Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on March 24, 2011 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Straightening out the facts on water

Randy ChristensenLawyer

The Vancouver Sun has published a letter that is stunning in its incorrect facts, specious arguments and misreading of the article to which it purports to respond.

The letter, which I get to below, claims to be in response to Daphne Bramham’s column Water and Life: Precious and Inseparable. Bramham describes the challenging situation faced by residents of Ethiopia’s remote Omo Valley who walk 15-kilometres to a dried-up river bed. There, they will dig for water that they carry, in 18 kilogram loads, on the three-hour trip home. The water is turbid and often a source of illness.

Bramham also interviews the organizers of a fundraising concert where the money will go to WaterCan, an Ottawa-based non-governmental organization that helps dig wells for domestic water supplies in East Africa. The rest will go to support Nature Trust of B.C.’s Fraser River habitat restoration projects.

Sounds like great initiative right?

But this message of helping those who don’t have access to clean drinking water while acknowledging our own relative good fortune was enough to send one North Vancouver resident into a tizzy. Brian Platts wrote a letter to the editor which includes the statement that in Canada “we have roughly 30 per cent of the world’s fresh water with a tiny population of just 34 million people.”

This claim, however, has been thoroughly debunked. Water experts know that the most important measure of water availability is the amount of renewable water supply. By that measure, Canada has 6-7 per cent of the world’s renewable freshwater, which places us somewhere between fourth and sixth in the world in terms of water availability. But far more important than the total amount of water available is the location of that water and trends on availability.

According to Environment Canada, approximately 60 per cent of Canadian freshwater drains to the north, away from the 85 per cent of the population living within 300 kilometres of our southern border. It has been widely reported that Canada’s supply of renewable freshwater in the area where 98 per cent of the population lives is on the decline.

The fact that Vancouver has water supply concerns should be apparent by the fact that summer watering restrictions are an annual necessity to ensure that we have enough water to make it through the summer and early fall.

Mr. Platts also writes: “The amount of water we use is insignificant and of no environmental consequence here nor does our water usage affect the environment anywhere else in the world.”

The idea that water use in Greater Vancouver is insignificant and of no environmental consequence is completely off the mark:

Per capita water use rates in Vancouver (320 L/day) are far in excess of what is used in every other developed country, except the United States;

Fish populations are being already being seriously impacted by water extraction and impoundments supporting Greater Vancouver’s growing water supply needs, particularly in the Capilano and Coquitlam Rivers; and

Water used in a residence has to be treated and delivered which comes at a very high cost, both financially and in terms of energy used.

Mr. Platts lampoons the idea that conserving water here would make it available to those who need it in Ethiopia. That assertion, however, wasn’t in the original article. It also does nothing to challenge the need to conserve water or refute the global nature of the water resource.

Global populations and water demand are growing.

Future water needs for human use, agriculture, energy production and other forms of industry are projected to exceed available supply within several decades.

And that’s not accounting for the water needs of nature. While saving water here may not make it appear elsewhere, using water wisely is the only hope of ensuring that we meet global demands for food and energy while beginning to give those in the poorest countries a minimally decent quality of life.

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