Surface Water Quantity Activities

General information is provided below on protecting Prairie surface water quantities and the role of the Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB). The PPWB's Strategic Plan has four goals that are relevant for surface water quantity: Goal 1 - achieve interprovincial apportionment requirements; Goal 4 - inform jurisdictions of any emergency and unusual water quantity conditions; Goal 5 - avoid interjurisdictional conflicts before they occur; and Goal 7 - share information, knowledge and research among jurisdictions. Detailed information on each of these goals is provided in the specific submenus in the Surface Water Quantity Activities.

Water Quantity Protection in the Prairies

Both provincial and federal governments are involved in the protection of water quantities in Canada. The provincial governments have the primary responsibility of managing and protecting water quantities in the Prairies, and licensing water uses (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). The federal government represents Canada in international water sharing agreements, and conducts monitoring and research on water quantity issues.

In the Canadian Prairies, water is scarce and supplies are important to protect for human uses and aquatic ecosystem health. Most of the rivers in the Canadian prairies flow from west to east, crossing from one province into another. In the 1930s, the Western Water Board was involved with interprovincial Prairie water management. The Prairie Provinces Water Advisory Board was formed in 1945 to replace the Western Water Board, but the federal government did not participate. To involve the Government of Canada and the Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB) was formed in 1948. The primary mandate of the PPWB was to manage water quantity supplies across the Prairies. The Board reviewed individual development projects for their impacts on interprovincial water supplies and made recommendations on how to best manage water supplies. By the 1960s, this approach became impractical to implement. The Provinces had begun to construct infrastructure projects that required large allocations of water. Assessment of these projects became a huge task for the PPWB. In addition, future demands became difficult to predict and supply management became challenging in this uncertainty. The Provinces were also increasingly active in managing water supplies within each of their Provinces. Thus, a flexible approach was required to allow the provinces to manage their water but be able to predict how much water would be available to neighbouring jurisdictions.

To implement a practical solution, the Master Agreement on Apportionment was signed in 1969 by Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Canada to reconstitute the PPWB. The primary purpose of the initial Agreement was to facilitate equitable sharing of water quantities across the Prairies and allow Provinces the flexibility in managing their water supplies. Other issues such as water quality were recognized and included in the Agreement. A simple formula was used to determine how much water Alberta has to deliver to Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan has to deliver to Manitoba. Each province can plan and manage water for the long term, as they know how much they need to deliver or are expected to receive from their neighbouring jurisdiction.

The most significant interjurisdictional water management arrangement in Canada is the Master Agreement on Apportionment.1986 Pearse Inquiry on Federal Water Policy.