Canada's waters threatened, report
By Martin Mittelstaedt
The Globe and Mail
Published November 13, 2006
TORONTO — Canada has some of the world's most extensive
water resources, but a new report released today warns
that even a modest amount of global warming will reduce
flows in the Great Lakes and the Athabasca River enough
to crimp hydro-electricity production in Ontario and oil
sands development in Alberta.
The report, from the World Wildlife Fund Canada, reviewed
the likely impacts of a 2-degree rise in average global
temperatures on the two water systems, which play a critical
role in the country's economic development and environment.
It says there will be less abundant water resources primarily
because warming will lead to more evaporation from water
bodies, changes in rainfall patterns, and alterations
in glacial melting, lowering levels in streams and lakes.
"We think of our water resources as endless, but
they're not only finite, they're diminishing with global
warming," said Julia Langer, a spokeswoman for the
environmental group. "All of the data indicates that
these are diminishing water resources."
The study predicts there will be enough water scarcity driven
by the 2 degrees of global warming -- expected to occur
some time between 2026 and 2060 -- that Canadians should
begin planning now to adapt to the change.
"Water availability in the populated and large water-use
regions of Canada is expected to fall as a result of climate
change," the report says, recommending that industries
and regulators in both Ontario and Alberta "incorporate
climate change into their management plans."
In Alberta, flows in the Athabasca River, which runs
through the northern part of the province and is used
extensively by oil sands plants, could diminish by another
10 per cent because of climate change, the report says.
This would be in addition to a decline of about 20 per
cent that has occurred since 1958.
Any further drop would have a major impact on the tar
sands because processing the gooey bitumen requires about
two to 4.5 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced.
The report predicts there isn't enough water available
in the Athabasca to balance the growing demand from the
petroleum industry with the need to preserve this river
"Flows will be insufficient to satisfy the needs
of oil sands production, as well as other industrial,
commercial, agricultural, municipal and environmental
users, including the biologically rich Peace-Athabasca
Delta," it says.
To maintain water flows in the river during low-water
periods, the report says oil sands development will have
to be curtailed, and it recommends Alberta consider withholding
approvals for oil sands projects until the industry introduces
substantial water conservation measures and scientists
are sure stream flows can cope with climate change.
In the Great Lakes, it says global warming could lead
to enough evaporation to cause water levels to drop by
up to 1.2 metres. A decline of this magnitude would lead
to a drop of up to 17 per cent in hydro-electricity production
at power plants that depend on the water body.
In recent dry years, water-level decreases of only 0.1
to 0.5 metres below average levels have caused major problems
for cottagers, power companies and the shipping industry.
The report recommends Ontario develop alternative energy
projects to offset the expected decline in hydro power
from the Great Lakes, the source of about a quarter of
the province's current electricity supply.