OTTAWA, Ont. — Prime Minister Stephen Harper sharply rebuked Environment Canada bureaucrats last year for overstepping their authority, but internal documents suggest they were just doing their jobs.

Harper's annual Arctic tour in August 2011 was embarrassed when a First Nations group issued a news release saying the federal government had suspended water-quality sampling at 21 sites in the North.

Speaking in Haines Junction, Yukon, the prime minister quickly doused the controversy by saying the move was "not authorized'' and that Environment Minister Peter Kent had ordered water sampling to resume once he found out about it.

There was no explanation at the time about why apparently rogue department officials made a policy change for which they had no authority, leaving Kent blindsided.

But a 600-page internal file on the controversy, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, shows the officials had in fact received a green light from senior levels at Environment Canada.

They also indicate Kent was aware of the proposed cuts weeks before they were implemented.

The emails, memos and other materials provide a glimpse inside a public service that has often been on the losing end of high-profile clashes with the Harper government.

The file shows that the review of water-monitoring across Canada began in 2010, after the federal commissioner of the environment issued a report saying the department needed to re-assess the program to place it on a more scientific basis, taking into account risks. The review was publicly endorsed by then-environment minister John Baird.

The department was later hit with severe budget cuts in 2011, prompting officials to temporarily suspend water monitoring in the north while it reviewed potential risks, to ensure sampling was taking place at the most appropriate locales.

The proposed suspensions were outlined to senior Environment Canada officials months in advance, and warnings were given to the government of the Northwest Territories and even Kent himself, the file shows.

The post-mortem on the controversy also contains no reference to authorization issues, as raised by Harper, referring only to the need for improved communications.

"The mis-communication with partners and stakeholders was a lesson learned,'' says one document. "A communication strategy will be developed to ensure all are properly informed.''

The Northwest Territories minister responsible for the environment, J. Michael Miltenberger, alerted Kent himself to the potential problems with water-quality monitoring early in the summer.

In a June 27, 2011, letter to Kent and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, Miltenberger wrote: "Recently, operational GNWT (Government of the Northwest Territories) staff have been made aware of proposed federal government reductions to water quantity and quality monitoring programs in NWT.''

Miltenberger pressed Kent and Duncan not to proceed.

"I had opportunity to talk to minister Kent when he was here a number of weeks ago,'' Miltenberger later told the N.W.T. legislature in Yellowknife, on Aug. 24.

"These cuts are going to be felt across the land. They're going to be felt in the Northwest Territories.''

Spokespersons for Kent and Environment Canada did not respond to questions about the discrepancy between Harper's remarks and a paper trail indicating staff had full authority for their decisions, and that the minister was made aware of the cuts in advance.

"To respond, the minister of the environment took action to ensure that water-monitoring resumed at suspended sites,'' department spokesman Mark Johnson said in an email.

"Environment Canada is committed to delivering a scientifically-robust water quality monitoring service in the North.''

In an interview last week, Miltenberger said that as far as he knows, the 21 monitoring sites remain up and running a year after the incident.

Water-monitoring in the North is more important than ever, he said, because airborne exotic chemicals — such as heavy metals — as well as oil and gas development threaten the environment more than ever as climate change melts more Arctic ice.

"We need to have that baseline information so that as development occurs, we can compare,'' he said.

Environment Canada withheld the 600-page file requested by The Canadian Press for more than six months beyond the legislated deadline, prompting a complaint to the information commissioner of Canada.

Harper's own department, the Privy Council Office, refused to release a one-page briefing note about the incident to the prime minister, citing exemptions in the Act referring to federal-provincial affairs and advice.

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  • 10. Wearing Your Jeans

    <strong>The issue:</strong> Who would have thought that being a fashionista could take such a toll on the environment? Unfortunately, according to the <em>Indian Textile Journal</em>, <a href=" " target="_hplink">the textile industry is one of the biggest creators of wastewater</a> worldwide. The EPA claims that it takes 2,900 gallons of water to <a href="e" target="_hplink">produce one pair of jeans</a>. Most of the water is used in the "<a href="" target="_hplink">wet processing</a>" and dyeing of materials. <strong>The fix: </strong>The industry itself is making strides in cutting down their waste. <a href=" " target="_hplink">According to the <em>New York Times</em></a>, companies are using innovative measures to combat wastewater, such as <a href="" target="_hplink">AirDye</a> technology and counter-current rinsing. Still, there is a long way to go. One way that you can cut down on textile waste is to reuse and recycle. Need a pair of jeans? Check out Goodwill, or a nearby consignment shop. Want a bright red shirt? Buy a <a href=" " target="_hplink">dye-free light material,</a> and color the shirt yourself.

  • 9. Taking A Dip In Your Pool

    <strong>The issue:</strong> For those who live through tortuous summer heat, nothing can beat a refreshing, chlorinated backyard pool. But sadly, this high-temp weather respite can be a source of major water loss. Besides the amount of water initially needed to fill a pool, cement cracks and evaporation can lead to almost double the original amount of water being used. According to the National Leak Foundation of Mesa, <a href=" ," target="_hplink">30% of pools have leaks in them</a>, many of which go unnoticed due to an automatic refilling mechanism. In addition, evaporation is a major problem in arid environments (like the Southwest). During the hottest summer days in the driest climates, a 400 square foot surface area pool can lose over 2,500 gallons of water in one month! <strong>The fix:</strong> The best plan is to forgo the private pool in favor of a public one at a park or private club. If you do want to keep your backyard pool, make sure to check carefully for leaks in your liner and cracks underwater. In addition, always put a cover on when it's not being used, even (especially!) in the summer.

  • 8. Living In "Sin City"

    <strong>The issue:</strong> Although Las Vegas may be known as a hub of vice, water waste is a lesser known evil. In fact, just living in the Nevada city means you are using way more water than the average consumer. This isn't personal: due to the hot and arid climate, evaporation is a major concern in Southwestern cities. Vegas in particular is home to a number of golf courses and luxury resorts, where a large quantity of water is needed to keep the grounds green and tidy. According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, <a href="" target="_hplink">water laws in Nevada</a> include a restriction in lawn size, and assigned-day watering. <strong>The fix: </strong>Embrace the desert flora. Instead of working tirelessly for thirsty-looking front yard grass, Nevadans can landscape around their homes with cacti and other desert shrubbery. If giving up green is not the way you want to go, astro-turf or other grass substitutes are easy, affordable, and low maintenance options. According to the EPA, <a href="" target="_hplink">replacing grass with artificial turf</a> will save you 2/3 of regular lawn water use. In addition, indoor potted plants and herbs can add to kitchen ambiance. <em>Flickr image courtesy of <a href="" target="_hplink">stevendepolo</a></em>

  • 7. Chomping Down On A Cheeseburger

    <strong>The issue: </strong>Meat production is a controversial industry, and not only because of its animal treatment record. According to a <a href="" target="_hplink">UNESCO Institute for Water Education Study</a> conducted between 1996-2005, "29% of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products." One third of that is related to cattle production, according to the study. "The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of a wisely chosen crop product with equivalent nutritional value," the study states. <strong>The fix: </strong>Consider cutting down on your meat consumption (check out our <a href="" target="_hplink">"Meatless Monday" page</a>!). According to the aforementioned UNESCO study, "managing the demand for animal products by promoting a dietary shift away from a meat-rich diet will be an inevitable component in the environmental policy of government."

  • 6. Going Too Green On Gas

    <strong>The issue:</strong> In an effort to go as enviro-friendly as possible, you have made the switch in your refueling routine to <a href="" target="_hplink">a corn ethanol blend called E85</a> instead of pure gasoline in your car. Sure, it has some drawbacks (as you can <a href=" a href="" target="_hplink"" target="_hplink">see here</a>) but it's better in many ways than regular gas... <em>right</em>? Unfortunately, corn ethanol's high water consumption makes it a controversial energy alternative. According to the National Academies Press,<a href=" " target="_hplink"> one gallon of corn ethanol</a> requires four to seven gallons of water for production, while petroleum refinement requires about only 1.5 gallons of water for one gallon of gasoline. E85 also provides "about 30 percent less fuel economy" than ordinary gasoline, according to Mother Earth News. <strong>The fix:</strong> If you can afford it, invest in a hybrid. According to <a href="" target="_hplink">this UNESCO study</a>, bio-electricity is the most water-efficient form of transport. But is the <a href="" target="_hplink">Chevy Volt</a> not exactly in your price range? Many people still think that the pros of biofuels outweigh the cons, especially if you use your car in moderation. Try to limit your driving time by walking, carpooling, or taking public transportation.

  • 5. Not Letting Your Yellow 'Mellow'

    <strong>The issue:</strong> Opening up the toilet lid and seeing a tank full of unflushed pee isn't pleasant. <em>Not</em> flushing, however, is a minor offense in contrast to actually doing it. According to Networx, <a href=" " target="_hplink">it takes 1.6 gallons of water to flush a mere 10 ounces of urine</a>, rendering perfectly good water undrinkable. Since the average person pees six times per day, you are using about 2,774 gallons of water every year. <strong>The fix:</strong> Unless you poop, don't flush as frequently. <em>Flickr image courtesy of <a href="" target="_hplink">Sustainable sanitation</a></em>

  • 4. Buying From Your Barista

    <strong>The issue: </strong>In 2008, a scandal erupted around Starbucks' water use. After a customer spotted a running faucet, she asked the barista why it was left on. "That's just what we are supposed to do," she replied. Starbucks' "dipping wells," as these streams of water were called, wasted <a href=" " target="_hplink">6 million gallons of water per day</a>. While they have since drastically <a href=" " target="_hplink">decreased their water use by 21.6%</a>, it still means the company uses about 4,704,000 gallons of water per day. <strong>The fix:</strong> The Sierra Club says that <a href="" target="_hplink">coffee production has a much lower water-footprint than tea</a>, so no need to forgo your joe altogether. Instead, the Daily Green suggests <a href="" target="_hplink">brewing your own java</a>, and of that only the amount you think you'll drink. In addition, <a href="" target="_hplink">buying local coffee</a> saves on water lost during transport, according to Extra points for using a filterless (and non-electric) French press, reusable travel mug, and coffee in recyclable containers or jars! <em>Flickr image courtesy of <a href="" target="_hplink">bfishadow</a></em>

  • 3. Eating Grocery Store Fruits And Vegetables

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  • 2. Being Too Clean In The Kitchen

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  • 1. Being A Top Loader

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  • Charity: water

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  • Free Water Project

    The <a href="" target="_hplink">Free Water Project</a> brings water to developing nations facing drought through wind turbines -- teaching the locals how to use the technology themselves, and also aiding orphaned children in the communities it reaches out to. To get involved with the Free Water Project, <a href="" target="_hplink">click here</a>.


    According to <a href="" target="_hplink">UNICEF</a>, 37 percent of the developing world still lacks access to safe sanitation facilities. The organization works in 90 countries around the world, providing safe drinking water and sanitation to schools and communities, and places special focus on hygiene and its relation to safe water and sanitation -- especially through simple things like using hand soap. To get involved with UNICEF, <a href="" target="_hplink">click here</a>, or find out more about its <a href="" target="_hplink">Tap Project</a>.

  • Waves for Water

    In Bali alone, nearly 70 percent of the water used comes from contaminated sources, according to <a href="" target="_hplink">Waves for Water</a>, an organization founded by surfer Jon Rose. It works to make changes in water accessibility for nations around the world through the donation of filters. These filters are give away by "<a href="" target="_hplink">clean water couriers</a>" -- travelers and surfers who volunteer to help Waves for Water complete its mission. To learn more about Waves for Water, <a href="" target="_hplink">click here</a>.