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Statistics Canada’s water study should spark federal action to protect water

Statistics Canada released an updated water study today about freshwater supply and demand in Canada showing fluctuations in water yield – water runoff into streams and rivers – throughout 1974-2013 as well as seasonally. The study, Human Activity and the Environment 2016: Freshwater in Canada, provides statistics on freshwater supply and demand for each of the 25 drainage regions in Canada.

The study notes: 


  • The annual water yield in southern Canada fluctuated over time, from a high of 1,544 km3 in 1974 to a low of 1,165 km3 in 1987. The water yield decreased from 1971 to 1987 and then began a gradual recovery to 2012, with a dip in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

  • The main water users in 2013 were electric power generation, transmission and distribution (68%); manufacturing (10%); households (9%); agriculture (5%) and mining and oil and gas extraction (3%).

  • Climate change impacts like evapotranspiration, especially during hot summer months, is happening most in Southern Canada (where most of the population is located).

  • Climate change, human activities and other factors are impacting water quality. 

  • The Great Lakes region was the region with by far the highest water intake out of the 25 drainage regions for purposes such as electricity production, manufacturing, drinking water plants, mining and irrigation.

  • The lowest yields were found in the Prairies particularly the Missouri, Assiniboine–Red, South Saskatchewan and North Saskatchewan watersheds.

Photo of Great Lakes Installation, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Kate Kraverska

While the study states that Canada is rich in freshwater sources and estimates that there is 104,000 m3 of water per Canadian, this average does not include current water intake and demand for projected populations. The average also does not factor in a base amount of water that needs to be kept in the watersheds. Water must be protected for future populations as well as ecosystems. 


The study raises concerns about water sources in Canada including the impacts of climate change, human activities and pollution. More information is needed on how these concerns will impact water availability, water quality and water security for future generations.


Water yield between 1974 to 2013 fluctuated with decreases in 1971 to 1987 and then again in the late 1990s to early 2000s.  Although Statistics Canada states that levels began to recover in 2012, the dips raise questions about water security in various regions throughout Canada.


The study points point, “Together, mining and oil and gas extraction used 982 million m3 of water in 2013—under 3% of total water use. While the oil and gas industry reuses much of its water intake, the vast majority of this water use is consumptive—for example, it may be lost to steam, injected into oil reservoirs or held in tailings ponds after use.”


Water in the Prairies, one of the driest regions, must be projected from risks like fracking and the Energy East pipeline. 


There is nothing more important than clean water. We urge the federal government to take long-term action to protect water. With the federal budget to be tabled tomorrow on World Water Day, the federal government must allocate adequate funding for water protection programs that were gutted by the former Harper government, protect the Great Lakes and other basins and implement the human rights to water and sanitation by adequately funding water and wastewater infrastructure, especially in First Nations. This is a prime opportunity for the Trudeau government to show genuine leadership in long-term water protection and fulfill its promises to voters.