During a 2008 visit to Ottawa Senator John McCain commented, “Water exports will be the defining issue of the 21st century but it must be done with the consent of the people.”
So why wouldn’t Canadians consent to exporting water, which Matthew Simmons pointed out, “is even more priceless than oil.”?
To the Council of Canadians such a prospect is abhorrent. Its chair declares “The wars of the future are going to be fought over water,” and yet opposes sales because water shipped halfway around the world will only be affordable to the privileged and will deepen inequities between rich and poor.”
How the water needs of the poor are to be serviced goes unaddressed by the Council.
It is said that wheat prices helped to fuel the Arab Spring.
Any elite that would deprive its public of a staple such as water would do so at their peril and yet that is what the opponents of water exports seem to counsel. Nature has been generous enough to desalinate massive amounts of ocean water and deposit it within our borders in the form of rain and snow and yet they would have use hoard.
Not only is this inhumane, it imperils our water and food supplies and as the Council points, out makes us a potential object of aggression.
Canada has the third most renewable fresh water in the world, ranking behind Brazil and Russia. According to Environment Canada we have 20% of the world’s total freshwater resources but only 7% of the global renewable supply because our non-renewable or fossil water is retained in lakes, underground aquifers, and glaciers.
For example it takes 191 years for the water in Lake Superior to recycle.
One of the most compelling reasons, beyond the inclination to capitalize on a valuable asset, for Canada to export its water excess is, it is the country’s best opportunity to address the climate issue while still benefiting our economy.
Sea-level rise is one of the most important and threatening risks of climate change. It is caused three ways; thermal expansion of sea water as it warms up, melting of land ice and changes in the amount of water stored on land.
The first two are the result of fossil fuel burning, which as a significant source of carbon fuels Canada is often vilified for exporting.
The latter however provides an opportunity to compensate for the damages consequent to our carbon exports while at the same time servicing the country’s economic and environmental needs.
Jason Box, a glaciologist from Ohio State University, suggests humans have already set in motion 69 feet of sea level rise. Though it will take centuries to reach this extent, the result will be the inundation of low lying fresh water sources, such as Vancouver Island’s Kennedy Lake, as well as fertile river deltas, such as the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, which furnish much of the world’s food supply.
A recent study “Source found for missing water in sea-level rise” by Yadu Pohkrel et al., determined “The drawing of water from deep wells has caused the sea to rise by an average of .77 millimeters every year since 1961,” which is about 42 percent of the total measured over the period.
A BC study “Groundwater and Climate Change” co-author by Diana Allen of Simon Fraser University has confirmed Dr Pohkrel’s finding and notes that low lying crop lands in B.C. are at risk as a consequence. It further notes, “about half of British Columbia’s food supply is imported, much of it from California, which has suffered from drought and is projected to become even more reliant on groundwater as precipitation declines due to climate change.”
There are numerous regions of British Columbia where annual rainfalls average in excess of 3 meters which ends up back in the ocean providing no benefit.
Williston Lake is the largest freshwater body in British Columbia. It is an artificial lake created by the W. A. C. Bennett Dam, which refills from snow and rainfall every 2 years and drains into the Arctic. Actually about 60% of Canada’s fresh water drains to the north, whereas the need is to the south.
Canada needs to be diverting as much of this flow to the south as possible because currently it is simply contributing to sea level rise even as we pump aquifers dry to counter drought which exacerbates the sea level problem. North American and global food supplies are at risk due to this miss match, the damage from sea level rise will be costly, water exports would be lucrative for Canada and hoarding water may imperil our national security.
Diane Katz of the right leaning Fraser Institute recently suggested, “Canadians’ general refusal to consider bulk water export defies logic.”
From the other side of the political spectrum, as Quebec Minister of the Environment, Thomas Mulclair, current leader of the New Democratic Party, was also interested in pursuing water exports.
The problem of sea level rise never entered into the calculus of either nor has it with the Council of Canadians.
The North American Water and Power Alliance project and the Great Recycling and Northern Development Canal scheme are two projects that would divert northern flowing fresh water to the south. They each offer a large hydro electric component as well. And here too support comes from both sides of the political spectrum, Lyndon LaRouche and the Center for American Progress.
As holders of 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, Canada is in a unique position to capitalize on the defining issue of the 21st century. In fact it is in a more dominant position with water than with oil where its reserves account for only 13 percent of the global total.