Changes in global water supply hint at future conflicts and crises
By combining 14 years’ worth of satellite data, scientists have captured a startling portrait of the world’s water supply undergoing rapid transformation. The new analysis points to areas where there is increasing potential for conflict as a growing demand for water collides with the impacts of climate change. In Canada, the maps shows shifting water supplies that include wetter, more flood-prone regions in many areas of the country but a general drying out in the western sub-Arctic.
“This is an eye-opener,” said Roy Brouwer, an economist and executive director of the University of Waterloo’s Water Institute who was not involved in the analysis. “It raises awareness that things are changing and that in some areas something has to happen to counter and anticipate some of the catastrophes that may be waiting for us in the not-so-far future.”
Canada: The future of our most critical resource
One commodity occupies a central place in the day-to-day lives of Canadians more than any other, and though it’s assumed to be in unfettered abundance, water is a resource that cannot be taken for granted.
Number of people on Earth living in water-scarce regions
Number of national drinking-water guidelines published by Health Canada since 1968
Number of those guidelines that are consistently applied across all 13 provinces and territories
Canada’s share of the world’s renewable supply of fresh water
Level by which phosphorus in the St. Lawrence River exceeded federal guidelines (2010-2012)
Decrease (1970-2005) in the summer flow of the Athabasca River at Fort McMurray
Number of drinking-water advisories in effect last month in
120 indigenous communities across Canada
Number of years that Neskantaga First Nation, near the proposed Ring of Fire mining site in Northern Ontario, has been under a boil-water advisory
Estimated cost of meeting federal water standards for First Nations communities
in billions of dollars
Estimated increase in global water demand by 2050
Estimated share of waterborne contamination in Canada that involves non-municipal supply systems, largely in rural or remote areas
Number of national drinking-water standards that can be legally enforced.
Canada is the only G8 member with none.
Canada’s water is in crisis
Canada’s water is in crisis. This is partly because of federal neglect of water and water-related climate issues. We face increasingly damaging industrial, mining and agricultural water contamination; increases in flooding brought about by inappropriate land use and development in flood plains and headwaters; and ever-more-damaging extremes of flood and drought brought about by climate changes to which we have contributed by changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere.
In addition to the contamination threat, flood and drought crises along with related storm damage and forest fires are hammering every region of the country, as climate change demonstrates its destructive nature. Economic losses due to the prairie drought of 2000-04 exceeded 4 billion dollars and the Alberta-Saskatchewan-Manitoba floods of 2011-14 exceeded 11 billion dollars. The cost of one day of heavy rainfall in July, 2013, in Toronto was almost 1 billion dollars. The Prairies and B.C. have been hit by drought yet again in 2015 and this time it restricted both food and oil production, resulted in massive wildfires and even affected recreational fishing.
These issues are restricting economic growth in Canada, limiting agricultural and energy production and destroying infrastructure. Appalling water-quality and health conditions are common in First Nations and other downstream communities, putting them on an infamous ‘third world’ footing – unacceptable in a Group of Seven country. Our federal response to this national crisis shows little foresight, as water monitoring and science have been cut over several decades, and we stand out in the developed world for having neither a national flood-forecast system nor drinking-water standards.
More from the Headwaters series
- Let’s make groundwater an issue of national security
- Unresolved water advisories creating ‘health emergency’ for First Nations
- Water fight: Bottles, wells, big business
- Ontario teen activist takes on the bottled water industry
- Water scarcity poses economic and security threat around the world
- Calgary scientists create mini-worlds to test water-treatment strategies
- Great Lakes are on the mend, but new threats loom
- Vast, interconnected and stunningly beautiful: A view of Canada’s waterways – Map
While a keystone species refers to a specific species that structures an ecosystem, I consider keystone consumers to be a specific group of humans that structures a market for a particular resource. Intense demand by a few individuals can bring flora and fauna to a brink.
Watermark, a feature documentary, brings together diverse stories from around the globe about our relationship with water: how we are drawn to it, what we learn from it, how we use it and the consequences of that use. This film shows water as a terraforming element, as well as the magnitude of our need and use. In Watermark, the viewer is immersed in a magnificent force of nature that we all too often take for granted, – until it is gone.
RBC Bluewater Project
Launched in 2007, the RBC Blue Water Project is a 10-year global charitable commitment of $50 million to help provide access to drinkable, swimmable, fishable water, now and for future generations.
The BCIT Rivers Institute
The BCIT Rivers Institute is focused on the protection and restoration of rivers, streams, estuaries, lakes and wetlands in British Columbia. We accomplish our mission by teaching the theory and practice of aquatic ecosystem restoration to full and part time students and industry professionals enrolled in the Ecological Restoration Degree Program. We provide guidance and expertise for community based restoration initiatives, conducting applied research, and mentoring the next generation of ecological restoration professionals.