Baltutis and Sandford: Canadians are thirsty for a national water strategy
By Jesse Baltutis and Bob Sandford July 31, 2012
In the future, prosperous nations will be those with enough water for food, cities, industry and nature — and know how to ensure each gets the amount it needs. But Canada’s prosperity is at risk because our water is increasingly at risk. Indeed, there is a growing awareness that the way we currently manage our freshwater resources poses significant challenges to our ability to ensure the future environmental well-being and economic prosperity of our country.
Jurisdictions across Canada face water-related concerns. Alberta, with its vast oilsands, currently has the most vigorous economy. Yet, the consequences of extracting the heavy crude are being felt downriver in the Northwest Territories. Collaboration, communication and engagement between the governments of Alberta and the N.W.T., communities and First Nations is critical to developing a comprehensive action plan for how best to safeguard water quality and quantity within the Athabasca River, and consequently, the larger Mackenzie River Basin.
Overarching national concerns include critical supply and quality challenges related to a changing climate and increasing population pressures, accompanied by a growing concern for our watersheds, which are vital for sustainable and prosperous communities.
Despite these threats, many Canadians believe in the myth of limitless water. We are among the world’s most prolific users — and abusers — of water. According to Environment Canada, over the 10-year period from 1996 to 2006, our collective water withdrawals increased by 13 per cent. Even more alarming is the rate of withdrawal between 1972 and 2006 — a whopping 112.5 per cent increase.
Yet water is so deeply woven into the very fabric of what it means to be Canadian, that in a 2012 RBC water attitudes poll, Canadians overwhelmingly agreed that it is our most valuable natural resource.
Canada needs a national water strategy. This was the message Canadians delivered during the Forum for Leadership on Water’s cross-Canada discussion tour held last fall. Water expert and forum co-chair Bob Sandford — one of the authors of this opinion piece — visited 16 cities to share lessons learned from the Northwest Territories Water Stewardship Strategy.