Wake up to water worries
By Ann Marie McQueen
Published December 6, 2007
It seemed far-fetched three years ago, that the U.S. would engage in a nefarious plan to go after Canada's water.
Respected Canadian actor Paul Gross co-penned and played prime minister in the gripping CBC miniseries "H2O," a tightly woven thriller set in Ottawa.
Maude Barlow, national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, was watching. She loved it. And of course, the premise didn't seem crazy to her. More like scary but true.
"You've got a thirsty superpower to the south of us," she said yesterday, in a phone interview before addressing a crowd at Carleton University about the current water crisis.
"They are thirsty. They are really thirsty," she said. "They wanted our oil and we gave it to them. And now they want our water. What will happen?"
Barlow's latest book tackles that situation -- and many of the others springing up from this dry, scorched Earth of ours -- in her latest book "Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water."
She is also founder of the Blue Planet Project, a global initiative working towards "water justice." Barlow, and dozens of other groups in Canada, want water recognized as a human right.
Canadians, she explains, are paying attention. We have finally awakened to the "myth of abundance."
"This notion that we just have so much and we don't ever have to worry about it, I think, is finally gone," she said.
Barlow paints a sad picture of our reality.
For decades, we've believed our nation holds 20% of the Earth's water, a figure that is only true if we drained every lake and river. It's more like 6.5%, though it's even lower than that, really, considering that most of us live in the south of the country and the majority of our water is in big mighty rivers flowing north.
Getting that water down to our urban areas would be quite the feat of engineering, not to mention an environmental disaster.
The water we do have isn't doing so hot, either. Our Great Lakes are receding. Livestock operations have polluted Lake Winnipeg and tar sands in Northern Alberta require too much of the stuff.
All of our country's 1,300 glaciers are melting. And, shockingly, no one has ever mapped or measured the groundwater we so liberally tap into.
All that would be compelling enough, even for a CBC miniseries, without interest from the U.S. Other countries are far worse off: The Middle East, 22 countries in Africa, Australia, parts of China and Mexico. This is not future generations, Barlow warns. This is all happening now.
Luckily, a three-fold lobby effort is targeting our government and the UN to wake up too, policy-wise. They want to ban the commercial export of water, said Barlow, because not only can we not afford it, under NAFTA, any provincial agreement made to provide water to the U.S. is non-reversible and easily expandable.
The lobby also wants the federal government to implement a national water act, to take inventory of our groundwater, protect our drinking water and go after corporations or industries who would poison it with fines and jail time.
They're also promoting a right-to-water convention at the UN, a bit tricky since water is considered a commodity, said Barlow.
As for the rest of us, individuals only account for about 10% of consumption. But we should still be thinking about it in terms of overuse in lawn-watering, dishwasher-running, and bottled water consumption, which water warriors like Barlow want to be considered "as uncool as smoking in public."
It's thanks to the efforts of people like Barlow, who have been lobbying tirelessly on this issue before "green" was a cool word, that the average Canadian's perception has finally changed.
It's just a shame things had to get so bad before we could get from smug to concerned. For more information, visit www.canadians.org