being made to protect fresh water: experts
News - A panel of water experts told an environmental
forum in Belleville Wednesday that Ontario is making strides
to protect fresh water.
Millions are being spent by the province, said Ontario Environment
Commissioner Gord Miller, on everything from water treatment
plants and groundwater studies to a new nutrient management
plant to prevent another Walkerton tragedy.
But, the news isn’t so good on a global scale for billions
of impoverished Third World residents who are succumbing
to disease because they can’t access fresh clean water,
said United Nations spokesman Dr. Ralph Daley.
Miller and Daley were among a panel of experts — including
Jim Kelleher of Lower Trent Conservation and John Jackson
of Great Lakes United — who spoke at a standing-room only
forum that attracted more than 200 people at the Ramada
The forum was organized by the Lower Trent Conservation,
Quinte Conservation and the Bay of Quinte Remedial Action
Plan and was convened to explore issues challenging freshwater
access locally and around the world.
The United Nations has declared 2003 International Year
Daley, who is director of the United Nations University’s
International Network on Water, Environment and Health,
warned that the world is hurtling toward a global crisis
in which millions of people could die in coming years if
preventative measures are not implemented.
He praised Ontario’s efforts to protect water and said efforts
by Queen’s Park are a good model in contrast to a lack of
political will internationally to provide fresh water outside
of the industrialized world.
“Take Ontario’s water problems for the last 50 years and
look at an African country. With no money, an African country
is facing all of these problems immediately but they have
no financial means to correct any of the problems. That’s
why I call it a global crisis,” said Daley.
The numbers compiled by the United Nations water team —
set to be released next month in the most comprehensive
water study ever done — are disturbing, he said.
For example, one billion people around the world have no
access to clean water. Another 3.2 billion people have no
access to sanitation.
The situation is a breeding ground for death.
“Eighty per cent of all disease in these developing countries
is water related, from fecal contamination to waterborne
diseases,” said Daley — that translates into three to five
million deaths a year around the world.
Daley said billions of dollars will be needed in the next
10 years to implement community drinking wells to end widespread
“To put proper water in all people’s hands is estimated
at $16 billion. That’s the same amount of money people in
the industrialized world spend on pet food,” said Daley.
By 2025, said Daley, 30 per cent of the world’s population
will face water shortages. Most fresh water is located in
the developed world that contains only one-fifth of the
The problem, said Daley, is that demand for water is increasing
at twice the population rate due to increased growth and
food production. The world’s population is expected to rise
from 5.8 million now to 8 billion by 2025.
The upside to the worsening water problem, said Daley, is
that the world’s water crisis is finally being recognized
by the international community.
“The good news is that in five years, it has moved from
an invisible issue to the number-one issue facing governments
today. Now the United Nations is seriously beginning to
examine how the world can fix the situation.”
Global water demands will push the limits in Ontario as
well, said provincial Environment Commissioner Miller.
In a frank address to the forum, Miller said Ontario has
made progress by moving toward higher water quality standards
in cities and on farms.
But, he said, issues such as climate change, non-sustainable
growth and accumulative effects will challenge legislators
to protect water here in the future.
“Water is the blood of our ecosystems. Like blood, we drain
it or spill it at our peril,” said Miller.
The greatest challenge facing Ontario, he said, is balancing
the needs of future growth with ensuring there is safe water
for the future.
Referring to findings from a commission into the Walkerton
E. coli tragedy, Miller said “what we need out of this is
watershed planning and source protection.”
Efforts are now being made by the province in conjunction
with conservation authorities to gauge the impact water
taking is having on massive underground aquifers that face
serious depletion through wells, golf courses, water bottlers
Since the spring of 2000, said Miller, the provincial government
is beginning to take water taking seriously through tighter
water taking controls and through the study of groundwater
“We heard water taking permits were not working. The biggest
concerns were the Ministry of Environment was not adding
them (permits and the amount of water taken) up. You think
they were adding them up, but they weren’t,” said Miller.
Lower Trent Conservation general manager Jim Kelleher welcomed
all efforts to implement watershed planning but, like Miller,
said more needs to be done to protect water supplies.
“One large piece that is missing from a comprehensive approach
to securing water supplies is source protection. Source
protection plans need to protect and enhance all surface
and ground water resources for all current and future water
needs,” said Kelleher.
To do that, watershed plans “set out the big picture. They
draw together all of the understanding of the watershed’s
functions, the pressures on it, and the desires for resource
use, and identify the needs for protection and restoration.”
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