Looking at a hydrological map of Canada, it’s hard to imagine how a country with so much water might face a water “crisis.”
But academics are warning Canadians not to be complacent about their water supply.
In a her recently published book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, Maude Barlow argues that Canada must take new steps to regulate water use and protection if it hopes to avoid water shortages increasingly faced by more arid regions.
“Despite our shared mythology of limitless water, Canada is not immune to this, the world’s most pressing problem,” Barlow writes, calling existing water protection regulations across the country “uneven and generally inadequate.”
“They are a patchwork of outdated, vague and even conflicting regulations with no coherent overarching principles or rational planning. Many of our laws were originally enacted well over a century ago for a country that was still largely rural and agrarian and whose population mostly extracted water for their own use.”
According to Barlow, extractive industries, climate change, corporate water purchases are placing new pressures on water that didn’t exist when Canada’s water regulations were crafted. She also blames the Harper government for gutting existing water regulations.
Nowhere is this more evident than on remote First Nations communities, 163 of which face some form of drinking water advisory.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to end water advisories on First Nations reserves within five years. On Dec. 6, Trudeau said 14 drinking water advisories on reserves have been lifted since his government took office—but more than 100 remain in place.
Hydroelectric power projects are also pressuring water supplies for First Nations people.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation in Northern Alberta, for example, has asked the UN to step in to review the impacts of B.C.’s Site C dam on downstream Wood Buffalo National Park, widely considered the world’s largest freshwater boreal delta.
Melody Lepine of the Cree First Nation told CBC in September that hydroelectric and other industrial development puts the nation at risk of “losing our delta.”
"The impacts of drawing low water levels is of serious concern along with fear of further contamination,” she said. “We would like to see it placed on the listing of endangered UNESCO world heritage sites.”
A joint review panel appointed to study Site C, however, found the project would have no impact on the delta.
Jonny Wakefield, 8 November 2016