Fresh water supply

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

April 9, 2008 Ed Cartoon

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

Water is a requirement for life, a basic human right, and should be available to all. Should Canada thus be obligated to share its water supply with our American neighbours? Not necessarily.

Canada should not feel obligated to trade something, even if other countries need it. Water, while it is technically a renewable resource, is becoming harder to obtain because humans are consuming more than the planet can replenish.

Desalination systems (to enable drawing water from the ocean) are extremely expensive. It comes as no surprise that the United States, and likely other countries, will be knocking at Canada’s door due to our large supply of fresh water.

While we need not feel obligated to sell our surplus, Canada would reap financial benefits from commodifying water for sale abroad, particularly to our wealthy southern counterpart. The U.S. appears to be willing to shell out for our water since it is a cheaper alternative to other methods of expanding its freshwater supply.

However, Canada must tread carefully on any sort of water trade with the U.S.

Currently, NAFTA’s proportionality clause edicts that if we begin trading a certain amount of a commodity, we must continue to provide at least that amount. With something as vital as fresh water, Canada should be wary of any agreement that would seriously deplete our supply. Canada may have more than we need for the time being, but the U.S. will undoubtedly want to consume extensive amounts.

Perhaps a short-term deal with the U.S. would be a good alternative, or setting a limit on what Canada is willing to trade. Even so, it would be idealistic for Canada to set the bar low and assume the U.S. will settle with a negligible amount. Precedent has shown the United States will try to take advantage of the agreement, and playing hardball with the neighbouring economic giant is not in our best interest.

Some have suggested a complete ban on bulk water exports or waiting to sell water until the U.S. " and other nations around the globe " are truly desperate. The longer we wait to sell water, the higher the demand, which would serve Canada very well fiscally.

With the pros and cons of commodifying water in mind, the Canadian government will make a choice that will hopefully take into account more than initial monetary gain.

Should Canada decide to commodify and trade water, countries should not treat the decision as an easy way out of their water depletion problems. Transporting water from one place to another is merely a band-aid solution.

We will all wind up high and dry in the future if we do not invest in research and development to ensure the water supply is sustainable for future generations.

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