Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Bilateral Water Management Agreement?

The Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement (the Master Agreement) was signed by the Governments of Canada, Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan in 1997. The Master Agreement provides for neighbouring jurisdictions to negotiate Bilateral Water Management Agreements (BWMAs) to address shared water resources. The purpose of a BWMA is to establish and implement a framework for cooperating to achieve the principles of the Master Agreement.

How will waters in the Mackenzie River Basin be managed under the BWMAs?

The Parties are adopting a Risk Informed Management (RIM) Approach to water.  RIM establishes a framework to guide how the Parties will work together, now and in the future.

RIM addresses the commitment of the Parties to be proactive and forward looking and to facilitate joint learning that will inform bilateral water management actions on transboundary waters. Technical details related to learning, objective setting, monitoring and management actions will be set out in appendices to the Agreements.

Each bilateral water management agreement will be administered by a Bilateral Management Committee (BMC) and working groups or committees created under the BMC.

How does RIM approach work?

Using a RIM approach, the Parties will evaluate waterbodies according to the uses of the transboundary waters, and the nature and intensity of risks. The Parties will collaboratively assign a classification to each waterbody as follows:

Class 1 Waterbodies are considered to have no or very low development/use. The Parties will exchange available information on these waterbodies.

Class 2 Waterbodies are considered to have some level of current or planned development within a given time frame, as well as other considerations such as sensitive uses, stressors or vulnerabilities, use conflicts or controversies, or notable water quality, quantity, or other aquatic ecosystem conditions or trends. The Parties will collaboratively develop a learning plan for these waterbodies.

Class 3 Waterbodies have a greater degree of development, in addition to other considerations. The Parties will establish transboundary objectives based on detailed, site-specific analysis. These objectives will need to be met to maintain the aquatic integrity of the river and the Parties will monitor those conditions. 

Class 4 Waterbodies are considered to have exceeded the transboundary objectives. The Parties will identify and implement actions with the goal of returning the waterbody to Class 3.

Most waterbodies in the Mackenzie River Basin are currently considered to be Class 1, with a few in Classes 2 and 3. No waterbodies have been assigned as Class 4.

More details on the RIM approach can be found in the BWMAs.

What actions will happen right away once the BWMAs are completed?

Once the agreements are signed, learning plans will be developed for Class 2 and 3 waterbodies, and objectives at the borders will be developed for Class 3 waterbodies.  Annual reporting will determine whether objectives are being met.

How does a BWMA consider the needs and concerns of Aboriginal people?

Aboriginal concerns were considered throughout the development process through consultations with Aboriginal communities, organizations, and governments in order to understand their interests. The Parties have also included an appendix to each BWMA that outlines how Aboriginal interests will be considered in bilateral water management. 

Were stakeholders consulted with while developing the BWMA?

Yes. Each jurisdiction consulted with their respective stakeholders, including Aboriginal communities, organizations and governments, and other agencies as appropriate.

How many BWMAs will there be?

There will be a total of seven BWMAs once all are drafted and signed. BWMAs will be completed between:

  •  British Columbia and Alberta
  •  British Columbia and Yukon
  •  British Columbia and Northwest Territories
  •  Alberta and Northwest Territories (Signed in March 2015)
  •  Alberta and Saskatchewan
  •  Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories
  •  Yukon and Northwest Territories (BWMA originally completed in 2002; the Parties intend to revisit the agreement)
How will decisions be made regarding bilateral water management?

All bilateral water management decisions are made on a consensus basis. Jurisdictions retain the right to manage water internally as they see fit, as long as they do not cause unreasonable harm to another jurisdiction.

How will emergency responses be handled under BWMAs?

Under the BWMAs, emergency response protocols will be put in place to prevent, mitigate and/or address effects of emergencies that may threaten the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem. Provisions for notification of a potentially affected Party will also be implemented.

What is the MRBB’s role in relation to BWMAs?

Each BWMA will be administered by its own Bilateral Management Committee, which will include representatives of the signatory parties to that agreement. Disputes may be referred to the MRBB under Part E of the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement. The MRBB is also considering other ways that it can support the BWMAs.

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Page last modified: 31 July 2015

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