CELA Brief on Federal Study on Freshwater

by Eneria Mucaj

CELA recently responded to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development’s study on freshwater. The purpose of this study is to comprehensively examine federal policies and legislation relating to freshwater.

In our brief, CELA highlighted our active involvement in protecting and managing freshwater at the international, national, provincial, regional, and local levels over many decades. CELA’s work as it relates to freshwater has been twofold – advocating to alleviate environmental concerns which pose a risk and are highly hazardous to living organisms in water and advocating for redress to disproportionate health impacts experienced by low-income, disadvantaged, and vulnerable communities.

A focus for CELA is ensuring water justice, as it becomes an increasingly pressing issue in times of amplified water-based inequalities and discrimination, and as has been evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. CELA also highlighted the significant undertakings of the Healthy Great Lakes program in understanding, shaping, effectively implementing, and making use of policies that promote freshwater health.

In examining federal policies and legislation, CELA emphasized the following identifiable gaps where the federal government can make improvements:

  • taking a leadership role in building a pan-Canadian approach to fresh water that shares responsibility with the provinces, territories, and Indigenous governments to address the current fragmented jurisdictional framework for water governance,
  • addressing the severe gap in historical federal management of safe drinking water on First Nation reserves and building a road towards reconciliation and braiding of knowledge and governance systems,
  • implementing more stringent chemical and toxin policies for the extremely harmful chemicals such as PFAS, triclosan and triclocarban, leading to their virtual elimination to protect Canada’s freshwater system and human health, and
  • developing a pan-Canadian strategy to protecting watersheds across Canada.

Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, and is exacerbating existing water quality and quantity management challenges in addition to presenting new and deeply complex water management concerns. The time to make effective changes is now, and the federal government is well positioned to fill the existing gaps, in order to protect Canada’s freshwater for many generations to come.