Canada must protect its fresh water, report warns

If Canada allows water to be commodified,there is little to stop the U.S. from taking what it wants

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

You may want to stock up on bottled water, because Canada could soon dry up.

A report released last Thursday by the Polaris Institute, a Canadian think-tank, emphasized Canada’s need to protect its freshwater resources.

The Sierra Club of Canada, an environmental organization, along with the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, was also involved in the report’s release.

Under the current proportionality clause of the North American Free Trade Agreement, once water is considered a commodity there is little Canada can do to stop the U.S. from taking as much as it wants.

Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, explained: “Once the tap is turned on, Canada cannot turn it off.”

Hazell said renewable water is best defined as how much freshwater Canada can depend on each year. Canada has previously been credited with 6.5 per cent of the world’s freshwater, but recent studies that take the flow of water into inaccessible areas into account estimate it to be only 2.6 per cent.

“It looks like a lot because of the Great Lakes,” Hazell said, “but [the lakes] are basically fossil water " only recharging one per cent each year.”

The concern is specific to bulk water exports, which differ from export of bottled water.

“Due to extreme droughts in the south of the United States and ongoing depletion of water supplies, there is growing pressure to do something,” Hazell said.

Minister of the Environment John Baird responded: “Our fresh water is one of Canada’s greatest natural resources and it is not for sale.”

All four organizations called for a ban on bulk water exports, along with the development of a National Water Strategy.

Karl Flecker, national director of the anti-racism and human rights department in the Canadian Labour Congress, wants “stronger, bolder water conservation strategies.”

Hazell pointed out Canadian wastefulness, citing Canadians use 343 litres of water per person each day for personal use, compared to the French, who use 150.

In discussions of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), an initiative to bring further integration of North American economies, some of the water issues could potentially be resolved.

Stuart Trew, a researcher with the Council of Canadians " a citizen organization, said there is clear evidence the SPP is talking about water.

“[I’m] very worried [the SPP] will come up with a water agreement similar to NAFTA that will give the U.S. unlimited access to Canada’s water,” Trew said.

According to Hazell, “[Canada is being pushed to get] locked into environmentally insane commitments.”

“Let me be absolutely clear: As long as this government is in office, we will not allow the bulk export of water,” Baird said.

There is a desire on the part of the opposition parties to re-open NAFTA and explicitly exclude water, Trew explained, citing a resolution passed in June 2007.

If the chance to renegotiate NAFTA opens, Hazell would like to see Canada try to throw out the proportionality clause, noting Mexico has no such clause.

Canada’s recent stance at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in denying water as a basic human right could be another cause for concern.

Hazell attempted to explain the government’s vote: “Canada does not want to expand human rights entrenched internationally.”

“This is a terrible stain on Canada’s international reputation,” Blue Planet project organizer at the Council of Canadians Anil Naidoo said.

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