Freshwater Management for the 21st Century

The Green Budget Coalition recommends that Canada invest in freshwater management and protection to support shoreline resilience, ensure sustainable water supply, improve water quality, maintain and restore freshwater fisheries and ecosystems, and generate community benefits. The management and stewardship of Canada’s freshwater environments is one of the great challenges of our time. Pressures on freshwater environments are mounting and compounding due to growing populations, increasing demand for food and energy, expanded natural resource extraction, growing urban areas, and the changes in precipitation and temperature resulting from climate change.

Effective management of freshwater ecosystems is critical to sustaining biodiversity, the economy, and the people of Canada. Unpredictability has become the new normal, particularly in water management. The water cycles that wildlife and people expect or rely on are becoming disrupted. Habitat loss and alteration due to land conversion and resource extraction, from sectors such as agriculture, urban development, and forestry, is having extensive impacts on freshwater ecosystems. Across Canada, 56% of freshwater fish species or unique populations are at risk. Climate change is altering the abundance, growth, and recruitment of culturally and economically important fish species due to changes in water temperature and flow, with particularly severe impacts on coldwater and migratory species such as Pacific and Atlantic Salmon.

Stewardship and management of fresh water to sustain biodiversity and people into the future must address three interconnected dimensions – water quantity, water quality, and aquatic habitat. Due to shared jurisdiction and multiple overlapping interests, the management of freshwater environments requires a shared responsibility approach between all levels of government that sets out a holistic management framework. This shared, pan-Canadian approach needs to strengthen cooperative federalism, advance reconciliation, cultivate a watershed approach, and support knowledge creation.

The federal government is well positioned to take a leadership role in building a pan- Canadian approach to freshwater that shares responsibility with the provinces, territories, and Indigenous governments, and integrates across federal programs for water quality, transboundary water management, fish habitat, and aquatic species at risk. The ongoing work to establish a Canada Water Agency, update the Canada Water Act, and modernize the fish and fish habitat protection program presents a unique opportunity to bring Canada’s management of freshwater environments into the 21st century.

The Green Budget Coalition recommends investing in a Pan-Canadian Approach to Fresh Water that includes the following investments:

Total Recommended Investment:

$1.256 billion over five years, plus additional funds required for Indigenous peoples and governments to meaningfully engage in freshwater protection and management.

  1. Funding for ECCC and DFO to develop a Pan-Canadian Approach to Fresh Water in collaboration with the provinces, territories, and Indigenous peoples. The Pan- Canadian Approach would establish a framework for collaboration on the management of water quality, water quantity, and aquatic habitat. $25 million over two years [ECCC, DFO]
  2. Capacity for Indigenous peoples to engage in watershed planning, integrated planning for fish habitat protection, and water governance, building on models such as DFO’s Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management program. Necessary funding to be determined in consultation with Indigenous peoples and governments. [ECCC, DFO, ISC]
  3. Funding for DFO to work with other federal departments, provinces, territories, Indigenous governments, and stakeholders such as resource industries and fishing organizations to establish a Fish Habitat Strategy that sets out the shared goals, objectives, responsibilities, and management framework to protect fish and fish habitat. $20 million over two years, then $2 million annually ongoing [DFO]
  4. Permanent funding for the Canada Water Agency to carry out its stated objective of ensuring federal policies and programs promote effective management and protection of freshwater resources and ecosystems in Canada for 21st century challenges and beyond, including adapting to climate change. $70 million in new funding annually, ongoing [ECCC]
  5. Ongoing funding to establish, enhance, and integrate a monitoring and reporting system for the state of freshwater and the status of fish habitat to guide and monitor outcomes of regulatory and non-regulatory programs to protect freshwater ecosystems. • $7 million annually ongoing for fish habitat status assessment and reporting. [DFO] • $10 million annually ongoing for water quality and quantity monitoring in addition to existing allocations. [ECCC]
  6. Establish the Canada Freshwater Fund to improve water quality and restore fish habitat through watershed and in water actions. The Fund could be structured similar to Canada’s Nature Legacy Fund with programs for priority places, priority species, and priority threats. The Fund would include renewed funding for the Freshwater Action Plan to improve water quality and restore habitat in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence and Lake Winnipeg. It would support actions in other priority places and for priority species through collaborative funding programs similar to the Lake Winnipeg Basin Fund or the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF).

    Freshwater protection and restoration projects deliver environmental benefits by preventing nutrient pollution, protecting and restoring habitat, remediating contaminated and toxic sites, and controlling invasive species. They also inform regulatory decision-making on development projects by, for example, identifying important areas for protection and addressing cumulative watershed impacts. On-the-ground projects can create 13-17 jobs per million dollars and, based on evidence from the U.S. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, create a return on investment of 300%. Freshwater recreational and commercial fisheries generate over $8 billion annually in economic activity and support rural communities.

$670 million over five years with the following components:

  • $470 million over five years in new funding to address key water quality, biodiversity, and ecosystem concerns for the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, and Lake Winnipeg:
    • $200 million in new investments to address nutrient loading and reduce harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes by implementing actions prioritized in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Collaborative’s Action Plan 2020-203035 [ECCC];
    • $110 million to restore habitat and address key ecosystem threats to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River to benefit commercial and recreational species and species at risk [DFO];
    • $80 million to reduce nutrient loading from the Red River and South Saskatchewan River Basins to Lake Winnipeg [ECCC]; and
    • $80 million to strengthen aquatic invasive species control through expanded early detection and rapid response, enhanced control and eradication programs, research into prevention and control methods, and meeting Canada’s treaty obligation to fund the Great Lakes Fishery Commission by increasing funding from $9.5 to $19.4 million. [DFO, GAC]
  • $200 million over five years to implement watershed and fish habitat enhancement and restoration projects for priority watersheds and priority species outside the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence through a national fish habitat partnership program. This is additional to recent commitments of $100 million to the BCSRIF and $29 million to the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk. [DFO]
  1. Funding for provincial, territorial, and Indigenous-led community-based monitoring (CBM) to contribute data to the integrated monitoring and reporting system for the status of fish habitat and the state of freshwater described above. The program should support integration of CBM non-government groups into government monitoring programs and priorities, building on experience from past federal programs such as the Atlantic Coastal Action Program. $25 million over five years [ECCC, DFO]
  2. New investments in infrastructure for freshwater science are needed to support the mandate of the Canada Water Agency and the modernization of DFO’s Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program. Federal research facilities play a critical role in supporting regulatory programs and guiding ecosystem stewardship and management actions. New investments of $75 million are needed in key federal facilities including: Canada Centre for Inland Waters, Watershed Science Bioassessment Centre, Centre St. Laurent, National Hydrology Research Centre, Freshwater Institute, and Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). This includes $32 million over fier five years for new infrastructure and expanded science capacity at the ELA. $75 million over five years [ECCC, DFO]


David Browne –
Lisa Gue –
Elizabeth Hendriks –
April Weppler –