© 2016 FLOW Canada

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Working to secure the health of Canada’s fresh water through independent, expert policy analysis and perspective.

Smart, Strategic Investments for Urban Water Sustainability
January, 2017

The Government of Canada’s 10 year, $180 billion infrastructure plan presents an unparalleled opportunity to chart the course for Canada’s next generation of urban water infrastructure. According to the 2016 Canadian Municipal Infrastructure Report Card, 35% of the country’s wastewater infrastructure and 29% of drinking water infrastructure is in ‘fair to very poor condition’. The price tag to address the backlog of repairs and upgrades to municipal water infrastructure in Canada is estimated at $88.5 billion. This report and accompanying policy brief propose a package of recommendations to align water infrastructure investments and regulatory regimes around a vision of sustainability, resilience and innovation. By doing so, we believe that the Government of Canada’s infrastructure plan can play a key role in addressing the backlog of repairs to urban water systems, advance efforts to build sustainable and climate resilient communities, and help Canadian clean water innovators strengthen their position in the $500 billion global water technology and services market.

Full Report

Policy Brief 

Transcending Boundaries: A Guidebook to the Alberta-Northwest Territories Mackenzie Basin River Bilateral Water Management Agreement

Transcending Boundaries: A Guidebook to the Alberta-Northwest Territories Mackenzie Basin River Bilateral Water Management Agreement provides a detailed examination of one of the most comprehensive and progressive transboundary water agreements in the world. Through the Bilateral Agreement between Alberta and the Northwest Territories, signed on March 18, 2015, the two governments commit to cooperative, integrated watershed management in the Mackenzie River Basin - one of the most intact large-scale ecosystems in North America. At the core of the Alberta-Northwest Territories Bilateral Agreement is the commitment to maintain the ecological integrity of shared aquatic ecosystems in the Mackenzie River Basin. 


Transcending Boundaries, a joint project of FLOW and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, demonstrates what can be achieved through cooperative transboundary water management and identifies concepts that can be applied elsewhere in Canada and around the world. We believe that the more citizens understand both the specific Bilateral Agreement and the broader Mackenzie River Basin Master Agreement, the more likely they will be to participate in their implementation. This is the key to both the success of the Agreements and ultimately in the health of the Mackenzie River Basin. It is our hope that this guidebook will be used as a tool for citizens to make their voices heard while driving the implementation of the unique and historic Bilateral Agreement. 

Full Report

Great Lakes Need Great Laws
January, 2017

The Great Lakes fishery is worth more than $7 billion annually and supports more than 75,000 jobs. In Ontario alone, the commercial fishery contributes $350 million to Province’s GDP and Canadians spend $443 million per year on the recreational fishery in the Great Lakes. To ensure the Great Lakes fish and fish habitat are considered by the Government of Canada in its efforts to restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards to the Fisheries Act, FLOW commissioned Dr. Anastasia Lintner of Lintner Law to prepare this brief, which was submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans as it reviewed changes to the legislation. The submission was endorsed by eleven Great Lakes non-government organizations, including four US-based groups who share an interest in a strong Canadian Fisheries Act. 

HABITAT 2.0: A new approach to Canada'a Fisheries Act
November, 2016

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has been tasked with reviewing changes to the Fisheries Act as part of the Government of Canada’s broader efforts to restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards to the legislation. FLOW partnered with West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) to produce Habitat 2.0: A new approach to Canada’s Fisheries Act. The recommendations in the report were presented to the Standing Committee in November 2016 by Linda Nowlan, Staff Counsel with WCEL and long-time FLOW member.

Submission on The Assessment and Regulation of Toxic Substances Under the CEPA 1999
September, 2016

Regulation of toxic and harmful substances – which is a key focus of Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 1999 (CEPA) – has clear and significant implications for the safety of drinking water and the health of the aquatic environment. While CEPA very much represented the state-of the art when it was devised in 1988 and refined in 1999, FLOW does not believe that the underlying approach in the Act will be effective in meeting its purpose of preventing pollution and protecting human health and the environment over the coming decades.

Administration of CEPA requires that it be reviewed every five years. The most recent review was initiated in May 2015 under the purview the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI). In this policy brief, submitted to the Standing Committee in September 2016, FLOW proposes recommendations for improving the regulation of toxic and harmful substances in Canada. Our recommendations include amending CEPA to mandate national drinking water standards, and appointment of an independent Expert Panel on modernizing chemicals management in Canada.

Submission on Federal Sustainable Development Strategy
June, 2016

Canada’s approach to sustainable development has significant implications for the health of our fresh water. FLOW is pleased to share our submission to the Government of Canada on its draft strategy: Planning for a Sustainable Future: A Federal Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada. Our comments draw on the substantial experience of FLOW members as it relates to public policies that impact the health and sustainability of Canada’s fresh water, and the people, economies and ecosystems that depend on it. FLOW is encouraged by the significant focus on fresh water in the draft strategy. We look forward to the final version and to engaging with the Government of Canada to support its implementation.

The Blue Paper: Water Co-Governance in Canada
June, 2014

This paper, commissioned by FLOW, explores the state of participation of Indigenous peoples in water governance in Canada. Examples of Canadian and international water regimes that are inclusive of Indigenous peoples are examined and, drawing from these examples, a series of options for a new regime—one that fosters good water governance by respecting our common need for healthy water—are presented.

Combating Climate Change Impacts on Phosphorus in the Grand River and to Lake Erie
September, 2013

This analysis, led by FLOW's Jim Bruce for the Grand River Conservation Authority with the support of Freshwater Future, seeks to quantify trends due to climate change effects on runoff events and phosphorus loads. Also considered are the likely future effects, due to increased frequency of heavy rain events. Some remedial actions to reduce the water quality impacts on the Grand River, Canada’s largest tributary to Lake Erie are outlined.  

Cross-Canada Checkup: A Canadian Perspective on our Water Future
May, 2012

Cross-Canada Checkup is a synthesis of themes, perspectives, and information from FLOW's fall 2011 cross-Canada water discussion series. It reports on what FLOW member Bob Sandford heard from panellists and audiences during the 16-city tour. It illustrates the interrelatedness of many water issues common to all Canadians, and documents the growing need for solutions that transcend chronic jurisdictional challenges. It also explores the Northwest Territories’ groundbreaking new water stewardship strategy as a model for water policy reform in the rest of Canada. The report was co-published by the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance and the Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) at Simon Fraser University.

Shared Water, One Framework
March, 2011

Written by Emilie Lagace during her Gordon Water Policy Fellowship with FLOW, Shared Water, One Framework: What Canada can Learn from EU Water Governance is based on the results of an extensive literature review and 40 interviews in Canada and Europe. This briefing note summarizes lessons from the EU Water Framework Directive that could be heeded by Canada. The study concludes that there are tangible benefits to collaborative water governance in the EU and that comparable advantages could be achieved in Canada with a similar approach. The full Water Policy Fellowship report can be downloaded here

Briefing Note on Bill S-11 First Nations Safe Drinking Water Act
October, 2010

This briefing note provides comments on Bill S-11, ‘An Act Respecting the Safety of Drinking Water on First Nation Lands,’ and includes recommendations aimed strengthening the legislation. FLOW welcomed the intent of the Bill to improve the health and safety of First Nations through development of regulations that govern drinking water and wastewater treatment on First Nations’ lands, but did not support the legislation as tabled. This brief recommends amendments to ensure the Bill protects Aboriginal and treaty rights and commits to a cooperative framework between First Nations jurisdictions and the Government of Canada in the establishment of a safe drinking water regime.


Seeking Water Justice: Strengthening Legal Protection of Canada's Drinking Water
May, 2010

FLOW, Ecojustice and the Centre for Indigenous Environment Resources examine the the status of drinking water quality in Canada through Seeking Water Justice: Strengthening Legal Protection for Canada’s Drinking Water. The report reveals that certain communities in Canada – specifically rural and First Nations – are vulnerable to drinking water contamination. Risks are attributed to inadequate infrastructure, patchwork provincial laws, and a lack of binding drinking water standards from the federal government. The report calls for world-class, enforceable drinking water standards that are consistent across Canada, resources for First Nations drinking water services and transparent reporting on the state of drinking water systems across the country.

Clean Water Green Jobs: A Stimulus Package for Sustainable Water Infrastructure Investments
December, 2008

Published in partnership with the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association, the Alliance for Water Efficiency and the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, Clean Water, Green Jobs makes the case that government spending on sustainable water infrastructure can stimulate the economy and create jobs. The plan focuses on repairing and renewing existing water infrastructure, restoring green infrastructure and conserving water and energy.

Changing The Flow
October, 2007

Published in October 2007 by the Gordon Water Group, Changing the Flow: A Blueprint for Federal Action on Freshwater, is the report from which FLOW emerged as a permanent initiative. The Blueprint presents twenty-five recommended actions organized under seven priority areas that represent essential steps to re-ignite the federal government’s role in sustaining our most precious resource and to help guide Canada to a sustainable freshwater future. For more information, visit the Changing the Flow website.

Water security is a growing concern across Canada. Climate change is bringing more frequent and extreme flood and drought, while pollution and other pressures on rivers, lakes and wetlands are closing beaches, compromising drinking water supplies, putting fish and other species at risk, and undermining the health of our globally significant ecosystems. This concept note outlines solutions for the federal government to provide leadership and better exercise its jurisdiction to help address these and future water security challenges. Developed in partnership with Global Water Futures, Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resource, POLIS Water Sustainability Project, and the UN University Institute on Water, Environment and Health, the paper centres on renewal of the Canada Water Act - the only federal law dealing exclusively with water management. 


Almost every province and territory has developed or updated water policies and laws over the past 15 years, and Indigenous nations are implementing their own water laws and policies based on inherent jurisdiction and traditional knowledge. By contrast, the Canada Water Act has not been updated to reflect with 21st century water challenges or solutions and remains much the same as when it was created almost half a century ago. By renewing the Canada Water Act, the federal government can: mobilize the knowledge needed to anticipate and respond to water problems; strengthen transboundary water management, collaborative river basin planning, and cooperative federalism; and, advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by formally recognizing treaty water rights and their roles in water governance.