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.


Good freshwater policy sets out a government’s vision, direction and measures for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of waters that fall under their jurisdiction. Across Canada, freshwater policies take various forms and range in age. Some, like Canada’s 1987 Federal Water Policy are quite outdated, while other governments continue to actively renew and update policy documents (such as recently released strategies in New Brunswick and Quebec). Ontario has freshwater policy for a large area within the province (i.e. the Great Lakes Strategy) but does not have a province-wide freshwater policy.

Jurisdiction Policy within last 10 Years? Year Name of Policy
Federal No 1987 Federal Water Policy
British Columbia No 2008 Living Water Smart - British Columbia's Water Plan
Alberta No 2008 Water for Life Renewal
Saskatchewan Yes 2012 Water Security Plan
Manitoba No 2003 Manitoba Water Strategy
Ontario No n/a n/a for the whole province (however, the Great Lakes Strategy can be seen here)
Québec Yes 2018 Stratégie québécoise de l’eau 2018-2030
(English version: 2018-2030 Québec Water Strategy)
New Brunswick Yes 2018 Water Strategy for New Brunswick
Nova Scotia Yes 2015 Water Resources Management Strategy
Prince Edward Island Yes 2015 Watershed Strategy
Newfoundland and Labrador No n/a n/a
Yukon Yes 2014 Water for Nature, Water for People: Yukon Water Strategy and Action Plan
Northwest Territories Yes 2010 Northern Voices, Northern Waters: NWT Water Stewardship Strategy
Nunavut No n/a n/a

It is important that freshwater policies be updated regularly, either through review and revision, or broader renewal and overhaul. As policies age, information within them becomes outdated, issues emerge or change, and actions promised get completed or become irrelevant. Ideally, new policies or updated policies set out new commitments based on updated knowledge and technology and changes to context in order to ensure freshwater sustainability now and into the future.

An 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 March 2019

* 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 public policy on freshwater that is less than ten years old.
Imagine a Canada where all waters are in good health: