wendy (Editor). Water and Free Trade: The Mulroney Government’s Agenda For Canada’s Most Precious Resource. Toronto.: James Lorrimer and Company, 1988. p. 58.

Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 47.

21 Dale, Francis. “Water, Water, Everywhere, How to Get It from Here to There.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water be for Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resources Association, May 1992. p. 39.

22 Ibid., p. 40.

23 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 47.

Thompson, Jerry. “Diverting Interests.” Equinox. Camden East, Ontario: Equinox Publishing, April, 1993. p. 68.

24 Reisner, Mark. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. p. 506.

25 Griffen, Loretta. “Nawapa Plan: Back in Gear.” World Rivers Review. January 1992.

26 Dale, Francis. “Water, Water, Everywhere, How to Get It from Here to There.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water be for Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resources Association, May 1992. p. 41.

27 Dale, Francis. “Water, Water, Everywhere, How to Get It from Here to There.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water be for Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resources Association, May 1992. p. 48.

28 Reisner, Mark. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. p. 506.

29 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 46.

30 Reisner, Mark. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. p. 507.

31 Ibid., p. 513.

Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 47.

32 Paley, Fred. “Bulk Water Export Benefits for British Columbia.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water be for Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resources Association, May 1992. p. 6.

33 Holm, Wendy (Editor). Water and Free Trade: the Mulroney Government’s Agenda for Canada’s Most Precious Resource. Toronto: James Lorrimer and Company, 1988. p. 32.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Sullivan, Don. “Divine Intervention: The Great Canadian Water Supply Proposal.” Water Lands Advocate. Volume 3, Number 2, April 1995. p. 4.

38 Ibid.

39 Bocking, Richard C. “The Real Costs of Dams, Diversions and Water Exports.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water be for Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resources Association, May 1992. p. 255.

Griffen, Loretta. “Nawapa Plan: Back in Gear.” World Rivers Review. January 1992.

40 “N.A.W.A.P.A.” World Rivers Review. Volume 8, Number 1, 1993. p. 12.

41 Thompson, Jerry. “Diverting Interests.” Equinox. Camden East, Ontario: Equinox Publishing, April, 1993. p. 68.

42 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. p. 47.

43 Kierans, Tom. Drought and Flood Relief in Canada and the United States. Toronto: Ryerson Polytechnic University, 1993. p. 1.

44 Ibid., p. 2.

45 Ibid., pp. 2-3.

46 Kierans, Tom. Personal communication. December 1996.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Kierans, Tom. Drought and Flood Relief in Canada and the United States. Toronto: Ryerson Polytechnic University, 1993. p. 3.

50 Kierans, Tom. Personal communication. December 1996.

51 Kierans, Tom. Drought and Flood Relief in Canada and the United States. Toronto: Ryerson Polytechnic University, 1993. p. 1.

52 Pearse, P.H., F. Bertrand, J.W. MacLaren. Currents of Change: Inquiry on Federal Water Policy. Ottawa: M.O.M. Printing. Sept 1985. p. 126.

53 Holm, Wendy (Editor). Water and Free Trade: the Mulroney Government’s Agenda for Canada’s Most Precious Resource. Toronto: James Lorrimer and Company, 1988. p. 32.

54 Holm, Wendy (Editor). Water and Free Trade: the Mulroney Government’s Agenda for Canada’s Most Precious Resource. Toronto: James Lorrimer and Company, 1988. p. 32.

55 MacDonald, Jake. “The Great Canadian Water Sale.” En Route. June 1991. p. 86.

56 Anderson, Terry. Continental Water Marketing. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy , 1994. p. 72.

57 Sullivan, Don. “Divine Intervention: The Great Canadian Water Supply Proposal.” Water Lands Advocate. Volume 3, Number 2, April 1995. p. 4.

58 Orchard, David and Marjaleena Repo. “Rafferty-Alameda: The American Connection.” The Melfort Journal. November 3, 1990.

Howard, Ross. “Dam Pact 100 Year Deal, Group Says.” Globe and Mail. Toronto: March 12, 1991.

59 Howard, Ross. “Dam Pact 100 Year Deal, Group Says.” Globe and Mail. Toronto: March 12, 1991.

60 Orchard, David and Marjaleena Repo. “Rafferty-Alameda: The American Connection.” The Melfort Journal. November 3, 1990.

61 Ibid.

62 Quinn, Frank. Personal communication. Water Issues Branch, Environment Canada, Ottawa-Hull: October 30, 1996.

63 “Death of a Valley.” Harrowsmith. p.38.

64 Gellespie, Judy. Personal communication. Snowcap Waters Limited, Union Bay, British Columbia: November 13, 1996.

65 Anderson, Terry. Continental Water Marketing. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1994. p. 49.

66 Gellespie, Judy. Personal communication. Snowcap Waters Limited, Union Bay, British Columbia: November 13, 1996.

67 Boris Nikolovsky, “Cottage group seeks curbs on spring water sellers,” Toronto Star, January 17, 1995.

68 Crosbie, John C. “The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and Water: Setting the Record Straight.” Ministry of International Trade.

69 Prime Minister’s Office. “Release: Prime Minister Announces NAFTA Improvements: Canada to Proceed with Agreements.” Ottawa, December 1993.

70 “Water.” Environment Digest. March/April 1996.

71 Holm, Wendy (Editor). Water and Free Trade: the Mulroney Government’s Agenda for Canada’s Most Precious Resource. Toronto: James Lorrimer and Company, 1988. p. 35.

72 Ibid., p. 10.

73 Anderson, Terry. Continental Water Marketing. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1994. p. 63.

Holm, Wendy (Editor). Water and Free Trade: the Mulroney Government’s Agenda for Canada’s Most Precious Resource. Toronto: James Lorrimer and Company, 1988. p. 58.

74 Holm, Wendy (Editor). Water and Free Trade: the Mulroney Government’s Agenda for Canada’s Most Precious Resource. Toronto: James Lorrimer and Company, 1988. p. 12.

75 Ibid., p. 76.

76 Environment Canada. Federal Water Policy. Ottawa: Ministry of the Environment, 1987. p. 1.

77 Caulfield, Henry P. “Currents of Change: Final Report Inquiry on Federal Water Policy.” Environment. Volume 28. St. Louis: December 1996. p. 129.

78 Ibid.

79 Frita, Gary and Matthew McKinney. “Exporting Water: Toward a Policy Framework.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water Be For Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resources Association, May 1992. p. 220.

80 Blackwell, Ron. Personal communication. Moose Jaw, December 1996.

81 Caulfield, Henry P. “Currents of Change: Final Report Inquiry on Federal Water Policy.” Environment. Volume 28. St. Louis: December 1996. p. 129.

82 Luciani, Patrick. “Why We Should Sell Our Water To America.” Financial Post Magazine. Toronto: September 1994.

83 Gamble, Donald J. Water Export and Free Trade: A Summary Analysis with a Critique. Montreal: Rawson Academy of Science, August 24, 1988.

84 Luciani, Patrick. “Why We Should Sell Our Water To America.” Financial Post Magazine. Toronto: September 1994. p. 67.

85 McMonagle, Duncan. “New Ontario Law Bans Water Export to US.” Globe and Mail. Toronto, February 10, 1989.

86 Government of Manitoba. Water Rights Act. 1988.

87 Blackwell, Ron. Personal communication. Moose Jaw, December 1996.

88 Hui, Ernie. Personal communication. Edmonton, November 12, 1996.

89 Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, British Columbia. “Fact Sheet: Water Protection Act.” Province of British Columbia, March 26, 1996.

90 Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. 48-49.

91 Francis, Kathy. “First They Came and Took Our Trees, Now They Want Our Water.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water Be For Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resource Association, May 1992. p. 99.

Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. pp. 48-50.

Sullivan, Don. “Divine Intervention: The Great Canadian Water Supply Proposal.” Water Lands Advocate. Volume 3, Number 2, April 1995. p. 4.

Reisner, Mark. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

92 Healey, Michael. “The Importance of Fresh Water Inflows into Coastal Ecosystems.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water Be For Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resource Association, May 1992. p. 100.

93 Thompson, Jerry. “Diverting Interests.” Equinox. Camden East, Ontario: Equinox Publishing, April 1993. p. 77.

94 Francis, Kathy. “First They Came and Took Our Trees, Now They Want Our Water.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water Be For Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resource Association, May 1992. p. 99.

Linton, James. “Water Export: The Issue That Won’t Go Away.” Canadian Water Watch. Volume 5, Number 6. Ottawa: Rawson Academy of Science, May 1993. pp. 50.

Sullivan, Don. “Divine Intervention: The Great Canadian Water Supply Proposal.” Water Lands Advocate. Volume 3, Number 2, April 1995. p. 4.

95 Bocking, Richard C. “The Real Cost of Dams, Diversions and Water Exports.” Water Export: Should Canada’s Water Be For Sale? Vancouver: Canadian Water Resource Association, May 1992. p. 255.

96 Anderson, Terry. Continental Water Marketing. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute For Public Policy, 1994. p. 47.

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