Water licences

Information about the Nunavut Water Board and how to obtain a water licence in Nunavut.

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Water licence process flowchart
Text alternative for: Water licence process
  1. Submit your water licence application to Nunavut Water Board (NWB)
  2. NWB reviews your application for completeness and determines whether a Type B or Type A licence is required
  3. Type B:
    1. No hearing required
    2. NWB issues water licence and provides terms and conditions to other regulators for inclusion in permits or licences
    3. Permitted operations may commence, with regular inspections by Crown-Indigenous Relations Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) and other regulators
    4. Go to Phase 2: Advanced exploration and mine development
  4. Type B:
    1. Hearing required
    2. NWB distributes your application for review by regulators and other parties, schedules public hearing
    3. Public hearing on your application takes place
    4. NWB submits its decision approving or rejecting the application to the responsible Minister
      1. Licence may be issued
      2. Licence is refused
    5. Minister accepts or rejects NWB decisions
      1. Accepts: NWB issues water licence and provides terms and conditions to other regulators for inclusion in permits or licences
      2. Rejects: written decision is provided by the Minister to NWB, you as the proponent, and any other interested parties
  5. Type A:
    1. NWB distributes your application for review by regulators and other parties, schedules public hearing
    2. Public hearing on your application takes place
    3. NWB submits its decision approving or rejecting the application to the responsible Minister
      1. Licence may be issued
      2. Licence is refused
    4. Minister accepts or rejects NWB decisions
      1. Accepts: NWB issues water licence and provides terms and conditions to other regulators for inclusion in permits or licences
      2. Rejects: written decision is provided by the Minister to NWB, you as the proponent, and any other interested parties

Water licences required for exploration and mining activities in Nunavut are issued by the Nunavut Water Board (NWB). This board was formed under the Nunavut Agreement (NA) and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act.

NWB contributes to the development of land use plans by providing recommendations related to water issues to the Nunavut Planning Commission (NPC). NWB also collaborates with the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) to avoid unnecessary duplication in the review and processing of applications which are subject to impact assessment.

NWB's primary objective in issuing water licences is to ensure the conservation and usage of fresh water in ways that benefit residents of Nunavut and Canada as a whole. You must comply at all times with the terms and conditions stipulated on your licence, and with all relevant federal and territorial legislation.

You must obtain either an authorization or a water licence for your project for any fresh water usage and/or waste disposal into fresh water in the territory, whether on Crown Lands or Inuit Owned Lands (IOL). Exploration or mining activities which require authorizations or water licences include diamond drilling, field camp operations, infrastructure construction, ore processing, waste disposal, and draining or redirection of lakes or other water bodies. Marine water usage, including shipping, is governed by the Fisheries Act or the Canada Shipping Act, and is covered separately in this appendix.

If both a project certificate and a water licence are required for your project, you may request a joint or coordinated process where there is some overlap between the NWB and NIRB reviews instead of the typical sequential process. The Institutions of Public Government will accommodate your request as much as possible.

NWB keeps a publically accessible registry of all water licence applications and related documents, reports, and studies submitted by proponents, regulators, and other organizations and groups. It has also produced guides to help proponents navigate its registry, learn about the application process, and other aspects of holding a water licence. Further information is available at the NWB's website.

Application requirements

All water licence applications submitted to NWB must be accompanied by:

NWB has its own guides to the water licence application process. Guide 4, on the completion of water licence applications, includes a checklist to ensure you have included all the requested information. Guides to other parts of the process are also available.

Water licence applications for parts of Nunavut in which a land use plan is in effect are submitted to NPC by NWB for conformity determination. If your application conforms with the existing land use plan, or if a variance or exemption has been issued by NPC, your application is then submitted by NPC to NIRB for environmental assessment, or returned to NWB if the application is exempt from the NIRB process.

Types of water licence

Water usage on your project requires different levels of approval from NWB depending on the type of activity set out in Schedule 2 of the Nunavut Water Regulations:

NWB authorizations are required for:

Type B water licences are required for:

Type A water licences are required for:

Waste disposal into water requires similar levels of approval. During exploration, NWB authorization is required for sewage deposit to a sump. A Type B licence is required for disposal of less than 300 cubic metres of water per day. More than 300 cubic metres per day requires a Type A licence. The required licences must be in place before construction or mining operations begin.

Water licence issuance procedures

When NWB receives your completed water licence application, it provides a notice of receipt to potential stakeholders, including municipality council(s), Inuit organizations, and government departments, and also provides public notice. As with the NIRB process, interested persons or organizations are invited to provide comments within a specified period.

Larger projects which will require Type A licences involve several technical meetings and public hearings. The licensing process generally takes approximately 1 year to complete, assuming that no extensions or other changes to the timeframe are required.

NWB will determine whether public hearings on your application will take place, depending on the type of water licence for which you have applied and the number and nature of comments received. It may waive the requirement for a hearing if no public concerns are expressed. On application by concerned parties, NWB may also issue decisions on whether compensation agreements are to be concluded, if any complaints are to be investigated, or if any compensation is to be considered.

Notice of your project's public hearing is published at least 60 days before the hearing date. NWB sets the format, whether via teleconference, in writing, or in person, the location if in person (usually selected from the communities potentially affected by the proposed project), and the issues to be covered in the hearings.

For projects requiring Type B licences, NWB will process your application summarily, at minimum 30 days after the publication of the notice of licence application. Type B water licences, amendments, renewals, and cancellations are effective immediately on being issued by NWB.

The issuance, amendment, renewal, and cancellation of Type A water licences, and Type B water licences which had a public hearing, require the approval of the Minister of Northern Affairs. After NWB issues its decision on your Type A licence application , the Minister has 45 days to approve or reject that decision, and must provide a written decision if your application is rejected. The Minister may extend the decision period by 45 days. If no response has been made by the Minister after the extension, the licence is deemed by NWB to be issued, amended, or cancelled according to its original decision.

In a case where NWB has made a decision to issue a licence, but the Minister does not approve the issuance, the Minister must provide written reasons for that decision, and may direct NWB to reconsider specific items in the terms and conditions of the licence. However, if the Minister's concerns are related to potential serious environmental impacts, NWB does not have the ability to revisit the application, and the water licence is not issued.

Emergency amendments to a water licence are possible under urgent circumstances, no less than 10 days after the publication of the notice of application, if the Minister of Northern Affairs consents. In this case no publication of a notice of a hearing is usually required.

Appeal of decisions

NWB will provide you, as the applicant, with a written decision on your licence application. It may also provide its decision to the affected RIA and to any person with a right to be compensated. These written decisions are included in the public registry of NWB documents.

A NWB decision is final. However, an appeal of any decision from NWB, on questions of law or jurisdiction only, can be made to the Federal Court. If you choose to appeal a decision, your application for appeal must be made within 45 days of NWB's decision, or, under special circumstances, within a time frame approved by a judge of the Federal Court.

Terms and conditions

A water licence may be issued for a term of up to 25 years, and can be renewed for a maximum term of another 25 years on application, with or without changes to the existing conditions of the licence. The term of a licence is usually determined by the duration of your proposed project, and does not include any required post-closure monitoring period.

NWB will set the terms and conditions of your water licence based on your application as well as comments received from regulatory agencies, community organizations, or other concerned parties. Conditions of your licence may include the total permitted quantity of water usage, identification of permitted water sources, effluent discharge testing criteria, monitoring and reporting requirements, and/or outlines of any necessary modifications to your operation plans.

NWB has the authority to renew, cancel or approve any assignment of your licence to a new licence holder on the sale, joint venture, or any other changes to the ownership of your project.

It may also modify the terms and/or conditions of your licence at any time during your project's operation, whenever changes are deemed necessary in the interests of the public or other licence holders.

When NWB issues a licence which includes waters covered by the Fisheries Act, any conditions on that licence relating to any deposit of waste in these waters must be as stringent as the conditions prescribed by the act, or by any regulations made under the Canada Water Act. The Fisheries Act is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. If your project includes marine water usage, both of these departments may participate in the review process.

These conditions apply to any design or construction of your project's works, in that terms and conditions of your water licence for those processes must be as stringent as the conditions prescribed by any act related to your activities.

For further information on Fisheries and Oceans Canada's role in the water licence process, contact:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Arctic Region

Iqaluit Office
P.O. Box 358
630 Mivvik Street
Iqaluit, Nunavut X0A 0H0
Phone: 867-979-8000
Email: DFO.ArcticRDGO-BDGRArctique.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Financial security

NWB requires applicants, licence holders, or prospective assignees of a licence to provide and maintain a security deposit. The financial security required from your company should equal the total reclamation liability for all lands and water bodies on your mine site, and adjacent lands and water bodies which could be affected by activities on your mine site. Your estimate should be based on the cost of having all necessary reclamation work done by a third-party contractor, if your company were to default or otherwise abandon your operation.

This deposit is typically in the form of irrevocable secured letters of credit from Canadian banks. It can be used by the Minister of Northern Affairs to fully or partially reimburse the Crown for reasonable costs incurred on site reclamation and monitoring, or to fully or partially compensate persons who are entitled to be compensated but have not been successful in recovering that compensation through normal legal procedures.

The standard model used in Nunavut for estimating a project's security costs is the RECLAIM 7.0 model, developed by CIRNAC, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and the Lands and Waters Boards of the Mackenzie Valley. More information on RECLAIM can be found on the website of the Government of the Northwest Territories' Environment and Natural Resources department.

A spreadsheet for calculating an approximate security under the RECLAIM model is available on the NWB FTP site.

The security is refunded to the you as the licence holder after the satisfactory completion of site reclamation and post-closure monitoring. Please see the section on mine closure for more information.

Water licence applicants are encouraged to review CIRNAC's Mine Site Reclamation Policy for Nunavut.

Compensation for adverse effects of water usage

Any person who has made representation to NWB regarding any notice(s) of water licence applications, and who is adversely affected by the licensed or unlicensed use of waters or deposit of waste on either IOL or Crown land, is entitled to be compensated by the licence holder or the person authorized by the licence holder, or to recover that compensation in any court of competent jurisdiction.

In deciding on any possible compensation, NWB considers such matters as:

NWB will not issue a licence for the use of water or the deposit of waste that may substantially affect the quality, quantity, or flow of water on or through IOL, unless the applicant has entered into an agreement with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated or the Regional Inuit Association (RIA) to compensate for loss or damage caused by the proposed use; or, if no agreement has been reached, unless NWB has made a determination of the appropriate compensation.

Inspection and monitoring

CIRNAC is responsible for inspecting, monitoring, and assessing compliance and enforcing legislation, including the terms and conditions identified in your water licence. Inspections for compliance with the terms and conditions in your project's water licence are performed by CIRNAC inspectors.

Your project may be inspected at any time during its operation. Following an inspection, a CIRNAC inspector will prepare and provide you a report of their findings. The inspector may also issue directions to you as the licence holder to mitigate or remediate any adverse effects identified as resulting from your operation, up to and including a work stoppage of the activity or operation in question.

As a water licence holder, you are required to keep accurate and detailed records and provide them when requested by an inspector. Any inspector designated by the Minister of Northern Affairs may request the examination of such books, records or documents when deemed necessary.

Transboundary agreements

For water bodies located along Nunavut's border, a transboundary management agreement may be necessary. The Minister of Northern Affairs may enter into such an agreement with the appropriate representatives of other provinces or territories under the NWNSRTA.

These agreements are intended to deal specifically with waters which are partially situated in Nunavut and partially in another province or territory, or which flow between Nunavut and another province or territory.

In cases in which it is in the public interest, the Minister of Northern Affairs may permit you, as the water licence applicant or licence holder, to expropriate lands for usage, under the NWNSRTA. Such an application will only be considered if it is in the public good to do so, and if all reasonable efforts to acquire access to the land have been exhausted.

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