Fresh water the “backbone of Saskatchewan’s rural economy”: SARM President Ray Orb to Commons Environment Committee

The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development is in the middle of a study on freshwater, specifically how to protect it, how to collaborate on all levels of government, and what role does the newly formed Canada Water Agency play in all this.

On January 31st – the first committee meeting of the year – there were a handful of people who provided their thoughts on the topic of freshwater, including the president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, Ray Orb.

“Agriculture is the backbone of Saskatchewan’s rural economy and it relies heavily on a consistent and reliable supply of fresh water, especially for ground water and water for irrigation. Crops and livestock require sufficient water to thrive, ensuring food security for not only our country but also for our customers abroad. We need freshwater to sustain our livelihoods of countless families not just in Saskatchewan but across Canada.” Orb told the committee.

Orb also shared his concerns with the Canada Water Agency over duplication since the province has the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency.

Vice-Chair of the Committee and Conservative MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa Dan Mazier asked Orb if SARM was ever consulted by the federal government on the Canada Water Agency; Orb answered they were not consulted directly but inquired once they heard about a possible CWA office in Regina. SARM eventually met with a representative of the federal government but answers SARM got about the CWA and its mandate were “vague” at the time. On its website, the CWA’s mandate is to “improve freshwater management in Canada by providing leadership, effective collaboration federally, and improved coordination and collaboration with provinces, territories, and Indigenous Peoples to proactively address national and regional transboundary freshwater challenges and opportunities.”

Orb did however acknowledge that water and water quality is a multi-jurisdictional issue, and anticipates the federal agency would need transparency from the provinces to achieve a strong working relationship.

“We recommend sharing data and knowledge, engaging with agencies, councils, and organizations in each province on proposed changes to fresh water, to consider impacts to all sectors of each province, leverage the knowledge of local and regional networks involved in water management in each province, and further strengthen their sources and ensure that there’s a sense of respect for jurisdiction and constitutional authority in each province.” Orb added.

DataStream is a registered charity that provides, among other things, a free open data platform that is used by more than 260 organizations – including governments, community groups, Indigenous nations and academic researchers. It submitted a 10-page report to the committee on January 24. In the report, DataStream makes a series of recommendations to ensure collaboration is achieved with other levels of government and non-governmental entities, such as local watershed associations. 

They recommend the Canada Water Agency and other federal agencies with mandates related to water to work with, and support, community-based watershed monitoring and restoration programming by providing long-term funding of five or more years; make water data collected with public funds publicly available by default; improve transparency and coordination of water activities in Canada by making the Canada Water Agency a “concierge service” – connecting people with the appropriate federal, provincial, and municipal bodies and Indigenous governments; and modernizing Canada’s groundwater monitoring and management policies and practices to ensure challenges, such as climate change, can be addressed. 

Orb pointed to the Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Expansion Project as an example of potential collaboration between the federal and provincial governments. “The primary focus of the (Canada Water) Agency should be on funding water management projects across Canada to ensure provinces can work efficiently and effectively to preserve fresh water resources. With additional funding and support beyond the province of Saskatchewan borrowing money from the Canadian Infrastructure Bank, the federal government could help provinces dramatically in making a bigger impact on fresh water resources.” he added.

Orb says its crucial the federal, provincial, and territorial governments work together to build a sustainable future for generations to come.

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