1. 10 mins Asia’s Fight Over Fresh Water (Dec. 18, 2016)


Canada should develop a Global Water Strategy to promote its increasing experience in water diplomacy, negotiations, knowledge, and management. Why?

This Japan Times article highlights very well the challenges faced in managing transboundary water, whether within our borders at a national level, or across borders at the international scale. While most attention on China’s water diplomacy is focused on their maritime concerns in the south China Sea, the author speaks to the internal water grab, largely through the creation of dam megaprojects that re-engineer vast waterways so ensure that China develops or maintains control over freshwater. Other countries in Asia are concerned: “This has spurred growing concern in downstream countries over how China is using its control over Asia’s largest river systems to re-engineer cross-border flows. With as many as 18 downstream neighbors, China enjoys riparian dominance of a kind unmatched in the world.”

The upstream-downstream analysis presented in this article is critical because “water has become an instrument of power in interstate relations.” This is the case in Canada as well. We saw this in the Mackenzie River Basin (MRB) transboundary water agreement negotiations where upstream MRB jurisdictions began negotiations with the positions (even over downstream opposition) that they were entitled to anywhere between 50% to 100% of the water that either began or flowed through their jurisdiction. We see Canada and BC managing very challenging issues as they jockeying for relative strength in negotiating and the technical scientific information in seeking improvements within the existing Treaty framework. In 2005 in downstream Manitoba and upstream North Dakota, we saw Canada and the US reach agreement on the Devil’s Lake diversion but continue to fail to see satisfactory movement across those borders to save Lake Winnipeg. Both situations are covered by the Boundary Waters Treaty but neither have relied on that generally very successful treaty to aid in cross-border diplomacy.

What matters here, and is the corollary to Asia, is the relative position as an upstream water neighbor. To level the unbalancing effects of geographic position or economic strength, as this article points out, jurisdictions must manage water resources “on the basis of transparency, collaboration, sharing and dispute settlement.” Despite some challenges, Canada has world-class experience it can offer the world in this sort of management. The Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW) suggests that we can partner in knowledge transfer in the areas of:

  • Climate change resilience: Building resilience to cope with increasingly common and intense floods and drought.
  • Eutrophication of lakes and rivers: Reducing nutrient pollution from agriculture and sewage to minimize harmful and toxic algal blooms.
  • Water and technology: Implementing new and innovative technologies and approaches for providing safe drinking water and managing urban wastewater and stormwater.

We can also offer innovation in the water governance area, the issues most discussed in this article. Canada has experience developing and strengthening institutions and collaborative processes for water management, particularly in transboundary basins and with indigenous peoples and governments. Canada’s could play a leadership role internationally given its commitment to, and demonstrating its implementation of, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The MRB transboundary water agreements are just the most recent example.

Canada should develop a Global Water Strategy to promote its increasing experience in water diplomacy, negotiations, knowledge, and management.