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Great Lakes Article:

Federal annual water reports are 5 years overdue as Ottawa breaks its own law
Published December 19, 2007

OTTAWA - An annual report required by law to update Canadians on how crucial water resources are being managed is now five years overdue.

The federal Conservative government, like the Liberal regime before it, has violated the Canada Water Act which mandates yearly assessments of how supplies are used and maintained.

The last report posted on Environment Canada's website is from 2001-02. It outlined efforts across the country to protect drinking water, clean up the Great Lakes and track water use.

"Clearly both the previous and current governments are failing Canadians when it comes to water sustainability," said NDP MP Peggy Nash.

She introduced a motion last February calling for a national water strategy including federal standards, a ban on bulk water exports and Canada's signature on a United Nations covenant declaring clean water a basic human right. She also wants to ensure water is excluded from any current and future trade agreements.

Multimillion-dollar investments are needed to fix sewage, water-treatment and septic systems, says the NDP. Environmental groups have echoed that call and urged Ottawa to take a national approach.

So far, the Conservatives have announced piecemeal projects but no comprehensive strategy nine months after they promised one.

"Nobody's minding the store," Nash said in an interview. "Many people believe that water will increasingly become the focus of countries around the world as clean water supplies are diminishing.

"We need government leadership and strict standards that are then enforced to make sure that we actually get the water we need.

"It's a fundamental issue for Canadians who have the basic right to clean drinking water and to be reassured that there's national stewardship of our water supply."

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister John Baird said the missing documents will be delivered in the new year. Although the Conservatives have themselves failed to meet the water act requirements after almost two years at the helm, they pointed fingers at their political foes.

The previous Liberal government "didn't bother to table the report for the last four years they were in power," said Amanda Galbraith in an e-mailed response.

"Once again, it's this government that has to clean up and .... take action where they did not."

Conservative efforts include plans to regulate the dumping of sewage into waterways, a $42.5-million fund to boost the health of Canada's oceans, and $11 million to help reverse the worst damage in the Great Lakes Basin.

In total, the government has committed $93 million to such projects, Galbraith says.

Environment Canada also plans to hire experts to assess "the socio-economic and environmental impacts" of banning phosphates in many household and industrial products, according to a call for proposals issued Monday by the department.

The consultants are to report by next May.

Manitoba and Quebec have already announced plans to limit phosphate concentrations in dishwasher detergents to 0.5 per cent by 2010 and have called on Ottawa to follow suit.

Phosphates - concentrated phosphoric acids - lead to algae growth in water. They've been blamed for choking lakes and rivers in several provinces.

In Quebec, a spike in blue-green algae growth on several lakes last summer hammered the tourist trade and real-estate values. More isolated cases of cyanobacteria, which can release toxins blamed for skin rashes and nausea, were also reported along beaches in Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Agriculture run-off, leaky sewage systems, erosion and phosphates in dishwashing soap were cited as feeding the blue-green algae blooms that occur naturally in most freshwater lakes.

Liberal water critic Francis Scarpaleggia says the importance of safeguarding precious water supplies is a concern on par with climate change. He says Ottawa needs a junior water minister to focus attention on the issue.


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