Works on navigable waters in Canada

From: Transport Canada

The public right to travel on navigable waters is protected by law in Canada. This applies to all waters that the public may use for travel or transport, whether or not the water is on the list of scheduled waters (the schedule) of the Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA) or the Order amending the schedule.

If you’re planning a work (project) that affects navigation, you may need to submit an application for an approval to the Navigation Protection Program (NPP). The exception is when your project is considered a “minor work” and meets criteria set in the Minor Works Order.

You can also search for ongoing projects by looking at the public registry.

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About navigable waters

A navigable water is one that the public has a right to use for travel or transport. It can include a canal or any other body of water created or altered by construction. In deciding whether to call a water “navigable”, proponents can use the Project Review Tool available in the External submission site. This tool asks questions such as:

  • Is it used for transport or travel for commercial or recreational purposes?
  • Is it used as a means of transport or travel by Indigenous peoples using their constitutional rights?
  • Is it likely to be used in the future for transport or travel?
  • Was it used in the past for transport or travel?
  • Is there public access by land or water?
  • Are there 2 or more waterfront owners?
  • Is the Crown (federal, provincial or territorial government) the only waterfront owner?

A scheduled navigable water is one that’s on the schedule under the Act. You may also apply to us to add a waterway to the schedule.

A non-scheduled water isn’t listed on the Act’s schedule but may be considered navigable. Navigable waters that are not listed on the schedule continue to be protected under the Act.

About works

A work is anything, temporary or permanent, made by humans, that:

  • is in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water in Canada
  • includes the dumping of fill into, dredging or removing of materials from the bed of a navigable water
  • includes the dewatering of (removing the water from) a navigable water

Minor works

You don’t need an application if you’re proposing a minor work that meets the requirements of the classes of work established in the Minor Works Order :

  • erosion-protection works
  • docks and boathouses
  • boat ramps, slipways and launch ramps
  • aerial cables for power and telecommunication
  • submarine cables for power and telecommunication
  • pipelines buried under the bed of a navigable water
  • pipelines and power or communication cables attached to existing works
  • works within a boomed-off area upstream or downstream of an existing work for water control
  • outfalls and water intakes
  • dredging
  • mooring systems

It’s your responsibility as an owner of a work to assess whether your project is a minor work. It’s also your responsibility to ensure the work meets all legal requirements.

Major works

You must always apply for an approval for a major work constructed, placed, altered, rebuilt, removed or decommissioned in any navigable water. The application for approval is required whether or not the water is on the Act’s schedule or the Order amending the schedule.

Designated major works include certain water control structures (for example, dams and water diversion structures), ferry cables, bridges, temporary works associated to bridges, causeways, and aquaculture facilities. Consult the Major Works Order for the criteria for major works.

The Minister may attach any term or condition to an approval of a work including one that requires the owner to:

  • maintain the water level or water flow necessary for navigation purposes in a navigable water; or
  • give security in the form of a letter of credit, guarantee, suretyship or indemnity bond or insurance or in any other form that is satisfactory to the Minister.

Prohibited works and exemptions by order of council

The law prohibits some works on navigable waters including:

  • throwing or depositing of material, such as mine tailings, in a navigable water or water that flows into a navigable water
  • activities that lower the water level of a waterway so that navigation is impossible

If you can prove that a prohibited work is in the public interest, you may request an exemption by order of council. The order removes the usual restrictions. The process requires extensive public consultation, government and agency input, and an environmental assessment as well as Indigenous peoples of Canada consultations.

Contact the NPP for more information.

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