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Great Lakes Article:

Canada's waters threatened, report says
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 ecosystem.

"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.


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