Water Management

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has, as one of its functions in the north, the mandate to manage water resources in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. On April 1, 2003, responsibility for the management of water resources in Yukon was transferred to the Government of the Yukon.


INAC's overall responsibility for water management is set out in section 5 of the DIAND Act which gives the department provincial-type responsibilities for the north. The federal Crown has ownership of the water and other natural resources in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Water use and waste disposal into water are controlled through regulatory processes established under the federal Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA) and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act. Water use, and waste disposal in or near water, must be either licensed by water licensing boards or authorized by regulation. The mandate of the water boards is to provide for the conservation, development, and utilization of waters in a manner that will provide the optimum benefit for all Canadians and for the residents of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in particular.

In addition to its main responsibility under the DIAND Act and federal water legislation, INAC has additional water management responsibilities under:

Business Lines (What do we do?)

Legislation and Policy - INAC is responsible for the development, implementation and interpretation of all legislation and policy relating to its responsibilities for water management in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Licensing under the waters legislations - applications for water licences are reviewed, proposals evaluated and licences issued by water licensing boards (see links below) in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but all Type "A" licences must be approved by the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada for them to take effect. INAC also has a policy that it will present an intervention to the boards on all major water licence applications.

Enforcement - INAC has the responsibility for inspections on licensed operations in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. If a licensee is in contravention of the terms or conditions of their licence, it is an INAC inspector who enforces the applicable legislation.

Water data collection - data on all aspects of water are needed in order to properly manage water resources. INAC collects water quantity and water quality information. INAC, in cooperation with Environment Canada and the territorial governments, undertakes water quantity (or hydrometric) and water quality monitoring. This monitoring may include measurements of surface water flow rates/events, rain and snow measurements or other meteorological phenomena. Water quantity data are important to understand basic hydrological conditions as well as for water level and flood forecasting, water balance studies, road and pipeline design, temporal changes etc. Water quality monitoring is carried out in order to address major development and water planning and management issues. Good water quality is important for monitoring ecosystem and human health. In addition to these monitoring networks, specific targeted studies are undertaken to respond to particular issues or concerns raised in environmental assessments and license hearings. These targeted studies are often done under the Northern Water Research Studies Program (NWRSP).

Water Planning - INAC's role as the northern water manager requires a broad and long term view of the resource, its potential uses and future demands. The planning for water resource use and water quality protection is achieved through a comprehensive ecosystem approach; this means that planning is based on the hydrological unit of the watershed rather than political jurisdictions. Strategic water planning requires that all jurisdictions sharing a common resource be involved in planning and research of the resource. The Mackenzie River Basin Board was established for this purpose. Under the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement, signed in 1996 by Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Yukon, individual bilateral agreements between provinces/territories will be finalized to share information and water plans, and codify practices and procedures to manage shared watersheds to maintain the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem. In order to plan on a watershed basis, jurisdictions responsible for water resources must work together to understand the system as a whole. Broad-based research programs which seek to understand the watershed as a whole have been undertaken.


Most of the water management business lines are carried out in the regional offices in Yellowknife and in Iqaluit. Staff in Headquarters (in the National Capital Region) develop legislation and policy, participate in national water management initiatives, corporate policy development, address interdepartmental and intergovernmental issues, transboundary issues, and other departmental initiatives (e.g. devolution, land claims, etc.).

Contact Us

Water Resources Division
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
3rd Floor, Bellanca Building
P.O. Box 1500
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories X1A 2R3
(867) 669-2651

Water Resources Division
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
Building 918
P.O. Box 100
Iqaluit, Nunavut X0A 0H0
(867) 975-4550

Land and Water Management
Natural Resources and Environment
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
10 Wellington Street
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H4
(819) 997-0540

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