Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 5/10/2016 (1565 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A new poll that shows Canadian opposition to water exports to the U.S. evaporating is worrisome, a Winnipeg climate change expert says.
"We could be fighting wars over water in the future if we sell it off," said Ian Mauro, an environmental scientist, University of Winnipeg geography professor and spokesman for the Prairie Climate Centre.
Probe Research’s national study, A Clear Perspective of Canadians and their Drinking Water, says that 58 per cent of Canadian adults oppose bulk water exports to the U.S. compared to 74 per cent who were opposed in 2006.
"I do find it disconcerting," said Mauro. What worries him is how "normalized" bottled water has become, and how Canadians’ relationship with water has been commercialized over the last 10 years.
"When we think about the future, water is going to be one of the precious resources in our country," Mauro said. "It already is with climate change. What we do with our water now has huge implications for the future." Scientists, he said, have put forward "Mad Max scenarios" — dry and barren hellscapes where people would literally kill for some water.
"It’s science fiction that could become a reality," Mauro said. "We desperately need to have a conversation."
Probe’s water survey— conducted every two years for the last 10 years — found that most Canadians are opposed to water exports, more are unsure about them and fewer now are gung-ho to sell off Canada’s freshwater resource to their American neighbours.
The number of Canadians who expressed unqualified support for exporting water is also down considerably, to nine per cent from 18 per cent in 2006. The proportion who are now uncertain has quadrupled in the last decade. Now, 33 per cent are unsure compared to only eight per cent in 2006.
Resistance to water exports showed little variation across regions, the survey said, although women (61 per cent versus 55 per cent among men), older Canadians (64 per cent of those over 55) and homeowners (62 per cent versus 50 per cent among renters) were among those most opposed to large-scale water sales into the U.S.
Manitobans (13 per cent) were more in favour of water exports than the national average of just nine per cent. That may have to do with seeing so many floods in this province, Probe president Scott MacKay speculated. The survey shows a trend of less opposition to selling Canada’s freshwater, he said. With a five-year drought in California and a drop in world oil prices, water might be Canada’s most abundant and valuable resource down the road, he said.
"The great export we used to all depend on is not that much of value anymore," he said. The pipelines of the future could be carrying water instead of oil.
A 2014 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development looked at the water consumption of nine developed nations including the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan. Canada, with the third-smallest population among the nine, uses the second-highest amount of freshwater per person per year from the environment. As a percentage of its total renewable freshwater resources, Canada’s water use rate is the lowest at one per cent, the OECD report said.
In 2001, the right-leaning Frontier Centre for Public Policy think tank theorized that if Manitoba could sell 1.3 trillion gallons of water per year — close to the amount that it says drains from Manitoba rivers into Hudson Bay in 17 hours — at the same price charged for desalinated sea water in California, Manitoba could reap annual profits of close to $4 billion. In 1992, the World Bank estimated that worldwide trade in water could be worth US$1 trillion within the next generation.
"If there’s a case to be made for this and economic gains that would help the whole country, this would be the time to start talking about it," said MacKay.
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Canada may appear to have lots of water but needs to be extremely cautious before sharing it, said Mauro. "Canadians are pretty courteous and generous global citizens," he said. "With what’s taking place in California with record droughts, there’s a level of concern for our southern neighbours, and questions about whether water resources should be made available to our southern neighbours," he said.
"We don’t want to lose our place as good global citizens," said Mauro. "But look at what’s happening in California right now — that could be our future. We’re responsible to future generations of people who live in this country at present. That stark future is already starting to happen with strange things happening to watersheds and extreme weather." Flash floods, heat waves, wind storms and droughts are becoming the norm. "The future is already here, to a certain extent," he said.
MacKay at Probe said that if a referendum on water exports to the U.S. was held now, the Yes side would still lose.
"It would be a very hard sell today," said MacKay. That’s a bit of a relief to Mauro at the Prairie Climate Centre, who wants to get people talking about Canada’s freshwater resources.
"We can’t move blindly into selling off water at a time when Canadians may need it most," the scientist said. "It has to be a measured response. I don’t think there’s an adequate dialogue on this."
Carol Sanders Legislature reporter
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
“There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not Canada should be exporting its water to the United States. Some people think that our water is so abundant and that pure water is in such high demand south of the border that Canada could see great economic benefits by selling our surplus water to the U.S. Others feel that we should be holding off on water exports to the U.S. because if we start exporting our water there, before long the U.S. will be demanding so much that we will ultimately lose control over our water resources. Which of these two views most closely resembles the way you feel about this issue?”
The online survey was conducted among a stratified sampling of 2,050 Canadians 18 years of age and older from coast-to-coast between July 22 and Aug. 12. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 2.16 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Canadian freshwater factoids
98 per cent of Canadians live in the southern part of the country which is responsible for only 38 per cent of Canada’s renewable freshwater.
In 2005, an estimated 42 cubic kilometres of water were withdrawn and used in Canada — about 1.2 per cent of the nation’s annual national water yield.
More than 90 per cent of the water that was withdrawn went to support economic activity.
Nine per cent was used directly by households.
The sector that withdrew the most water overall, by a considerable margin, was thermal-electric power generation. The bulk of the water withdrawn by this sector is returned to the environment close to where it was extracted.
The sector that consumed the most water, also by a considerable margin, was agriculture.
Knee-deep in water?
Expressed as a depth, the average annual water yield of Brazil is 967 mm. Accumulated, this water would reach the waist of most adults, while the yield of South Africa, at 41 mm, would barely wet one’s feet. In Canada, at 348 mm, the accumulated annual water yield would almost reach the knees.
Source: Statistics Canada’s Human Activity and the Environment Report 2010 modified in 2013