A report released earlier this month by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) suggested that Canadian provinces charge higher fees for water use in the natural resource sector in order to improve efficiency and sustainability.
According to the report, titled “Charting a Course: Sustainable Water Use by Canada’s Natural Resource Sectors,” 86 per cent of Canada’s water is used by the natural resource sector, which includes mining, agriculture, thermal power, oil, and gas industries.
The report also included three main recommendations to encourage efficiency and sustainability in the future: the use of policy instruments such as an increase in water fees, the collection of better data on water use by the federal government, and collaborative governance involving a wide range of stakeholders.
NRTEE Vice-Chair Mark Parent said that the suggested fee hike was less than 1 per cent.
“We’re not in a water crisis yet, and so a small price at the start could create sustainable conservation behaviour of about 15 per cent for that 1 per cent [price] increase,” he said.
The goal of the report was to address concerns about the future sustainability of water usage in Canada, given the prediction that there will be competing demands for water in the future.
“We’re trying to come up with suggestions before there’s a crisis,” said Parent.
He explained that, “with climate change, governments around the world are behind the ball, trying to make up policy in the middle of crisis… So we’re really being proactive in this report, trying to get ahead of [the problem].”
According to Parent, many industries in the natural resource sector were supportive of a water fee hike.
“They get [that] they need water to produce their products, so they’re concerned about it being there in the future,” he said.
Some corporations involved in these industries, however, do have concerns. Among them are corporations in the pulp and paper industry. According to Parent, they worry that even a 1 per cent increase would be financially problematic, given their recent performance.
Other industries already pay premiums that allow them to employ more sustainable practices. In the hydro-electric industry, for example, much of the water that is used goes back into the system.
Hydro-Québec Media Relations Representative Gary Sutherland explained that the company already pays water-power royalties to the Quebec government in order to employ hydraulic power.
“Hydro-Québec’s electricity generation activities do not imply a consumption of water or withdrawal from the water cycle,” Sutherland explained. “Electricity generation makes use of the hydraulic force of moving water and the water flows back into the river with no loss in quality.”
Whether provincial governments will actually adopt the proposed fee hike remains to be seen.
The Quebec Ministry of Sust-ainable Development, Environment, and Parks (MDDEP) declined to comment publicly on the report but did refer to its current water regulations.
The MDDEP’s current regulations set water fees in Quebec at $0.0025 per cubic metre of water used after using 75 cubic metres, with a higher fee of $0.07 per cubic metre set for certain industries.
“The department does not intend to amend this regulation in the short term,” stated MDDEP spokesperson Hélène Simard in French.