Protect the Other 99%: Restoring Rights to Access Navigable Waters

Access to millions of rivers and lakes rests on how the Navigation Protection Act is revised. Now is the time to nominate your home waters to join ALL navigable waters for protection from barriers that block navigation. You can join a movement calling on the Navigation Protection Act to ensure #nowatersleftbehind


People are raising alarm to protect an ecological and economically vital stretch of the Fraser River from developments that threaten critical sturgeon spawning habitat and that change water flows. A recent study of faulty floodgates on the Fraser shows how blocked water flows contributed to poor water quality and less native fish. Though the Navigation Protection Act (NPA) concerns human navigation, it is clear that structures that impede navigability also impact environmental health.


The good news is that the Fraser River falls within the protections of the Navigation Protection Act (NPA) so barriers to navigation (such as faulty flood-gates) could be challenged under the Act.  But millions of waterways lack the immediate protection that being listed in the Act provides. Many may have small communities with little resources to individually challenge harmful developments in court - the only option for those not listed under the NPA. Is this fair? With no government oversight for the cumulative impact of countless developments on unscheduled waterways, like pipelines to tailing ponds, the responsibility has shifted to the public to protect these navigable waterways.


Canada is a country woven together by the the lakes and rivers that span the land from coast-to-coast-to-coast. These waters were the original highways, their flows tied to treaty obligations, their waters providing us with space to swim, paddle and fish. Without a doubt the waterways across the country form a key pillar for community, economic, and physical health.

In 2012, changes made to one of Canada’s oldest laws, the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) eliminated protection for over 99% of Canada’s waterways. Under the new Navigation Protection Act (NPA) just 64 rivers, 97 lakes and the three oceans were protected from development that restricts their navigability.


The NWPA was a key environmental piece of legislation used to protect water flows from impacts of extraction and development. For the millions of lakes, rivers, and streams that lost protection, federal oversight is no longer needed to build bridges or structures that could intercept their flow. Under the NPA only a tiny fraction, 1% of Canada’s rivers and lakes, are listed for protection.


Wednesday October 18th, will mark the five year anniversary of changes to the century-old NWPA. In the inaugural mandate letters the current federal government signaled that it will be restoring lost protections and modernizing safeguards. Though recently, we and other groups have been worried that new reforms will not return protections for all navigable waters in Canada. The official response to a review of changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act focussed on adding priority navigable waters to a short list for protection under the Act. This approach could leave gaps in protection and countless waterways without an advocate. But, you can join a movement of Canadians across the country in weaving a blanket of protection!


What Can I Do?

Five things you can do to ensure no waters are left behind:

  1. Nominate a waterbody. Make sure the waters, lakes, and rivers that hold your memories aren’t left behind by nominating them here.

  2. Meet with your Member of Parliament and ask them to restore and enhance the Navigable Waters Protection Act and other freshwater protections. Remind them that waterways are not merely an economic highway but a part of our natural heritage.

  3. Share your story online. Post a photo of you, friends, family, or colleagues enjoying the lake or river you want to protect. Make sure to name the waterbody and include the hashtag #nowaterleftbehind

  4. Organize a kitchen table dialogue to talk about plans to restore and enhance the Navigable Waters Protection Act and gather more nominations.

  5. Become a supporter of the Canadian Freshwater Alliance by donating or getting involved to protect water.

This blog will be the first in a series themed “Rivers as Bridges” exploring the role of Canada’s waterways in providing access to the outdoors, preserving environmental quality, ensuring treaty obligations, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and economic growth.  






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