Protecting the Basin
The waters of the Mackenzie River Basin are a precious resource and they present unique challenges to water resource managers. The Mackenzie River Basin has cultural, political, geographic and environmental characteristics which are unique and significant by world standards. The basin is huge at 1.8 million square kilometres, over one fifth the area of Canada, but has only a small population of less than half a million people. Yet everyone in some way depends on the rivers, lakes, deltas and waterways for their livelihood and way of life. The population is very diverse in lifestyle and heritage, with members of the various Aboriginal peoples speaking eleven different languages.
The basin is divided roughly in half by the sixtieth parallel, yet close to 88 per cent of the population lives in twelve major communities in British Columbia and Alberta. Most people make their living in the forestry, oil and gas, agriculture and hydroelectric power generation industries which use water in their operating processes. Although this area has a predominately modern industrial economy, some Aboriginal people still follow a traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle.
By contrast, most residents north of 60 and in the Saskatchewan portion of the Basin are Aboriginal. Many live a primarily traditional lifestyle involving hunting, fishing, trapping and the use of waterways for transportation. There are eight larger and 21 smaller communities where these people live on a full or part-time basis. These people depend on a relatively pristine quality and quantity of water in order to be able to continue to drink the water and eat the fish as part of their livelihood and lifestyle. The way water is used, and how that use affects the water resource, varies considerably between the northern and southern areas.
The variety of political jurisdictions with legislated authority over water management is also unique. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Northwest Territories have the majority of legislative authority over water management within their respective boundaries. The federal government also has responsibilities in all parts of the basin under the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act. In addition, some groups of Aboriginal people who live in the Basin have settled, or are negotiating land claims and/or self-government agreements which may set out authority and management roles with respect to water and rights to water.
Because the Basin contains several large rivers that flow across political boundaries, management actions taken in one jurisdiction may affect the water resources in one or more neighbouring jurisdictions downstream. Sound water management in the Basin requires the cooperation of all jurisdictions to coordinate their respective activities.
The Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement requires the Water Resources within the Mackenzie River Basin to be managed in a manner consistent with the maintenance of the Ecological Integrity of the Aquatic Ecosystem, and for Water Resource Use be managed in a sustainable manner for present and future generations.Top of Page
Page last modified: 31 July 2015