About the River Basin

The Mackenzie River Basin has cultural, political, geographic and environmental characteristics, which are unique and significant by world standards. The Basin is huge, covering a staggering 1.8 million square kilometers, or nearly one-fifth of the area in Canada, but has 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. Indigenous people living in the Basin speak 11 different languages.

Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement Backgrounder

Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Yukon (the governments with jurisdiction to manage water and the environment in the Mackenzie River Basin) have signed the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement. It came into effect in July 1997.

The Mackenzie River Basin Board was established to implement the agreement.
  • The board has 13 members.
  • 3 representing the Federal Government & 10 representing the provinces & territories.
  • 1 member from each of the provinces & territories represents Indigenous organizations.

View Timeline and History of Intergovernmental Cooperation

The Board is not a regulatory or licensing board, and has no legal or policy basis to regulate resource use in any of the jurisdictions. However, the Board may influence regulatory decisions made in the various jurisdictions in a number of ways:

  • By providing factual material, such as the State of the Aquatic Ecosystem Reports, to inform development decision makers.

  • By participating in and influencing pre or post regulatory processes, such as planning, regional or cumulative environmental impact assessment processes, or ministerial reviews of sensitive decisions.
  • By appearing as a "friend of the tribunal" in federal, provincial and territorial public hearings to advocate for the principles endorsed in the Master Agreement. The Agreement commits the parties to the following principles in carrying out their responsibilities in the Basin:
    1. Managing the water resources in a manner consistent with the maintenance of the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem.
    2. Managing the use of the water resources in a sustainable manner for present and future generations.
    3. Allowing each Party to the Agreement to use or manage the use of water resources within its jurisdiction provided such does no unreasonable harm to the ecological integrity for the aquatic ecosystem in another jurisdiction.
    4. Providing for early and effective consultation, notification and sharing of information on developments and activities that might affect the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem in another jurisdiction.


The agreement commits all six governments to work together more closely to manage the water resources of the whole Mackenzie River Basin

The agreement is founded on four guiding principles for cooperative management:

  • Equitable Utilization
  • Prior Consultation
  • Sustainable Development
  • Maintenance of Ecological Integrity


According to the Agreement the Board's key responsibilities are to:

  • Provide a forum for communication, coordination, information exchange, notification and consultation among all six jurisdictions and the public.
  • Consider the needs and concerns of Indigenous people through the provision of culturally appropriate communication, and incorporation of their traditional knowledge and values.
  • Recommend uniform objectives or guidelines for the quality and quantity of the water resources.
  • Encourage consistent monitoring programs.
  • Monitor the progress of implementing the bilateral water management agreements between neighbouring jurisdictions.
  • Reviewing the Master Agreement at least once every three years and proposing amendments to the Parties.
  • Submit a report on the state of the aquatic ecosystem every five years to the federal, provincial and territorial Ministers.
  • Carry out studies and investigations, as required.

The agreement makes provision for neighbouring jurisdictions to negotiate bilateral water management agreements to address water issues at jurisdictional boundaries on transboundary streams and to provide parameters on the quality, quantity and flow of water.

The six governments fund the Board's annual operational budget.