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Water riches drying up; Canadians face parched future

Calgary Herald
May 2007
By Mike De Souza

OTTAWA – The threat of global warming, bulk exports and high household water use are putting Canada’s status as a water-rich nation in jeopardy, say newly released federal documents obtained by CanWest News Service.

Canada possesses an estimated seven per cent of the world’s renewable supply with only 0.5 per cent of the global population. But the documents, produced over the last year by the Natural Resources Department, warn Canadians face tremendous challenges in the future, since the leading scientists simply do not know how long the supplies can last.

“Notwithstanding our endowment, we are not immune to problems,” notes one of the documents, prepared in January 2006, before Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government was sworn in.

The documents say it could take up to 30 years to produce a comprehensive water inventory, unless there is a massive injection of research funding.

The water issue was brought to light by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin following an Access to Information request.

“Groundwater is the principal water supply for approximately 30 per cent of Canadians, yet we know very little about it,” say the federal documents. “Future climate change scenarios vary widely in their predictions, which confounds the knowledge deficit even further; we don’t know how water supplies will be impacted and how best to adapt. Ironically, the current state of knowledge of the resource is inversely proportional to its importance.”

Numerous companies are now allowed to exploit Canada’s water through bottled water exports.

Provinces could authorize bulk exports since water management is a shared federal-provincial responsibility under the constitution, but federal bureaucrats suggest the government should use exceptional powers to close the door.

A senior researcher, who specializes in ground water science at Natural Resources Canada, said that the government increased funding for research, in recent years, but he confirmed that the dire warnings from the federal documents justify the need for more action.

“In the future, (water) will become more and more at risk,” said Alfonso Rivera, the chief hydrogeologist of the Geological Survey of Canada.