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Audit questions NWT monitoring programs

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 11/6/2020 2:09:00 PM

A statutorily-mandated independent environmental audit of the Northwest Territories’ regulatory system, its monitoring programs and the quality of available information concludes that the regulatory system is performing well and that environmental monitoring programs are not reporting any serious concerns.

However, the audit questions if current water trend monitoring programs, especially for lakes, would be adequate to identify a serious concern if one presented itself. The audit also says that the territorial government has responded adequately only to 11 of 24 recommendations in the last audit, conducted five years ago.

The audit makes 40 additional recommendations, most of which have been accepted by the government.

The audit examined the 2015-2019 period and found that some progress has been made toward addressing regulatory gaps identified in the 2015 audit. But it found there’s still work to be done, notably in the area of climate change policy development. The audit recommends that the next audit, in 2025, hold the government’s feet to the fire and focus on climate change. The government says it will conduct a full independent review of its climate change strategic framework and action plan in advance of that audit.

The audit pays a great deal of attention to monitoring, particularly cumulative effects monitoring, and the role of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in managing it.

Section 146 of the federal Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act requires the “responsible authority” — in this case the territorial Department of Environment and Natural Resources — to analyze information and monitor the cumulative impacts of land and water use on the environment. The audit concludes that the territorial department is not living up to its section 146 obligations. Though individuals and groups may be making their best efforts, responsibility has not been assigned to any one division and there is no system in place that unites all parties toward achieving section 146 goals.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources takes issue with this portion of the audit findings. In its response, it says it believes it is meeting its section 146 obligations, citing current and forthcoming monitoring initiatives. However, it does agree that individual monitoring programs could be better managed, with standard data collection and reporting protocols that would offer more support to cumulative effects monitoring. 

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