Photo courtesy of Gary Edenfield via Creative Commons
Instead of giving the same tired old gifts this holiday season (Does Dad really need another tie?) why not make a donation in someone's name to an organization that works to ensure access to clean and reliable drinking water to people here in Canada, or around the world?
Stories about our relationship – and challenges – with water are in the news every day. A university campus bans bottled water, Botswana bushmen win the right to re-open a well on their ancestral lands, fracking for natural gas is opposed because of threats to groundwater. Water scarcity and safety are not new issues but they continue to garner attention because clean water is universally recognized as something we all need to survive.
Canada finally did the right thing and reversed years of unsound policy last May when it formally recognized the right to water by supporting a UN World Health Assembly resolution calling on countries to improve “the realization of the human right to water and sanitation.” That resolution explicitly referenced earlier right-to-water resolutions from which Canada had abstained. In other words, Canada seemed to acknowledge that its previous position was unsound – and the source of considerable international embarrassment – and voted accordingly.
It’s that time of year when the media and some right-wing think tanks like to remind us how much progress has been made in protecting the environment in recent decades. Forty-one years ago we celebrated the first-ever Earth Day, and you would think that by now we would be able to list meaningful improvement on many fronts.
Not so fast.
Are things really better?
It’s certainly possible to point to technological advances and improvements in the sampling results for individual chemicals, but one can’t help but be pessimistic about the most important factor — our willingness to address problems and change behavior.
Decades ago, images of grotesque environmental devastation shocked people and politicians of all stripes into action.
There’s an ideological battle raging in the Fraser Valley, and the cost and reliability of region's future water supply may depend on who wins.
Concerned about water scarcity in the future, Abbotsford and Mission want to develop a new municipal water source at Stave Lake.
The original proposal was to build the project as a public-private partnership, or P3. But the partnership arrangement proved controversial because of concerns about the possibility of losing control of local water resources, about several high-profile service problems on water P3s elswhere and about the potential for spiraling water rates.
The plan required approval by municipal councils in both regions. Given the hostile public response, Mission Council has rejected the proposal and Abbotsford is delaying its vote.
Abbotsford Mayor George Peary, however, still vows to push the plan through.
The New York Times“Green” blog recently waded into the issue of how to allocate water in times of scarcity.
The post looks at whether the experiences of Australia, including water markets, could benefit places like California. Water markets have also been proposed as an option for BC so it’s a debate worth following.
In response to an unprecedented drought, New South Wales in Australia undertook what may be the most far-reaching overhaul of water governance anywhere in the world.
Last August, the Constance Lake First Nation community of 900 were without water in Northern Ontario. Photograph of children looking out over lake polluted with thick, blue-green algae by Chief Arthur Moore.
If you live in North America, it turns out that you’re much more likely to have access to clean drinking water if you’re wealthy, white and don’t live in a rural area or a First Nations’ community.
The situation is getting so bad that international human rights authorities are sending in experts to investigate and to shine a light on the problem. The UN’s Independent Expert on the “right to water” recently completed a two week tour of the United States and the results are troubling.
UN independent expert Catarina de Albuquerque said: “I am concerned that several laws, policies and practices, while appearing neutral at face value, have a disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of human rights by certain groups.”
Bottled water in a photograph from Wikipedia creative commons
Oh, the French. The country that gave the world Perrier and kick-started the bottled water craze is now building free public water fountains that dispense sparkling water. The move is being taken in an attempt to tamp down demand for bottled water.
Focusing on “privatization” is a distraction that comes down to semantics. Many believe that making a water right something that can be sold constitutes privatization. The Ministry obviously defines it differently.
The real questions are whether or not the proposed Water Sustainability Act lives up to its name and protects the environment and the public interest, and whether BC should introduce water markets now. The answer to both these questions is a resounding no.
For the past several years, there has been a multitude of discussion papers, extensive public consultations and big speeches from the BC Government on the effort to “modernize” the BC Water Act. It’s the law that governs who gets to use water and for what, when they get to use it and where and who gets the priority when there’s not enough to go around.
Everyone agrees that the system is broken, so the question is what to do about it.
My first few posts in 2011 will take a look at water issues facing us over the next 12 months. First up: the looming food crisis, which is largely a water issue.
There’s trouble brewing.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently warned that in December its food price index surpassed its previous peak in 2007 - 2008.
The international community is bracing itself. The last time food prices were this high, demonstrations broke out in developing countries around the world (“the tortilla riots”), rising food prices likely pushed tens of millions into poverty and people went hungry. The scorching prices of 2008 were only cooled by the economic stumble known as The Great Recession.