Water Pricing: Seizing a Public Policy Dilemma by the Horns

The idea of pricing water is laden with values, but many jurisdictions around the world have successfully implemented water pricing policies


This project informed water policy by comparing how jurisdictions outside of Canada have balanced water pricing against social equity and resource management. The Canadian debate over water pricing is contentious. On one hand, some consider access to water a fundamental human right, which makes it intrinsically different from other natural resources. On the other hand, some view water pricing as a means to encourage conservation, reduce demand and ensure efficient water allocation. Finally, there is worry that by opening Canadian water to pricing, the terms of NAFTA may open Canadian water to trans-border sales which would endanger Canadian resources and values. This project resulted in a number of publications which facilitated an informed public policy debate on water pricing, bearing in mind the diverse values and opinions of Canadians. The project results were reviewed by a panel of 30 experts in the field, and then published and disseminated in a broad public awareness campaign.

Grant Outputs

Our Water and NAFTA – http://cwf.ca/pdf-docs/publications/Our_Water_and_NAFTA_July_2011.pdf

Alberta has started to explore “market-based instruments” for controlling water allocation, including attaching a price for water use and regulating trade of water allocations, licenses and water-use rights. Some have suggested that Alberta’s exploration of market-based instruments for water is risky, since they might trigger an obligation under NAFTA to begin bulk water exports to Canada’s NAFTA partners. This report concludes that Alberta’s exploration of pricing and regulating trade does not under NAFTA obligate Alberta or any other Canadian province to begin bulk water exports. Such an obligation would only be created by NAFTA if bulk water exports currently existed, which they do not. Similarly, the investment provisions of NAFTA do not dictate that water must be exported.

Charging for Water Use in Canada: A workbook of the central principles, key questions and initial steps – http://cwf.ca/pdf-docs/publications/Charging_for_Water_Use_July_2011.pdf

This report explores the possibility of implementing a comprehensive water charging system in Canada, a policy that would attach a charge on all water used or withdrawn from a water source. The report finds that most water experts consulted agree that water use charges should be integrated into the Canadian water management policy. However, it also concludes that research must be conducted on potential impacts of implementing such a policy, and tangible, clear and manageable action steps must be identified.

Canadian Water Policy Backgrounders – http://cwf.ca/publications/canadian-water-policy-backgrounders

The Canadian Water Policy Backgrounders are short documents providing basic information on Canada’s water resources. The series seeks to inform the debate over water pricing and set the stage for a consideration of pricing as a water resources management tool tailored to Canada’s unique waterscape.


Grant Details

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