Climate change top threat to fresh water in Canada: survey

Ground Water Canada
May 18, 2016
By Ground Water Canada
Toronto – Twenty-one per cent of Canadians polled rank climate change as the number 1 threat to Canada's fresh water supply, up significantly from 2010 when just seven per cent rated climate change a top concern, a survey released by RBC suggests.

Despite this, the ninth annual RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, conducted by GlobeScan this spring, raises alarm bells over Canadians' acceptance of personal vulnerability to extreme weather events, RBC said in a news release. Results show that three-quarters of Canadians feel that the area they live in is not prone to flood or drought. In contrast however, historical climate records and Canada's Drought Monitor show that almost all areas across the country have experienced drought at one time or another over the past decade. Also, with the frequency of severe storms on the rise, Canadians are experiencing more intense rainstorms, wind events and flooding.

The study also indicates that just over one half of respondents have recently seen more stories about flooding and drought in the news. Despite this, Canadians are less prepared to deal with the effects of flooding and drought than other adverse weather events: only three-in-10 are worried about flooding and just over one-third (37 per cent) are prepared to cope with it.

"Awareness is important, but this study reinforces the fact that we need to re-assess our vulnerability and better prepare for how global warming will impact us all," said Robert Sandford, EPCOR chair, Water & Climate Security, United Nations University. "What we've witnessed with various recent catastrophic events, is the powerful effect of temperature fluctuations on our local weather and water. Sadly, we are not immune to the ravages of climate disruption."

Canadians see fresh water as the country's most important natural resource
About half of Canadians (49 per cent) rank fresh water as Canada's most important natural resource, ahead of oil and gas (20 per cent), agricultural land (15 per cent), forests (12 per cent), and base metals and fisheries (each at one per cent).

What is threatening Canada's most important natural resource? Canadians believe that in addition to climate change, other threats to fresh water include the illegal dumping of toxins (11 per cent stating it is the biggest threat to fresh water) and the run-off of pollutants from land to water (eight per cent citing it as the top threat).

The good news is that there are hundreds of organizations working to protect Canada's fresh water. RBC's Blue Water Project – a 10-year global charitable commitment of $50 million – helps fund projects across the country. Initiatives range from water education programs in Calgary, and habitat preservation and rehabilitation efforts on the Great Lakes, to drinking water protection programs in Quebec.

One in four Canadians have experienced a boil water advisory
The study also shed light on Canada's drinking water quality. Nearly one-quarter of respondents have lived under a boil water advisory and 83 per cent are very or somewhat concerned about fresh water conditions on First Nations reserves. Despite this, 84 per cent of Canadians report having confidence in the quality of their homes' tap water.

Infrastructure investment a priority to protect water quality
Nine in 10 Canadians (92 per cent) think that developing stricter rules and standards to manage water use by industry and municipalities is the best way that Canada can protect and better manage fresh water. Increased government funding for infrastructure improvements is seen as a priority, with respondents identifying water treatment systems, drinking water supply, sewage collection and treatment and upgrades to existing infrastructure as being among the most important.

The 2016 Canadian Water Attitudes Study included an online survey administered by GlobeScan between March 24 and April 11, 2016, to 2,194 Canadian adults.

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