February 26, 2013

Water and Agriculture in Canada: Towards Sustainable Management of Water Resources

The Expert Panel on Sustainable Management of Water in the Agricultural Landscapes of Canada

Summary

The agricultural sector is an important contributor to Canada’s prosperity and well-being and there are substantial opportunities for the sector in the coming decades. However, Canadian agriculture is also challenged by water-related risks and uncertainties. Growing competition for water, land, and other resources, in addition to the uncertain impact of climate change and variability, will place increased stress on agricultural production in Canada and throughout the world. To better understand this complex issue, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) was asked by Agriculture and Agri-Food to conduct an evidence-based assessment to identify what additional science is needed to better guide sustainable management of water to meet the needs of agriculture.

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The Question

What additional science is needed to better guide sustainable management of water to meet the needs of agriculture?

Key Findings

The Panel gathered and analyzed evidence on Canada’s water resources, water futures for  agriculture and other industries, agriculture and the environment, beneficial management practices from Canada and around the world, trends in technology and innovation, public policy frameworks and economic instruments, and knowledge transfer strategies for land  and water management. The Panel then drew on the combined expertise and experience of its members to conduct a comprehensive assessment in response to the charge.

The Panel identified five key areas in which additional science and action could contribute to  sustainable management of water in agriculture.

  • Achieve a better understanding of risks and uncertainties, in areas such as market conditions, competition for land and water resources, and climate change, to inform management decisions leading to more effective management practices and outcomes.
  • Improve monitoring  information targeted  at specific areas of concern using a risk-based approach, as well as  enhance scientific capacity for the interpretation of these data,  to foster a better understanding of Canada’s water resource base and ongoing changes in hydrology, ecology, and climate, and to facilitate adaptive management.
  • Achieve a better understanding of the complex interactions between land management and water resources, including  assessment of the economic and environmental efficacy of Beneficial Management Practices and the potential  for conservation agriculture and ecosystems services approaches to management of natural resources.
  • Improve knowledge of promising farm-scale technologies and research priorities, contributing to better water use efficiency, reduced environmental impacts, and sound investment  decisions by governments, industry, and agricultural producers.
  • Build a foundation for sustainability by adopting appropriate  governance structures, valuation techniques, economic incentives, and knowledge transfer strategies to  facilitate better management decisions, improve uptake of sustainable practices, and enable the agricultural  community to build strong working relationships with other sectors and stakeholders to resolve cross-sector issues.

Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on Sustainable Management of Water in the Agricultural Landscapes of Canada