Thursday, October 8, 2015

Water, water everywhere but . . .

Anyone who has taken a Las Vegas vacation likely has been to Hoover Dam, about 30 miles southeast of the Nevada desert’s big glitz.

The dam, soaring 700-plus feet above the bed of the Colorado River, is one of seven wonders of the industrial world. It created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. at 112 miles long and 759 miles of shoreline.

The lake now is a symbol of the accelerating struggle between human advancement and nature.

That’s because Lake Mead and the Colorado River, which supplies water to 36 million people in seven states and six million acres of farmland, are going dry. The lake’s surface is 130 feet lower than it was in 1998. You can see how much water has been lost by looking at the bathtub ring of white mineral deposits towering above the lake’s surface.

Years of drought aggravated by global warming and increasing human populations in the West are building fear of a water shortage crisis.

Interesting, but what’s that got to do with us up here in the land of limitless water? Plenty, because we Canadians are among the world’s most complacent people when it comes to water issues. After all, our country has six per cent of the world’s renewable fresh water.  

Roy MacGregor, the journalist and author well known in our Algonquin region, wrote recently that during the election debate in Calgary not one of the federal leaders raised water as an issue. He quoted a prominent retired scientist as not able to comprehend how three leaders could talk almost two hours without connecting the Canadian economy to water, its most valuable resource.

Earlier this year, Bob Sandford, a water expert based at McMaster University in Hamilton, was quoted as saying Canadians have been living with the myth that we have limitless water.

“We’re considered around the world as one of the most egregious water wasters, because we have it.”

He said that the average Canadian uses about 329 litres of water a day while the average resident of Munich, Germany, uses about 100 litres a day.

Many of us live surrounded by water and cannot comprehend that we have water problems. We do. Look at the Canadian West where fires this year have cost our governments billions of dollars.

Look also at the Lake Winnipeg Basin where rapidly growing algal blooms are creating ecological problems throughout that region.

You don’t have to look that far. My lake, St. Nora, was one of this region’s many prominent trout lakes. Its water has turned warmer and I now consider it a bass lake instead of a trout lake.

And, of course, there is the much ignored fact that dozens of First Nations communities live with boil water advisories year after year. In the first seven months of this year 133 drinking water advisories were in effect in 93 First Nation communities.

We shout defence of the rights of immigrants to our country but ignore the plight of native people who cannot obtain a basic human right – the right to clean and safe potable water.

Our attitudes toward water contrast sharply with most of the rest of the world. The Royal Bank has surveyed Canadian attitudes on water since 2008 and this year found that 70 percent of us know what we pay for electricity but only 39 per cent know how much we pay for water. Also 25 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they don’t care where their water comes from as long as it tastes good.

The survey showed that more than 70 per cent of us don’t believe we live in areas vulnerable to floods. More than 80 per cent don’t believe we live in areas vulnerable to droughts.

This year’s Global Risks report by the World Economic Forum places water risk as No. 1 on the top 10 list of global risk in terms of impact. The list is drawn from the perspectives of world experts and global decision makers.

Canadians are  out of touch on this one. And so are our leaders.


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