Water and the food system


Many socio-economic processes use (and contaminate) water, including the food system. Everything in the food system relies on water. Farming is a significant user of water and contributor to water quality problems, both acute ones associated with spills and more chronic ones, such as excess nutrient runoff into streams from regular farm practices. Good Canadian data is lacking, but the annual cost of damage to water from agricultural practices in the USA was estimated a number of years ago at $2.6 billion[i]. Water is also used in food processing, cooking, and human waste disposal, and of course we drink water.  Less obvious is the trade in water embedded in food and the energy associated with moving this water around.

The scale of Canada, it's extensive water bodies and watersheds, and the amount of freshwater available are all actually contributing forces to poor water management.  For years, this abundance fostered high levels of inefficient extraction and a "solution to pollution is dilution"  approach to water management.

A large challenge to meeting both current and future global food demand is ensuring the availability of water and maintaining the associated sufficient flow of soil nutrients (Niu et al., 2017; Wang et al., 2012). While BC and Eastern Canada can suffer both droughty and flooding conditions, the prairie provinces, where much of Canada’s agriculture is concentrated, is naturally arid to semi-arid (Wang et al., 2012). While the use of irrigation and advances in its technology have helped historically to supply water to the prairies, our approach remains sub-optimal and does not currently address all the issues in agricultural water management. This, taken in concert with the increasing frequencies of both droughts, floods, and storms from a changing climate and rising costs of irrigation equipment and infrastructure, indicate many solutions to conserving water resources must be employed in combination (Liyanage et al., 2021).

Drinking water quality is a huge subject and is only partly addressed here, the focus being on how to reduce the food system's negative impacts on water quality. Water use regarding human waste is mostly addressed under Section ..... Water as it relates to the fisheries is mostly addressed under Goal 5 Sustainable Fisheries.

Historical errors

An enormous number of errors have been made regarding water, reflecting profound levels of ecological illiteracy on the part of settlers. By some estimates, 50% of native wetlands have been drained, many rivers have been diverted, lakes and ponds dammed and drained, and tens of thousands of miles of tile drains installed, all leading to profound disruption of regional water flows. Settlements and pavement further disrupted these flows. In earlier periods, contamination with animal and human waste was enormous, gradually cleaned up as the disease implications were discovered.  We are still living with the legacy of chemical contaminants, in fact by many indications the situation has worsened over the years as our food production systems have become more intensive. Plastic contamination of water systems, both fresh and saltwater is now enormous (see Goal 5 Sustainable Fisheries and Goal 5 Food Packaging Changes).

Although many of these changes appeared to be highly important for food production, they are now backfiring on us.  Ontario's Holland Marsh, the most intensive vegetable production area of the province, will lose from oxidization and subsidence it's organic soil within the next 40-50 years.  The draining of wetlands has resulted in both droughtier and more flood prone conditions in many regions. Competition for water is now acute in many irrigated regions of the Prairies. Water quality problems are severe in Lake Winnipeg and parts of PEI, producing conflicts between agriculture and recreation.  The expense of maintaining many water engineering structures has become unaffordable.

In other words, water is a common, scarce and precious resource, and we have treated it poorly for so long that we will have trouble extracting ourselves from this mess of our own creation. Compounding our errors, a significant amount of our water manipulations were actually unnecessary.

Food System Use and Contamination


Inputs are of course used in many places in the food system, but here the discussion focuses on mining and manufacturing.


The mining and manufacturing of agricultural inputs uses large volumes of water.  It is used for natural gas  extraction, milling in mining operations for washing and cooling, for transport of fertilizers.  Some fertilizers are delivered in liquid form.

Certainly the fertilizer industry has improved the efficiency of its water use and reduced contamination over the years.


Water discharges from mining and processing operations, stormwater runoff, contamination of water from mine reclamation projects

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jawr.12159. glyphosate contamination


In earlier periods, technological limitations required that crop and animal production reflect the water resources of a region. Many colonial land uses were designed around access to water for production and distribution, including the seigneurial system in Quebec. Crops and animals  were in part selected for their effective interplay with water resources, and densities had to reflect availability.  Of course, in these periods, water use wasn't necessarily efficient and biological contamination was an issue (e.g., livestock in the creeks) though not as widespread as today, but chemical contamination was rare.  The lower intensity of production compared to today had some mitigating effect.

We no longer, however, substantially design food production around water availability and efficient use. Our commitment to use technology to manipulate animals, plants and landscapes means we have a false sense of power over water cycles.


Statistics Canada (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/16-201-x/2014000/part-partie5-eng.htm)

In 2011, agriculture water use was allocated 85% for crop production and 15% for animal production. It was responsible for 5% of water withdrawn from Canada’s rivers, lakes and groundwater by household and economic activities. But, unlike other major water users agriculture consumes most of what it withdraws, whereas other major users return it to the environment. Agriculture only returned about 16% of the water withdrawn for crop and animal production.

Most of the rest is cycled through various biological and climatological processes. Water use efficiency is not high in agriculture, although demand management is slowly being implemented.   Water availability is a limiting production factor on much of the Prairies.  Irrigation is a significant activity in a few regions (e.g., southern Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan) and there are significant tensions over agricultural water taking, in part because July and August are the peak irrigation months when resources are typically at their lowest (Statistics Canada). Southern Alberta irrigated crops mostly sugar beets, corn and potatoes. How does it make sense to irrigate sugar beets? Total irrigated area in Canada amounts to about 11% of all farmed area (IISD, https://www.iisd.org/articles/sustainable-food-systems-canada-water-use ).

But SK and AB are expanding their irrigation systems. Alberta has 13 irrigation districts amounting to 1.4 million acres. AB modernizing irrigation legislation.  Almost 1 billion announced to expand irrigation infrastructure on 230,000 acres.  Also exploring new irrigation on 108,000 acres in east-central Alberta.  Collectively biggest expansion in a century.  Irrigation efficiency has improved significantly since the 1970s.  4.4% of acres irrigated but accounting for 28% of ag GDP $1 investment thought to produce $3.56 in benefits (Ferguson, D. 2023. Province plans to modernize Alta. irrigation legislation.  WP Feb. 23, p. 15.)  The province does however acknowledge the need to coordinate water taking and that they must take less than licenses allow to protect the rivers. Water for Life Strategy AB government early 2000s.  Licenses moratorium.  Older licenses get priority.  Irrigation Rehabilitation Program AB governement (McQuaig, A. 2021. Alta irrigation districts say system passed drought test. WP Sept 23.).

70% of water allocations on the Bow are for irrigation.  Interprovincial agreement requires that 50% of flow from South Saskatchewan end up in that province. (Alex McQuaig, 2023. River levels run low in Alta. WP, Aug. 10, p1.)

No full integrated water system plan for the Saskatchewan River system (includes North and South, Bow and Oldman in Alberta).  Heavily dependent on melting snow pack from Eastern slopes in AB.  Some drought years some of the tributaries now run dry. Early snow pack melt will reduce water availability for peak irrigation times. Prairie Provinces Water Board agreement only loosely followed.  Irrigation water uses 78% of flow in Bow and Oldman. $1 billion expansion underway in AB. No environmental assessment. SK a $4 billion 10 year project to double irrigated acres out of Lake Diefenbaker.  System provides 70% of water for SK population, irrigation, hydro electric and the delta is already suffering ecologically and for indigenous people (Ferguson, D. 2022. Scientist sounds water crisis alarm.  WP Jan 6. p. 1.). Canada Infrastructure Bank wants to invest in SK project and already in AB project

CAPI Expand Lake Diefenbaker project

Many crops grown and animals raised are significant users of water.  Intensive animal  protein requires 10-1000 times more more water than plant protein (Aiking H. Future protein supply. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 2011;22:112–120; Smil V. MIT Press; Cambridge (MA), USA: 2001. Enriching the earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the transformation of world food production.).  But certain crops are not efficient particularly in the Canadian context given their acreage corn and soybeans.

the high tech greenhouse sector is also a significant user of water for drip irrigation in areas like Leamington.


Agricultural is among the leading sources of freshwater contamination worldwide, including in Canada (Mateo-Sagasta, Zadeh & Turral, 2017) Mateo-Sagasta, J., Marjani Zadeh, S., & Turral, H. (2017). Water pollution from agriculture: a
555 global review. http://www.fao.org/3/i7754e/i7754e.pdf). Agr impacts on water quality indicators show decline from 1981, indicating a long term worrisome trend (Clearwater et al 2016), especially given all the interventions that are supposed to be improving the situation.  Clearwater et al 2016 - developed proxy indicators for risk of water contamination from nitrogen, phosphorus, coliforms and pesticides. Their analysis reveals that on about 25% of Canadian farmland where contamination is more than low risk, the risks of contamination with nitrogen are slowly increasing primarily because nitrogen inputs are increasing at a higher rate than nitrogen outputs in food. For phosphorus, on 280 studied agricultural watersheds, 50% of them moved to higher risk classes because of increased use of mineral fertilizers and more concentrated livestock production. Coliform contamination has generally and substantially deteriorated since 1981, especially in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, the most intensive provinces for livestock production. Pesticide risks have also increased due to increased pesticide use. As a result, the compound water quality indicator derived from these individual indicators declined from  92/100 (“Desired”) to 74/100 (“Good”) between 1981 and 2011.


P pollution, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/60ab7d2902207048adc8c540/t/62a11ab9a5f66e36f59e3dfc/1654725318936/2022_OPF-Summary+for+Policymakers.pdf



NPS nutrients now the main source of P loading into waterbodies.  Lew Molot, you apply P it'll end up in a water body eventually.


McRae, T., C.A.S. Smith, and L.J. Gregorich (eds.). 2000. Environmental Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture: Report of the Agri-Environmental Indicator Project. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, Ont.
Lefebvre, A., W. Eilers, et B. Chunn (eds.), 2005. Environmental Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture: Agri-Environmental Indicator Report Series – Report #2. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.
Clearwater, R. L., T. Martin and T. Hoppe (eds.) 2016. Environmental sustainability of Canadian agriculture: Agri-environmental indicator report series – Report #4. Ottawa, ON: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Perhaps there was also a report #3 that was relevant


The main risks to water quality from Canadian agriculture are associated with nutrients - animal manure and synthetic fertilizer. Regions with high risk of surface water contamination by nitrogen include the Fraser Valley of BC, south western Ontario, and parts of the St. Lawrence lowland[ii].  Nitrogen contamination is usually associated with intensive livestock production and intensive annual cropping with crops requiring significant amounts of nitrogen.

A significant part of the problem is created by the increased number of farm animals on the Canadian landscape.  Over a 60-year period, cattle and hog populations have doubled, while the number of farms has dropped by 2/3 and cultivated area has increased more slowly than animal populations. Intensive Livestock Operations (ILOs) have received considerable attention of late related to water quality threats.  In Canada, the main ILOs are producing hogs (particularly in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec) and cattle in feedlots (especially in Alberta).  Water contamination results from  application of manure beyond the absorptive capacity of the land, surface runoff and spills from manure storage facilities.


Pesticide contamination is generally a more localized problem, though often highly significant.  Fish kills in PEI streams, associated with mostly “normal” farm applications of the pesticides endosulfan, carbofuran, mancozeb, chlorothalonil, and azinphos-methyl in potato fields, have forced the provincial government to bring in a suite of regulatory and program measures to prevent future kills.  The incentive to act was provided in part by very negative publicity for the PEI tourism industry, and the associated negative impacts on tourism revenues.

Surface waters have received most of the attention, but concerns about agricultural contamination of ground water is growing.  This is not a well-studied or resourced area at this point.

Climate change and Prairie water supply impacts. Praire Provinces chapter of Regional Perspectives report Dave Sauchyn. Prairies have most of Canada's irrigated land www.changingclimate.ca



Water use in food processing.  How much to discuss wider waste water management policy and programming. Partly depends on discussing sewage treatment and losses from the food nutrient system.

McCain's potato plant expansion requires significantly more water.  They have the rights but the municipality has to provide the infrastrcuture which it may not currently have

Water extraction for beverages.

Increasingly not locating processing near high water containing crops.  Classic case is tomato processing.  Consolidation is part of the story, so is importing dehydrated tomato paste rather than buy whole tomatoes from nearby farms. So either pay alot and use fossil fuels to move water or expend enormous amounts of energy dehydrating tomatoes, very expensive technology.

Distribution (including import and export)
Household (including waste water) (Halvorson)

Alot of household water use is related to food.  The kitchen sink is used for cleaning food, handwashing, dishwashing, we use water for cooking and beverages, ice machines, brushing teeth, and flushing the toilet.

In 2019 the residential sector in Canada used almost 2.5 billion cubic metres of potable water, a volume that has been relatively consistent since 2015 (StatsCan, 2021a). In comparison, all other non-residential sectors including commercial, industry, and institutions used 1.35 billion cubic metres of water (StatsCan, 2021a). Total water withdrawn for potable purposes by drinking water plants was ~4.9 billion cubic metres, with almost 90 % of this water drawn from rivers or lakes (StatsCan, 2021b). Individual water consumption has been trending down over the last decade, with individuals on average using 36 L less per day in 2019 than they did in 2011 (StatsCan, 2021a). In 2011, a study in North America reported that average household water use had also declined over the last three decades (Rockaway et al., 2011). Much of this reduction can be attributed to the newer and increasingly water efficient appliances (within indoor residential settings, toilets, showers, and washing machines use the most water out of all appliances) on the market. However, household water use is affected by multiple factors; Rockaway et al. found that average temperatures were strongly correlated with water use, with homes in hotter regions associated with higher water use (2011). Dry conditions can also contribute to water use, but more unpredictably than temperature as severe enough drought conditions can reduce household water consumption as municipalities enforce water restrictions or mandates. High average precipitation is associated with decreased household water use. Water use is also a function of age demographics, with adults predictably using more water than teenagers and children. After controlling for demographics, newer homes (built after 1994) use less water than older homes (built before 1994). Households with higher incomes and larger houses are also associated with increased water use. Overall, the authors expect this declining trend in residential water use to flatten in upcoming decades as all old appliances are replaced and new appliances reach their limit of water efficiency (Rockaway et al., 2011).

With growth in urban centres, expansion of industry, and climate change increasingly putting pressure on the ability of municipalities to supply water and manage waste, financing, building, and repairing critical water infrastructure, as well as managing the demand of water has become a priority (Government of Canada, 2017). Drinking water plants spent almost one billion dollars in 2019 to upgrade existing infrastructure and install new equipment or processes (Statistics Canada, 2021b). Maintenance and operation of drinking water plants cost over $1.2 billion in that same year, these costs including materials, energy use, and labour, with the latter representing the largest proportion of the expenses (Statistics Canada, 2021b). In Canada, the price of water set by utility companies has a large influence on household water usage. Metered households on volume-based water pricing schemes used almost 75% less water than unmetered, flat rate priced households in the same year (Government of Canada, 2017). Municipalities seeking to raise awareness about water consumption and provide a financial incentive to decrease use may find household metering and volume-based pricing effective (Government of Canada, 2017). The main source of drinking water for almost three quarters of Canadians is the tap (Government of Canada, 2020). One fifth of people in Canada rely on bottled water as their main source, with the remaining percentage using both tap and bottled equally (Government of Canada, 2020). Some of this percentage represents rural and Indigenous communities who are reliant on bottled water due to either limited or no access to clean drinking water. As of 2020, 58 drinking water advisories on reserve remained, down from 105 in 2015 when the Government of Canada officially committed to “ending all long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems” (ECCC, 2021, pg. 5).


Soap, cleaning solvents, toilet. Rich Earth Institute estimates 80% of N and P pollution in waste water comes from human waste. As one of the largest sources of surface water pollution in Canada, the millions of cubic metres of municipal wastewater discharged everyday into the sewer systems must be treated before being released back in to the environment. Municipal wastewater consists of sanitary sewage and stormwater from rain or snow, and can contain “human and other organic
waste, nutrients, pathogens, microorganisms, suspended solids and household and industrial chemicals”, which, left untreated would increase the risks posed to the economy, environment, and human health (ECCC, 2020, pg. 6) As of 2017, 86 % of the population in Canada was served by some type of municipal wastewater treatment system (ECCC, 2020). The percentage of the population in Canada not served by wastewater treatment systems roughly corresponds to the individuals or communities served by their own independent, on-site wastewater treatment systems like septic tanks or small-scale collective systems with daily flows of less than 100 m3. Efficiencies in these type of wastewater treatment systems can be similar to that of municipal facilities. The type of wastewater treatments are divided into four levels by Environment and Climate Change Canada; no treatment, primary treatment, secondary treatment, and tertiary treatment (Table 1). 96% of all municipal wastewater in Canada receives some level of treatment before being discharged into the environment. The majority of municipal wastewater comes from Quebec and Ontario, who released 2,234 and 2,082 million m3 respectively in 2017. Population-wise, only 28% of people are served by a tertiary treatment municipal waste water system, with the majority (43%) having only secondary. Regionally, Alberta has the highest proportion of their population with tertiary treatment systems at 70%, with Ontario in second at 43%. Both provinces, along with PEI, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon, do not have any proportion of the population served by primary or no treatment municipal wastewater systems. Nova Scotia and Quebec have the highest proportion served by primary treatment systems at 35% and 38% respectively, while around one-third of all people in Newfoundland and Labrador have municipal systems that release completely untreated wastewater into the environment of coastal communities (ECCC, 2020).

Jurisdictional Issues

Issues regarding water and agriculture also suffer from jurisdictional fragmentation, across the three main levels plus some regional water authorities. There are also water-related transboundary agreements (and disputes) with the USA (for example, the Milk River system in Alberta governed by an international treaty with the US through the IJC which is doing a 4 year review to determine better sustainable management of the water resources).  The federal government is responsible for navigation, fisheries, Indigenous lands, federal/crown land, and international or boundary waters.  Provinces and territories are responsible  for natural resources, including, but not limited to, freshwaters. Implementation of water management frequently occurs at the municipal level, as assigned by the provinces. Some provinces also have regional water -related agencies with specified jurisdiction, some related to conservation, others related to irrigation. There are some attempts at coordination through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, but a lack of water systems coordination does result in the duplication of effort, poor data collection and dissemination of information, and inadequate monitoring and enforcement.  Provinces often resist national standards?  Municipalities may not have the skills and resources (e.g., Walkerton). Bakker, K., and Cook, C. (2011). Water governance in Canada: Innovation and fragmentation. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 27(2), 275–289.

There are significant tensions between different levels of government and between federal government departments over water quality monitoring and pollution prevention.  These tensions revolve, in part, around the appropriate mix of sticks and carrots.  At a federal level, these disputes are being played out within SCAP  environment pillar programming, meaning that coherent and coordinated programming is slowed by internal battles.  AAFC plays the role of assessing whether the agriculture sector can meet the expectations of Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Prairie water conservation districts, https://www.birdscanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Birds-Canada-Grassland-Conservation-Incentives-Guide-2.pdf

Conservation Authorities in Ontario

Irrigation districts in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta has 13 districts in the southern parts of the province governed by the Irrigation Districts Act (1.5 million acres with 42 storage reservoirs). Saskatchewan has 19 districts mostly along the Sask river in the southern part of the province. Sk Water Security Agency also responsible for drainage and drinking water (under the Water Security Agency Act).

MB put in place 14 watershed districts in 2020 to replace 18 conservation districts. Based on watersheds. Operated as provincial / municipal partnerships. Endowment fund, Growing Outcome in Watersheds.  Similar to ALUS model. Fund farmers for ecosystem services. Updates to Water Rights Act regulations, no net loss approach to wetlands.  Cannot drain sloughs (class 4, 5 wetlands).

Drainage regulations in each province.  Illegal wetland drainage SK, not being monitored, drainage plans contested.

Civil society actors including watershed councils and alliances.

And then private landowners.

Each province has irrigation regulations.

indigenous communities and access to water compared to settlers

Master Agreement on Apportionment 1969 on Prairie eastern flow rivers


Government responses

After years of only spotty attention to water quality impacts in agriculture, most governments have significantly stepped up their regulatory and enforcement activity, much to the consternation of the farming community.  In the view of some regulators, the agriculture sector had a 10 - 15  year window to voluntarily comply with regulations and reduce water quality impacts, but failed to make significant progress.  The farm sector, in response, believes that it is unfairly expected to carry the financial burden of environmental improvements that have more off-site than on-site benefits.  If the proper financial incentives are in place, they believe it will be much easier to comply with regulations.  Tensions are now apparent between agricultural and natural resource departments across the country over the handling of water quality enforcement.

Most governments with significant water quality problems are using both regulation and programming to advance improvements.  As part of APF programming, all provinces are instigating or improving environmental farm planning.  The PEI government is undertaking a series of initiatives to support potato farmers particularly by providing per acre payments to support the conversion to IPM.  Ontario is introducing extensive regulations regarding manure management.  Several years ago, Quebec instituted nutrient management rules to reduce in particular  phosphorus pollution. No-till has been heavily promoted in many cropping systems but is problematic for a number of reasons, including increased herbicide and fungicide use, and controversial carbon storage claims.

Significant research attention goes to drought resistant plant breeding, and to the design of Prairie cropping systems that reduce moisture demands.  Irrigated districts are implementing plans to improve irrigation efficiency.

Federal government claims to be using Integrated Water Resource Management or Integrated Watershed Management. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. (2016). Summary of integrated watershed management approaches across Canada. https://www.ccme.ca/files/Resources/water/water_conservation/Summary of Integrated Watershed Management Approaches Across Canada PN 1559.pdf. Implementation difficult because of skill and jurisdictional gaps, short on adaptive management as a result Petit, O. (2016). Paradise lost? The difficulties in defining and monitoring Integrated Water Resources Management indicators. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 21, 58–64.

Canada Water Act (1985), establishes agreements and/or memorandums of understanding (MOUs) to coordinate/harmonize efforts and provide support to various levels of governance .  Federal water quality guidances don't have to be adopted by provinces?

Wastewater management is the collective responsibility of Federal, provincial, and municipal governing bodies. Food processors? The Federal government specifies minimum effluent water standards and provincial and territorial governments issue permits for WWTPs (Mavinic et al., 2018

Mavinic, D., Arora, S., Brooks, C., Comeau, Y., Darbyshire, M., Kidd, K., McClenaghan, T., and Servos, M. (2018). Canada’s Challenges and Opportunities to Address Contaminants in Wastewater: National Expert Panel Report (Issue March).

Mavinic, D., Arora, S., Brooks, C., Comeau, Y., Darbyshire, M., Kidd, K., Mcclenaghan, T., Servos, M., Chair, S. A. J., and Mcclenaghan, T. (2018). Canada’s challenges and opportunities to address contaminants in wastewater: supporting document 2 - wastewater treatment practice and regulations in Canada and other jurisdictions. In Canadian Water Network (Issue March). http://cwn-rce.ca/wp-content/uploads/projects/other-files/Canadas-Challenges-and-Opportunities-to-Address-Contaminants-in-Wastewater/CWN-Report-on-Contaminants-in-WW-Supporting-Doc-2.pdf

Mavinic, D., Arora, S., Brooks, C., Darbyshire, M., Kidd, K., Chair, S. A. J., and Mcclenaghan, T. (2018). Canada’s challenges and opportunities to address contaminants in wastewater: Supporting document 2. In Canadian Water Network (Issue March). http://www.cwn-rce.ca/assets/resources/pdf/2018-Contaminants-in-Wastewater-Expert-Panel-Report/CWN-2018-Expert-Panel-Report-on-Contaminants-in-Wastewater.pdf

).Fisheries Act has a regulation – Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulation – which sets minimum effluent standards for pollutants discharged into waters frequented by fish ( Although virtually all natural surface waters have fish, the GOC is reluctant to extend its environmental jurisdiction to all inland waters. The regulation sets effluent standards for total suspended solids (TSS), carbonaceous biochemical oxygen-demanding material (CBOD), total residual chlorine, and un-ionized ammonia (NH3), which must be achieved by secondary treatment or better (ECCC, 2020; Mavinic et al., 2018). Also, under the Federal Environmental Protection Act, WWTPs with discharge rates that exceed 10,000 m3/day are required to monitor, meet thresholds, and report on the release of several substances, including P (Mavinic et al., 2018).

Vercammen, J. (2019). A dynamic analysis of cost-share agri-environmental programs. Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, 67(1), 15–30.

AAFC Living Labs program is watershed based

IISD natural infrastructure, AB and MB better at protecting wetlands than SK

Growing Outcomes in Watersheds

Prairie Climate Watershed project

Manitoba - cooperative watershed management between Swan Lake first nations and watershed districts in the area.

No regulatory pathways for source separated and pasteurized human urine.  Rich Earth Institute. Pilot project

Canada Water Agency funded in 2023 budget, spirit of PFRA? Reports directly to MOE.  Not regulatory.  Coordinating research and management efforts.  $650 million, 2/3 directed at Great Lakes, about $200 million for other watersheds, mostly Western Canada.

Red River Basin Commission

Assiniboine River Basin Commission

2023 Budget $650 million over ten years to restore and protect Canada’s precious fresh water resources – including the Great Lakes.

Lake Winnipeg WAter Stewardship Project. SK Water security agency and funding program Agricultural Water Management Fund for farmers.  Also money for Conservation and Development Area Authorities.

Synthetic fertilizer and manure major sources of N and P in Red River Valley and Lake Wiinnipeg (Yates, Culp, Chambers, 2012, Estimating Nutrient Production from Human Activities in Subcatchments of the  Red River, Manitoba. Journal of Great Lakes Research 38:106-114.  At least 4 provinces have  regulations limiting manure application related to soil P levels (Ontario, Quebec, NS and Manitoba) (see Gasman)

Business responses

Yes, there are technological and process efficiencies after years of not making such investments because the signals did not encourage it.  But progress is slow and often does not address the fundamental ecological illiteracy associated with inefficient water use and contamination.

Conceptual frameworks for solutions

Swatek, L. 2015. Seeing "invisible water": challenging conceptions of water for food, agriculture and human security.  Can. J. Development Studies

One Health

The challenge of the myth of abundance

“Integrated watershed management (IWM) is a continuous and adaptive process of managing human activities in an ecosystem, within a defined watershed. IWM involves the integration of environmental, social and economic decisions and activities through an inclusive decision-making process to manage the protection, conservation, restoration and enhancement of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem features, functions and linkages. Governance is a collaborative approach appropriate to the watershed and issues at hand.” (CCME, 2016).Alberta and Manitoba have IWMPs for all or some of their major river watersheds, whereas Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan have  Source Water Protection Plans (SWPPs) for their surface water watersheds

OECD on water governance:  three main principles: effectiveness, efficiency, and trust and engagement  Effectiveness  is the clear definition of goals and targets within policy for each level of government and implementation  to meet them. Efficiency  to maximize the benefits of sustainable water management and welfare while incurring minimal costs to society. Trust and engagement for public confidence around water management strategies. OECD. (2015). OECD Principles on Water Governance. Draft for consulation at the 7th World Water Forum. Report, May, 1–23; Akhmouch, A., and Correia, F. N. (2016). The 12 OECD principles on water governance – When science meets policy. Utilities Policy, 43, 14–20.

Solutions to solve multiple problems simultaneously and to anticipate increasing pressures of climate change.


  • more water efficient cropping and animal systems, including different animal choices for more efficiency in dryland areas.  Black angus cattle not well suited to heat and drought. Jerseys more tolerant than Holsteins.  Goats are generally hardier than cattle. Some heritage breeds of all animals better suited. Swiss chard and mustard greens do better than many other leafy greens.
  • landscape level watershed management for irrigation but also on farm water contouring (the Keyline Plan for example)
  • more water - efficient food and beverage processing
  • better water use efficiency in the kitchen and toilets (low flush toilets!)

As with other environmental programs, there is excessive emphasis on best management practices (BMPs) and insufficient attention paid to farming systems that reduce pollution (see discussion of organic systems in section 6).  A number of jurisdictions in the US and Europe have had success organizing sub-watershed projects, sometimes in collaboration with water utilities, where all the farms in the  sub-watershed convert to a sustainable production system. There are tentative steps to initiate some projects of this type in Canada.

Many things contribute to water problems, so the focus here is on reducing negative food system impacts, a prevention approach.  There can however be a need for control and mitigation.  These are often more expensive and not necessarily effective, with secondary negative effects on ecosystems.

Ideas to develop, from Gasman

Zaga-Mendez, A., Kolinjivadi, V., Bissonnette, J. F., and Dupras, J. (2020). Mixing public and private agri-environment schemes: Effects on farmers participation in quebec, canada. International Journal of the Commons, 14(1), 296–312.

Water quality and livestock health -  SK has a risk mitigation program that includes chemical and physical treatment.  Some provinces extension agents will work with farmers when a problem is identified.  But shifting out of one on one?

Keeping livestock out of watercourses

To what extent do I need to talk about drinking water standards? And recreational water guidelines?

Evidence in Ontario that blooms aren't declining, so to what extent does that indicate the failings of BMP strategies? Winter, J. G., Desellas, A. M., Fletcher, R., Heintsch, L., Morley, A., Nakamoto, L., and Utsumi, K. (2011). Algal blooms in Ontario, Canada: Increases in reports since 1994. Lake and Reservoir Management, 27(2), 107–114.

Increases in soluble reactive P from agriculture is a main cause of bloom increases in Lake Erie.


The need for water systems co-ordination (water councils, conservation authorities)

See Gasman Table 30


Mandatory farm conversion around priority lakes and watersheds, with reduced livestock densities

Riffing off the NYC water supply story in upstate NY; https://novascotia.ca/agri/documents/business-research/EGSProgramReviewPaper.pdf

Water and beverage production and distribution.

[i] Pretty, J. et al. 2000. An assessment of the external costs of UK agriculture. Agricultural Systems 65:113-136.

[ii] MacDonald, K.B. 2000. Risk of water contamination by nitrogen.  In: McRae, T. et al. (eds.). 2000. Environmental Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture: report of the agri-environmental indicators project.  Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, Ottawa. Pp. 117-123.

[iii] AAFC data, http://www.agr.gc.ca/policy/environment/water_e.phtml