Ground Water Canada

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Editorial Spring 2013

No easy answers

April 12, 2013  By Laura Aiken

The Canadian government sure wants to ship our oil to the U.S. via the Keystone XL pipeline, but when is the focus going to shift to water?

The Canadian government sure wants to ship our oil to the U.S. via the Keystone XL pipeline, but when is the focus going to shift to water?

Oil and water don’t mix well, even when used as words in the same sentence. There has been a lot of opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada wants to complete. Right now, the public preoccupation seems to be with oil versus the environment, with ground water as a factor in the latter. However, more lobbying would be wisely spent on fresh water as the star attraction. Water, not oil, is poised to be the world’s next blood diamond.  


What if the U.S., already facing serious water scarcity and droughts, was no longer able to grow abundant food? Canada is the biggest importer of American agricultural products, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2011, the department website stated: “Furthermore, in fiscal year (FY) 2011, increased demand and higher prices are expected to result in record U.S. exports [to Canada].” Exports to Canada in 2011 were forecasted to be up two billion. Would we leave our American neighbours parched?

 What will we sell to pay for potential costs of climate change? CNN reported on data released by financial services company Allianz and the World Wildlife Fund that showed the cost to coastal infrastructure due to sea-level rise could put $28 trillion worth of assets at risk by 2050. A different report issued by the B.C. government late last year estimated the cost of dike improvements to cope with sea-level change at $9.5 billion by 2100 (as reported by the Vancouver Sun).

To recap: The big U.S. aquifers are running out of water with less rain to renew them, we depend on U.S. farming and we are also facing potentially huge climate change costs. In 25 years, Keystone XL could be just a blip in a North American conversation that would have been better spent with the focus on water because I just don’t believe this pipeline is the future maker or deal breaker. With or without it, the environment is in trouble. This data likely does not hinge on a “what if” the pipeline is built.

Then, there’s the rest of the world. Let’s take a look at some recent headlines: The coming water wars? (CNN, plight of freshwater reserves in the middle east); Newfound aquifer may ease Mexico City’s water woes (Los Angeles Times, reporting that Mexico City is sinking, sometimes more than a foot each year, due to over-pumping of shallow aquifers in outlying areas); and Saudi Arabia stakes a claim on the Nile (National Geographic, reporting on how Saudi Arabia has nearly drained what’s considered one of the world’s largest underground freshwater reserves). Certain areas of the world are simply running out of water.

The Canadian water supply may seem bountiful, but it’s not endless, it’s not always where it’s needed and it faces challenges of drought and climate change. However, the rest of the world may see Canada as one tall glass of water. It’s going to take a titanium backbone to be a leader in the conservation of water, and our eagerness to extract oil makes us look more like a Shell tycoon than a protégé of David Suzuki.

Canada will need to ask itself what it will take to create a mindset of scarcity and protection when it comes to our water. Will we need to charge every household per use? Perhaps if all residents received a bill for their water use, it would leave some resulting government income to help offset the costs of water infrastructure, including well installation and maintenance. There are no easy answers, but this shouldn’t stop the search for better solutions.

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