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Charting a Course – Water-Quantity Data, Information and Knowledge

Good policy development and solid management decisions require sound evidence and information. Information is derived from data, and in the context of water quantities in Canada, this data is not as comprehensive or as readily available as it should be. To effectively implement water policies and management strategies we need to improve our understanding of both water supplies and water demands. With increasing competition for water resources, governments need better data, not just to make sound allocation decisions today, but also to ensure there is enough water for the future. Accurate, complete, and current water-quantity data is a critical building block in establishing water-management systems in which water is effectively allocated and efficiently used.

Specifically, improved water data and information systems can

  • better inform decision making about water allocation, especially in areas where water availability is limited or constrained, thereby reducing both environmental and economic risks;
  • enable governments to use economic instruments as policy options to achieve water conservation and efficiency goals more effectively; and
  • allow for more informed dialogue with the public regarding water-use decisions, thereby gaining the public licence to operate.

Improving data and information is not just about collecting better data. It is equally important to communicate this information clearly and use the data effectively when making decisions.


A lack of publicly available, reliable water-quantity data has negative implications for current and future water-resource management in Canada. Specifically, the lack of baseline water-use measurements hampers efforts to improve efficiency since improvement potential is difficult to estimate, actual improvements cannot be assessed, and incentives for reductions cannot be readily developed, implemented, or evaluated. Adequate water-quantity data would be required if jurisdictions opt to recover the costs of administrating water policy and water-efficiency programs and maintaining water-use databases. All provinces and territories would benefit from developing a “toolkit” of common water-quantity measurement techniques that could measure and quantify actual water intake and discharge volumes. Mapping information through an interactive media, similar to the National Atlas, is one possible tool, which could allow policy makers, technical experts, and the public to better understand and identify the geographic areas facing water resource concerns.


  • Provincial and territorial governments should establish demand-side data systems that have clearly defined reporting requirements for water licence holders. These systems would have common obligations to report provisions, contain defined time periods for reporting, and introduce enforcement programs to ensure reporting of water use by water licence holders.
  • The provinces and territories, in collaboration with stakeholders and partners, should develop common measurement techniques to collect water-quantity data.
  • The provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with the natural resource sectors, should research the sector-specific future water data needs of their jurisdictions. These initiatives would help jurisdictions identify and develop data-management approaches and systems that have buy-in from the natural resource sectors.
  • Governments at all levels should collaborate with partners and stakeholders to develop and integrate water-quantity data for use as a water-management tool at a local watershed scale. Provinces and territories should first develop integrated water-management tools within their jurisdictions at a finer spatial resolution, as it is easier to “roll-up” small-scale assessments to larger scales rather than to disaggregate an initial assessment performed at a larger spatial scale.
  • In collaboration with partners and stakeholders, governments at all levels, should develop protocols for transparent access to water data. Provinces and territories should continue establishing their own water-data portals. The federal government should develop a national web-based water portal, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, which also provides access to provincial and territorial water portals.

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