Be thankful for the gift of fresh water

Van Andruss frequently writes on environmental topics that are relevant to our area.

Water. We love it. Is there anything finer than a drink of cold water on a hot summer’s day? Anything better than diving into Seton Lake when the temperature soars?

I live in Moha where the Yalakom River roars in the canyon, incontestably the principal feature of the valley. All that fresh, cold water running downhill is a thing of wondrous beauty. And close by is the Mighty Fraser, the fabulous (undammed!) salmon-bearing river, 1,400 km long, issuing from its distant source near Mt. Robson. If these rivers and streams were subtracted from our home place, think how impoverished we should be.

Back in the eighties at one of the early Bioregional Gatherings in Bellingham, the participants brought a jar of water from their home watersheds, and in the ceremonial circle we each announced where we were from, then poured out our water to mingle with others. What better token of our regional identities!

With World Water Day approaching on March 22, I’ve been researching the topic of water and have collected a pile of facts to share with the reader. Of course the subject is vast, and quite a bit is gloomy. But that’s not my fault. I promise at least to be brief.

First: supply. There is an estimated 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water on the planet, 97 per cent in the ocean and undrinkable, while most fresh water is locked up in glaciers, 90 per cent of which is located in Antarctica or deep underground, with but a fraction available on the earth’s surface in the form of lakes, rivers and streams.

As to human use, agriculture accounts for 66 per cent of water consumption, industry takes 20 per cent, and domestic use 10 per cent, according to the World Water Council.

Globally, there is a scarcity of drinking water. A billion people lack access to safe water, and 3.4 million die each year from water related diseases. The UN estimates that, by 2020, global water use will increase by 40 per cent, and by 2025, two-thirds of the world will be “water poor.”

Most of us believe that Canada has all the fresh water it will ever need. If sources were cherished and protected, this belief might hold true. Figures vary wildly regarding how much of the world’s water supply is located in Canada – from six and a half per cent to 25 per cent – depending whether the reference is to existing water or to usable water. The usable-figure is closer to the six and a half per cent. And only one per cent is renewable.

I said we could believe in the abundance of fresh water in Canada if it were cherished and protected. The fact is, it isn’t.

The governance of drinking water and sanitation in Canada falls under provincial/territorial jurisdiction, theoretically in close cooperation with the federal government. But the attitude of the federal government is worse than indifferent. There is no national strategy to address urgent water issues, no standards for industry, agriculture, or sewage disposal, and no effective federal leadership to conserve or protect Canada’s water.

And now, just as conditions are revealing themselves as critical, the Harper government’s Omnibus Bill C-45 has withdrawn enforceable protection from 99 per cent of lakes and rivers, along with a severe reduction of environmental monitoring agencies.

Thus, abuses go unchecked. For example, more than a trillion liters of untreated sewage is dumped into Canadian waters every day by 21 cities across the nation. At the same time, countrywide, the municipal water infrastructure deficit is estimated at $123 billion (take all figures in this article as indicative rather than exact), and the federal government is ever more reluctant to allocate money for improvements. Among the provinces, BC has some of Canada’s lowest standards for water treatment.

One diabolical action in government is a piece of legislation called Schedule 2.  Schedule 2 is a loophole in the Metal Mining Effluent Regulation (MMER) of the Federal Fisheries Act that allows metal mining corporations to use lakes and rivers as toxic dump sites, or prettily put, “tailings impoundment areas.” Environment Canada has released a list of 13 natural water bodies that mining corporations have applied to use as dump sites. Five have already been approved for destruction.

On top of this absurdity, right-wing think-tanks, greedy for Bulk Water Sales, are conniving to change the status of fresh water under NAFTA from a “vital resource” to a “commodity.”

But enough gloom. What’s positive is our love of fresh water and that people everywhere are beginning to rally around the necessity to save it. Like all critical environmental problems nowadays, the issues surrounding water can unite us, and strengthen our resolve to defend the gifts of Mother Nature and her people.

Van Andruss

Moha, B.C.