Montreal, December 21, 2023 – After several years of mobilization by numerous civil society players, data on water withdrawals by companies in Quebec will finally be unveiled. As of January 1, 2024, this data will be made easily accessible to the public on the Ministère de l’Environnement (MEQ) website.

The Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement (CQDE) and Eau Secours welcome this historic step towards greater transparency. The organizations hope that this new legal framework will soon provide a clearer picture of water withdrawals in Quebec.

“Transparency is a crucial element in protecting water, which is part of our common heritage. Easier access to data is essential for informed citizen participation in public debates,” asserts CQDE lawyer Merlin Voghel.

As a reminder, the Act to establish the Blue Fund and amend other provisions (Bill 20) was adopted by the National Assembly on June 9, 2023. It enshrines the principle of transparency for all information obtained under the regulations on royalties and on the declaration of water withdrawals. These two regulations, enacted in final form on December 6, specified this transparency obligation, in addition to lowering the withdrawal threshold at which a water withdrawer must declare withdrawals and pay a royalty.

Some limits to transparency

While this is a fine victory, the organizations stress that vigilance is still the order of the day. Only the data from the largest withdrawers must be declared and made public, i.e., data from around 1.5% of the 21,000 companies carrying out activities covered by the regulations. To obtain an overall picture of the situation, the MEQ will therefore have to make a major effort to obtain data from withdrawers who are not required to submit declarations.

It will also be important for the MEQ to ensure that the obligation to install water meters for any new facility or modification thereof is enforced. Although this obligation has been in place for over ten years, the data obtained show that it has not been respected, and that no sanctions or fines have been imposed.

“There is a crying need to increase our knowledge of water withdrawals by companies in Quebec without further delay. We encourage the MEQ to use its powers to obtain a more accurate picture of the situation, without relying solely on data from the biggest water withdrawers,” explains Merlin Voghel.

Increasing water royalties: towards a reduction in water consumption?

The increase in royalties is also a major step forward, although it concerns only 2% of the companies concerned.

“We hope that this increase will have the desired effect, i.e. a change in behavior on the part of companies towards reduced water consumption. That’s what we will be keeping a close eye on over the next few years,” explains Rébecca Pétrin, Executive Director of Eau Secours.

Another new feature: a review of the regulations every five years

The two organizations also welcome the fact that both regulations will be subject to review every five years, as per their recommendation. These reviews will provide an opportunity to make new decisions in the light of the information gathered.

“These new elements should enable us to map out the water situation in Québec over the next five years. However, it is also important to prepare for the regulatory review in five years’ time. This is just the beginning of the process,” concludes Rébecca Pétrin.

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