Access rights to Canadian waterways


in Canada, Law, Politics, The outdoors

According to Saxe Environmental Law News, the federal government has proposed to amend the Navigable Waters Protection Act in a way that would limit future public access to navigable waterways:

Ever since Canada was first settled, anyone in a canoe has had a right to paddle rivers, lakes and streams with enough water to float in… Now the federal government is proposing to give away much of this power.

The right to free navigation in public space seems to be an important part of living in a just and open society. Having limits on the extent and character of private property is an important mechanism for maintaining an overall civic structure, in which everyone has equal rights under the law. As someone who has enjoyed a fair bit of canoeing (and some kayaking) in the past, I find this potential change of rules worrisome. Hopefully, this decision will get appropriate scrutiny from lawmakers and the public.

The post also includes a link to a memorandum on the issue (PDF), written by Ecojustice.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

mek March 3, 2009 at 9:27 pm

I would assume this has very much to do with the heavy push for private “run-of-the-river” hydroelectric projects, which I am not exactly a big fan of. Eliminating public rights to navigable waterways is key to being able to go ahead and destroy those waterways for profit. There are over 500 (!!!) of these licenses proposed in BC alone, and the damage to navigable waterways will be immense. And these changes will eliminate any chance of federal oversight in the process – right now, pesky old “environmental impact” has to be assessed. Hooray for selling off our country to private interests for a pittance.

To sum up:

“The NWPA mandates that, if someone wants to build something in, on, around, under, over, or through a navigable waterway, an assessment of the impacts on navigation (ability to canoe, kayak, go rafting, etc) and an environmental assessment need to be done first.

– The removal of the four named works (bridges, causeways, dams, and booms) as obstructions to navigation
– Giving the Minister the power to create “classes of works” and “classes of navigable waters” – ie: separating them into “major” and “minor” categories
– Whether something constitutes a “significant interference with navigation” is now up to the Minister’s sole discretion”

Milan March 3, 2009 at 11:56 pm

And here I was hoping run-of-the-river hydro might be a good way to get hydro power without building forest-drowning dams

mek March 4, 2009 at 4:25 am

I think run-of-the-river has potential, but the current implementation is wholesale, indiscriminate, and consequently destructive implementation of the technology. It doesn’t have to be that way, but that is how it is right now.

. March 9, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Coalition to wage campaign against law

Legislation would amend act that protects rivers

By Larry Pynn, Vancouver SunMarch 9, 2009

A coalition of groups worried that new federal budget legislation will endanger rivers by scaling back environmental assessments for developments on waterways is launching a campaign to battle the plan.

Now that the budget has been passed and goes before the Senate finance committee this week, the groups are urging senators to withdraw the relevant section — Part 7 of the Budget Implementation Act.

It would amend the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which dates back to 1882 and protects public access to navigable rivers.

Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op, boasting more than one million members, said Canada’s “waterways are under threat” from the proposed amendments, which would “limit Canadians’ right to navigate and access our waterways and subject many of them to development without review or public consultation.”

The Canadian Rivers Network expressed “very serious concerns about the complete lack of public consultation” on the amendments. “We understand that it is important to initiate infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy. But we should not use that as an opportunity to deconstruct safeguards put in place to protect Canada’s environment.”

Angelo said the groups opposing the changes include outdoor recreationists, conservation organizations, community groups, first nations, the commercial recreation sector, river advocates, paddlers and fishermen.

Tzeporah Berman March 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm

To say that all run-of-river projects destroy rivers and are not ‘green’ is absurd. I’ve been up to Toba/Montrose with the Klahoose. I’ve seen how Plutonic’s operations are reopening tributaries and cleaning up the mess of crushed culverts and downed bridges that logging left behind. The same would hold true for other heavily logged areas like Bute Inlet. I was fully prepared to see impacts on the river and was pleasantly surprised to find that, contrary to the horror stories circulating, the water diversion is high up near the glacial outflow, above waterfalls (fish barriers) where there are barely even nutrients in the water. The salmon habitat and water flows remain intact. Most people won’t know this because it turns out I am the only environmentalist that has bothered to take the Klahoose up on their invitation to go and see it for myself.

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