The governments of Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories signed the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement in 1997. The agreement commits the six governments to work closely together to inform about and advocate the maintenance of the ecological integrity of the entire Mackenzie watershed.
The Mackenzie River Basin Board was established to implement the Agreement. The Board has 13 members, representing federal, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous perspectives.
The Master Agreement provides a known framework of principles, procedures and guidelines for the six jurisdictions to use in their respective internal water management practices, and in their relations with each other. Jurisdictions face increasing development and use of the Basin’s water resources; the cooperative management of shared water resources reduces potential conflicts between jurisdictions.
The Agreement facilitates protection of the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem. This means protection of the ability of the aquatic ecosystem to support life. The actual conditions of flow, seasonal variation and water quality, which define ecological integrity, will vary both between and within the various water bodies, which make up the Mackenzie River Basin. These conditions will be defined and monitored in the area of boundary crossing points for the major water bodies.
An ecosystem-based approach also involves land, air, and wildlife. Such a comprehensive agreement would be very complex, and is not consistent with the constitutional division of powers over resource management. Water is the main component of the ecosystem which flows and moves between jurisdictions and which acts as an integrator between other components of the ecosystem. Protecting the aquatic ecosystem also has benefits to all other components of the ecosystem.
For disputes under the Master Agreement, any member of the MRBB can request a review. For disputes involving a bilateral agreement, only the parties to the bilateral agreement may request an MRBB review.
The Alberta/NWT, the BC/Yukon, and the BC/NWT bilateral agreements, as well as the Yukon/NWT bilateral agreement on the Peel River, have been completed. Work is currently progressing on the remaining bilateral agreements for the transboundary crossing points involving British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the NWT. These agreements are in various stages of completion reflecting the different issues and circumstances associated with each. The Yukon/NWT bilateral agreement on the Peel was completed in 2002, but it will be revisited once the other bilateral agreements have been completed.