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Posted March 28, 2008
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Water Security and Sustainability

Canada's Water Resources in Jeopardy, Prof Finds

Guelph - Canada isn't doing enough to ensure the security and sustainability of its water resources. That's the finding of a first-ever national assessment by researchers at the University of Guelph.

Despite Walkerton, climate change and recent water-export controversies pushing concerns about Canada's water resources to the forefront, most provinces still have not put adequate measures in place to address water threats, especially those related to scarcity and the environment, the report said.

"In Canada we are still caught up in the myth of abundance," said geography professor Rob de Loë, a lead researcher in the Guelph Water Management Group, which conducted the two-year assessment of Canada’s water-allocation systems.

"We think we have lots of water, so what's the problem? But the truth is, we are not immune to water scarcity. Shrinking water supplies are a problem across the globe, and in Canada we aren't dealing with it very well."

Among other things, the researchers found that water monitoring and enforcement are not happening at a satisfactory level in all parts of Canada.

"Monitoring is essential because it helps us know whether or not we're addressing the water-security challenges that exist,” de Loë said.

In addition, most provinces and territories aren't doing enough to anticipate the effects of climate change on future water supplies, he said.

"Historical patterns and observed trends continue to guide our water-allocation decisions, despite the fact that these patterns and trends aren't likely to be representative of future conditions due to global warming."

This is problematic because Canada's water resources have already faced numerous threats over the past decade, he said.

"Severe droughts have been experienced in the Prairies, stress on aquatic ecosystems is evident in many watersheds, and growth and development are putting pressure on water resources in many parts of the country. All of these current threats will simply magnify with climate change."

The assessment also found that environmental protection is not occurring satisfactorily in many water-allocation systems and that water-conservation efforts are happening primarily at the municipal level and not provincially or territorially.

Canada needs to strike a balance between allocating water for people and industry and still sustaining a healthy environment, de Loë said.

"We need to ensure that water is available to sustain healthy aquatic environments."

The study recommends a national dialogue on water allocation that includes representatives from First Nations, non-governmental organizations, industries, municipalities and the federal and provincial governments. That way, jurisdictions could share experiences, learn from each other's innovations and challenges, and divide responsibilities sensibly and appropriately, de Loë said.

"Such a dialogue is urgent because of the immediacy of water-security challenges that Canada faces. We can no longer afford to be complacent."

The report, which was funded by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, was just released online.

For a copy of the report, visit the Guelph Water Management Group website.



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