An agreement between Alberta and the Northwest Territories to protect the Mackenzie River basin will become official today.

N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod and Minister of Environment Michael Miltenberger are in Edmonton today, where they will sign a transboundary water agreement. Premier Jim Prentice and Kyle Fawcett, minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, will sign on behalf of Alberta.

The agreement will address issues including how water is monitored in the basin, the type of substances allowed in it, and how disputes will be resolved.

"The protection of the ecosystem, the fact that we're the ultimate downstream jurisdiction from Alberta, the concern across the land, the aboriginal governments, people in general — not only the Mackenzie basin, but people across the country — quality of water, access to water, are all critical issues," says Minister Miltenberger.

"This transboundary is the first of four we're going to negotiate — actually the first of five, because we're going to do Nunavut as well."

mi-mackenzie-basin-map

The Mackenzie River Basin stretches over three provinces and two territories. The basin is among the most intact large-scale ecosystems in North America, and the Mackenzie River is the largest north-flowing river in North America. (Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy)

Miltenberger says that only five per cent of the water shared between Alberta and the N.W.T. will be available for use by companies working in both jurisdictions.  

He adds the agreement was originally set to be signed next week, in the Northwest Territories. But because of the possibility of an upcoming provincial election, members of the Alberta government asked to defer the trip by a few months.

Miltenberger says that because the agreement is of such vital importance, representative from the Northwest Territories chose to make the trip south instead.

The signing is expected to happen today at 3:00 p.m. Mountain time.