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Holding Water

Control of Canada’s fresh water could go south if GVRD plan goes through

By Andrew Mitchell

While the leaders of 34 American countries were shaking hands on a framework agreement reached that would promote free trade from Alaska to the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Quebec City police were turning water cannons on a crowd of thousands of protesters.

The protesters were frustrated that most of the agreement was penned behind close doors, and that there will likely be no provisions within the rough Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) to protect either the environment, native culture, or jobs.

Canada was later condemned for its heavy-handed crowd control measures at the Summit of the Americas in April, and for turning one of Canada’s oldest and most beautiful cities into a police state complete with barbed wire fences. Nobody condemned us for wasting water.

That’s because it’s widely recognized that Canada harbours approximately 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater in our lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers. Only nine per cent of it, however, is renewable.

This valuable substance – I hesitate to use the word "commodity" for reasons to be explained later – is destined to become as valuable as oil as populations boom and countries run dry. Ismail Serageldin, the vice president of the World Bank, said as much when he commented that: "The wars of the next century will be about water."

If you think this is an exaggeration, look at the facts:

• Global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years.

• Available fresh water amounts to one-half of one per cent of all the water on earth.

• Fresh water is renewable only by rainfall, which at 40,000 to 50,000 cubic kilometres per year, is not enough to refill the world’s reservoirs. If current trends continue, by 2025, the demand for freshwater is expected to rise by 56 per cent over what is currently available.

• According to the UN, 31 countries face regular water shortages and one billion people don’t have clean drinking water.

• There are now 38,000 dams in the world trying to trap fresh water, each one having an environmental impact to the natural water biology – only two per cent of U.S. streams and rivers are free-flowing, and they have lost over half of their wetlands. Eighty per cent of China’s rivers no longer support fish, either as a result of pollution or as a result of damaged river ecosystems.

Our neighbours to the South want our water. Large cities, green lawns, irrigation for farming and cattle, and dams have placed such a large demand on the U.S. water supply that the mighty Colorado River is completely tapped before it even reaches Mexico.

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