Sharing the Water: How to Manage the Mackenzie River Basin

TORONTO, Feb. 22, 2012 /CNW/ - The prairies' experience in handling inter-provincial conflicts over water-use may point the way to success in the Mackenzie River Basin, according to a report released today by the C.D. Howe Institute. In Resolving Water-Use Conflicts: Insights from the Prairie Experience for the Mackenzie River Basin, law professor David Percy says a cooperative approach led the prairie provinces to a basic agreement on water sharing that works; and a similar approach could help kick-start progress in the more complex issues facing the Mackenzie River Basin. 

"It's been 40 years since governments starting talking about a water-sharing agreement for the Mackenzie Basin," said Professor Percy of the University of Alberta. "A generation later, a growing population and rapid development associated with the oil sands and other industries, especially in the Peace-Athabasca system, have added urgency to the task."

Professor Percy notes that in 1969, after a prolonged period of disagreement between Alberta and Saskatchewan over conflicting priorities for the use of prairie rivers, the two provinces joined with the governments of Manitoba and Canada in an arrangement known as the Apportionment Agreement. The Agreement, based on the idea that each upstream province would allow one-half of the natural flow of the rivers to pass to its downstream neighbours, later was extended to groundwater and water pollution.

Professor Percy thinks a similarly modest approach could work for the Mackenzie Basin, where the governments of Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, as well as the Yukon and Northwest Territories, are now attempting to negotiate an agreement for the management of the entire aquatic eco-system, which extends over an area of more than 1.8 million square kilometers. 

"Over the years, water sharing negotiations have grown to cover the whole eco-system of the Mackenzie Basin," he notes. "A more bite-sized approach, beginning with a simple water sharing rule, might provide a more workable starting point."

The history in the southern prairies, says Percy, suggests that more progress might be had if governments first sought agreement on the basics of minimum flow regimes and water quality objectives. This would set the foundations of the trust that would enable the provinces and Canada to reach toward a more comprehensive agreement, with better prospects for success.

For the report go to:

SOURCE C.D. Howe Institute

For further information:

Professor David Percy, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta; Colin Busby, Senior Policy Analyst, C.D. Howe Institute, 416-865-1904;


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