Freshwater Policy
Measures whether each province and territory, as well as the federal government, has a freshwater policy and/or law that is less than ten years old.

It’s important to be transparent that this Shared Measurement System was designed from a non-Indigenous worldview and we recognize that Indigenous ways of knowing are absent from it. For more information on this positioning, see our Right Relations page.


United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) seeks to ensure access to safe water sources and sanitation for all, with Target 6.4 specifically emphasizing the importance of protecting freshwater by “substantially increase[ing] water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure[ing] sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce[ing] the number of people suffering from water scarcity” by 2030. Moreover, the United Nations has committed to focus on water for the Water Action Decade (2018 to 2028). Its aim is to raise awareness and advance the water agenda. Many countries, including Canada, have committed to focus on water during this decade. 

This impact measure serves to assess the degree to which Canadian governments have up-to-date water policies and laws. It is important that freshwater policies be kept current, as such policies set out the vision, direction and measures governments use to achieve the targets of SDG 6, the goals of the Water Action Decade and other freshwater objectives.

This version of the impact measure expands upon a 2019 version by considering not just whether governments have current freshwater policies but also whether they have freshwater laws that are up to date. In some cases, governments have water policies that are not current (i.e., older than 10 years) but laws that are. This expansion of what is considered in the impact measure reflects the fact that it is not just policies that determine a government’s commitment to freshwater sustainability but also the related laws it puts in place. A policy is considered current if it was set out less than 10 years ago (i.e., in 2013 or more recently). A law was considered current if it was enacted or underwent a major amendment less than 10 years ago. 

Of the 14 federal, provincial, and territorial governments in Canada, seven have a freshwater policy and/or law that is less than 10 years old. No government has both a current policy and law. British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories all have either a current policy or a current law, but not both. The remaining seven governments, including the federal government, have neither a current policy nor a current law (Table 1). The federal government has the oldest policy and law, dating from 1987 and 1985 respectively. One government, Saskatchewan, has no specific law pertaining to freshwater, and its policy is not current. Three governments (Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut) have no specific freshwater policy; none of them has a current freshwater law.

In the period since 2021, one government (Saskatchewan) that had a current freshwater policy has fallen off the list, since its policy was set out in 2012 and is now more than 10 years old. Manitoba is the only government that published a new freshwater policy in the period since 2021. In this same period, there have been no changes with respect to freshwater laws.

Status of freshwater policies and laws in Canadian federal/provincial/territorial governments, January 2023


Name and date of freshwater policy

Current freshwater policy?

Name and date of freshwater law enactment or last major revision

Current freshwater law?


Federal water policy, 1987


Canada Water Act, 1985


British Columbia

Living Water Smart, 2008


Water Sustainability Act, 2014



Water for Life: A Renewal, 2008


Water Act, 2000



25 Year Water Security Plan, 2012


No specific freshwater law



The Manitoba Water Strategy, 2022


The Water Protection Act, 2005



No specific freshwater policy


Clean Water Act, 2006



Québec Water Strategy 2018-2030, 2018


An Act to affirm the collective nature of water resources and provide for increased water resource protection, enacted 2009, amended 2011


New Brunswick

A Water Strategy for New Brunswick 2018 - 2028, 2017


Clean Water Act, 1989


Nova Scotia

Water Resources Management Strategy, 2010


Water Resources Protection Act, 2000


Prince Edward Island

Watershed Strategy, 2015


Water Act, 1988


Newfoundland and Labrador 


No specific freshwater policy


Water Resources Act, 2002



Water for Nature, Water for People: Yukon Water Strategy and Action Plan, 2014


Waters Act, 2003


Northwest Territories 

Northern Voices, Northern Waters NWT Water Stewardship Strategy, 2010


Waters Act, 2014



No specific freshwater policy


Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act, 2002



Our full analysis on this impact measure can be found here.

A 2018 analysis of freshwater policies in Canada

In 2018, a group of Masters students from University of Ottawa*, together with the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW), analyzed the state of freshwater policies in Canada. The study developed a set of nine criteria to assess core water policy documents in provinces and territories for the presence (1) or absence (0) of key commitments and actions under these criteria.

The study was not meant to rank or determine the effectiveness of the polices, but rather to compare high-level direction, scope and commitments across jurisdictions. We recognize each policy is a product of the context and priorities at the time it was established. The nine criteria, adapted from the University of Ottawa report, are as follows (and include a statement on the importance of each criterion):

  1. Watershed-based planning and management: Watersheds are the most appropriate scale for assessing and managing cumulative impacts on water resources and aquatic ecosystems.
  2. Ecological flow needs: Alteration of natural water flow patterns in rivers, streams and lakes poses risks to freshwater species, habitats and ecosystems.
  3. Ecosystem water quality: Water quality is vital to the health of aquatic species and ecosystems.

  4. Sustainable water use and source water protection: Protecting water sources from contamination and over-use is critical to ensuring clean water is available for a variety of human uses including drinking water, recreation, agriculture, and industry.

  5. Climate change adaptation and resilience: Climate change is exacerbating flooding and drought, water quality problems, and loss of aquatic biodiversity. Strategies are needed to build resilience through anticipation and adaptation.

  6. Multi-stakeholder engagement: Actively engaging stakeholders and the public in decision making allows for a wider range of ideas feeding into planning, helps prioritize solutions, and broadens support for implementation.

  7. Indigenous engagement: Indigenous governments and communities have their own water policies based on inherent jurisdiction and traditional knowledge. Crown water policies should seek to work in harmony with Indigenous policies.

  8. Transboundary water governance: Interprovincial and international cooperation is important to ensuring the health of shared waters and watersheds that cross political boundaries.

  9. Data management and accessibility: Evidence informed decision making is strengthened when data is collected, analyzed, and shared in a way that is easily accessed and understood by partner organizations and the public.

Further details of the assessment can be found here.

The results of the assessment are as follows (note, the Federal Water Policy was not assessed):



Limitations of the assessment:

  • Only the core, overarching policy document was assessed for each provincial and territorial government.
  • The assessment excludes other supportive policies related to specific aspects of land and water management (i.e. source water protection, fisheries management, etc.). It does not consider these other policy documents that work in combination with, and/or may be referred to in, a core policy document.
  • It excludes legislation (e.g. Acts) and regulations, as well as supplementary documents such as implementation or action plans, and progress reports.
  • The study is not intended as a comparison or ranking across jurisdictions. It assesses the presence/absence of commitments as identified by actionable language, but did not review or comment on the quality the actions or the effectiveness of implementation.
  • Nuances are not accounted for, such as Ontario's Great Lakes Strategy, which is not province wide but an important regional watershed-based policy.

5-Year target for this impact measure: We will work with OLW network to encourage all expiring or non-existent policies to be renewed/created. In five years, we hope to see at least 10 jurisdictions with a public policy on freshwater that is less than ten years old.

Last updated January 2023

* Students at the University of Ottawa, Nancy Abou-Chahine, Albana Berberi, and David Van Olst, under the supervision of Dr. Mary Trudeau, prepared an assessment of freshwater policies across Canada based on a set of criteria that were later adapted for this impact measure.

Note: The data presented here represents our best research given the time and resources at hand. We acknowledge there may be errors. This shared measurement system belongs to all members of the Our Living Water Network, so if you have any corrections for us, or ideas to share on this measure, please send us an email at [email protected].

Freshwater Policy|Measures whether each province and territory, as well as the federal government, has a public policy on freshwater that is less than ten years old.
Freshwater Policy|Measures whether each province and territory, as well as the federal government, has a freshwater policy and/or law that is less than ten years old.
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