Murray River no longer protected under new Navigation Act
Trent Ernst, Editor
The Murray River is one of thousands of rivers, lakes and other waterways that are no longer afforded protection under the new Navigation Protection act.
The original act (the Navigable Waters Protection Act) says that “No works shall be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water without the Minister’s prior approval.”
However, that has been amended to read “It is prohibited to construct, place, alter, repair, rebuild, remove or decommission a work in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water that is listed in the schedule except in accordance with this Act or any other federal Act.”
The schedule lists three oceans, one hundred lakes, and 62 rivers. While the Peace River is listed, none of its Major Tributaries in BC are on the list.
The purpose of the original law was to protect these so-called navigable waterways, not just for large ship traffic, but for jetboats, canoes and kayakers, too. And while the act was never meant as a environmental legislation, Jessica Clogg, Executive Director and Senior Council for West Coast Environmental Law says it served a very important role in protecting the environment as well.
“The most significant thing is how it ties into the Environmental Assessment,” says Clogg. “Because there was a level of approval required, it could also trigger a review of the environmental impacts. That’s where we’ve lost a tool that would help protect the rivers.” She says that while there are still common law rights, not everybody has the time or ability to pursue those rights in a court of law. She points to the Murray River, a popular destination for jet boaters and kayakers. As of now, she says, a company could build a bridge or a pipeline six inches above the water, effectively blocking access to Kinuseo Falls for water traffic.
“The principal impact of the changes for the Murray River and all the other rivers that no longer appear on the act, is that if something is going to block the river it no longer has to be reviewed. It is true that there are common law rights, but let’s take your paddlers. Now they have to find time and money to go to court.”
She says that these changes download the responsibility to hold these projects to a certain standard is now on Canadian Citizens. “This is why it’s been useful to have a legislative framework to safeguard these navigable waters. It was so individuals didn’t have to go to court. Not everyone has the time and money to defend those rights.
“So many of the changes are heavy handed. It feels like the intention was to remove hurdles for the oil and gas around pipeline construction, but there have been a lot of things that have been thrown out along the way. 32,000 major lakes across Canada are no longer protected. It’s a substantial shift that affects all kinds of people.”