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Great Lakes Article:

Editorial: Preserving our water supply
London Free Press
Published March 22, 2006



It has been said water will become the oil of the 21st century. We think that undervalues water: It sustains life; oil does not.

With today marking World Water Day, it would be nice to report that all is well with this invaluable resource. Clearly, it isn't.

Even in this heartland of the Great Lakes, the source of 20 per cent of the world's fresh water, there is cause for concern.

We thought we were winning the battle against pollution years ago. Then came a report last month from Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association that dangerous pollutants had increased in the Great Lakes by 21 per cent between 1998 and 2002.

There's also the issue of water quantity. In December, Ontario and Quebec and the eight Great Lakes states signed an agreement to protect the lakes from major water diversions.

That was a major victory. The first Great Lakes Charter Annex agreement was deemed to be vulnerable to diversions from outside the lakes basin -- a major threat when U.S. population growth is skyrocketing in such arid areas as Arizona. Public opposition to that plan led to revisions that plugged the leak.

Even with that, the Great Lakes are barely holding their own. Precipitation and inflows just manage to replenish losses through evaporation, which amounts of one per cent of the Great Lakes' water annually.

Canadians must be increasingly vigilant about our water resources. It is no secret that as water resources decline in the U.S., Washington will be increasingly interested in Canadian sources.

Still, Canadians cannot claim a moral high ground. We're as wasteful as the Americans. North Americans consume two to four times the amount of water Europeans do. We must do better, especially as climate change further impacts water supplies.

The importance of clean, safe water was driven home to delegates to the World Water Forum in Mexico City, which concludes today. They were told that about 1.1 billion people lack clean drinking water, which causes diseases that kill 3.1 million people a year. Of the deaths, 1.7 million could be prevented with better sanitation.

Then there's the Devils Lake diversion that North Dakota carried out over objections from Manitoba and Canada.

North Dakota, to help drain a nine-metre rise in Devils Lake since 1993, has sent water through a 22-kilometre diversion channel to the Sheyenne River. From there, it flows into the Red River and north to Canada and Lake Winnipeg.

Canadian authorities worry the salt- and phosphorus-tainted water will contaminate our water. A temporary gravel filter was installed to prevent that, but Manitoba Premier Gary Doer is trying to convince Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pressure U.S. President George W. Bush on the need for a better one.

On World Water Day, it's imperative we all examine our usage of this resource and conserve it as though it were as costly as oil.

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