Taking water for granted, Robert Sandford published in Literary Review of Canada
August 20, 2012
August 20, 2012
His article is “An Unexpected Water Crisis, Canada’s changing climate means more droughts, floods and storms – along with less ability to predict them”. Visit the LRC website to read the complete article.
Taking water for granted: How our growing inability to predict droughts, floods and storms could bankrupt whole provinces.
Wherever I travel in this country, the first question I am invariably asked is if Canada really faces a water crisis. To many, I will have to admit, the very notion is ludicrous. “How, in a land in which there is so much water,” they ask, “could such a thing even be possible?” Canada is blessed with more fresh water than any other country on the planet, and if we compute it on a per capita basis, with our sparse population, our water wealth reaches stratospheric proportions. But abundance, in this case, leads to dangerous complacency. Water experts, as opposed to the general population, have seen the warning signs for years and have attempted, mostly futilely, to catch the country’s attention. They talk of population increases and industrial land use that put inexorable pressure on the water supply. They warn that surface water is now fully utilized, leaving us dependent on groundwater in the future, without protections in place to save that groundwater from contamination. They point to our aging water infrastructure—pipelines, canals, reservoirs, pumping stations—and predict public health problems for future generations (remember Walkerton?). They are particularly concerned about industrial-scale agriculture and the degradation of water that it produces. There are new contaminants—pharmaceuticals, hormones and endocrine-disrupting compounds—entering the water system every day and not getting filtered out when the water is recycled for reuse. And looming over all the experts’ warnings is the vast and unpredictable canopy of climate change. If things stay the same, none of the issues I have listed need constitute—by themselves—what could properly be called a national water crisis in Canada. There is one small problem, however. Things are not staying the same. After a century of relative stability, rising atmospheric temperatures have begun to drive changes in the rate and manner in which water is moving through the hydrological cycle. (You remember the hydrological cycle from grade school, right? Evaporation, condensation, precipitation, etc., etc.) Changes in the hydrological cycle, in tandem with our other water problems, might be the only thing that could actually create a bona fide water crisis in Canada. It is with the discovery of evidence supporting this view that my story begins. Continue reading on the LRC website.