Canada moves to protect Great Lakes from bulk water removals

The Canadian government has introduced amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to prohibit bulk removal of water from Canadian boundary waters, including the Great Lakes.


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The announcement was made as part of a larger strategy to prohibit bulk water removals, including water for export, from all Canadian water basins. Canada’s Environment Minister, David Anderson, said he will be seeking agreement on a Canada-wide accord for the prohibition of bulk water removal from all of Canada’s major watersheds when he meets with provincial and territorial colleagues later this month. “This is an environmental issue to be decided by Canadians. We will stop bulk removals at the source, not at the border,” said Andeson.

The prohibition will apply principally to the Great Lakes and other boundary waters, such as part of the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, the St. Croix and Upper St. John rivers, and Lake of the Woods. The amendments will also set in place a licensing regime for boundary waters projects such as dams, obstructions or other works that can affect water levels and flows.

The amendments are part of a three-pronged strategy announced in February 1999 to prohibit bulk water removals from Canadian water basins. The International Joint Commission (IJC) was asked to examine water uses in the Great Lakes, including bulk water removal. The IJC interim report, released in August, supported an environmental approach, urged a cautious approach to bulk water removal, and also recommended an immediate moratorium on bulk water removal from the Great Lakes. Additionally, a Canada-wide accord prohibiting bulk removal of water is being developed with the provinces and territories to ensure protection of Canadian waters.

The International Boundary Waters Treaty Act was passed in 1911, implementing the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty signed in 1909. Canada’s border is the longest in the world, with over 300 lakes and rivers that either form, cross or straddle it.

“We’re taking decisive action within our jurisdiction to protect critical boundary waters, for future generations. These amendments will give us the authority to prevent the damage that bulk water removals can cause our environment,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy.

Environment Minister Anderson said, “These amendments represent an important step towards the protection of Canada’s freshwater resources. We know that single and cumulative bulk removals of fresh water can have serious impacts on the environmental, social and economic health of communities and ecosystems that depend on these watersheds.”

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