Water is Precious

This article by Environment North board member Scott Harris was first published in the Chronicle Journal in March 2017.

Just how precious is our fresh water?

Earth is known as the 'blue planet' because 70 per cent of its surface is covered with water. And as renowned landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky states, there is no substitute for this “blue gold”, as it is an irreplaceable requirement of humans and all living organisms.
But how much usable water do we really have?

Ninety-seven per cent of the planet’s water is salty ocean water. Of the remaining 3 per cent, most is tied up in ice caps, the air around us, in soils, and deep underground. That leaves about one quarter of 1 per cent available for our use. If a 2 litre container represented all the Earth’s water, usable fresh water would amount to 3 drops!

Canada is fortunate. The Great Lakes alone contains 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water. But 98 per cent of that is residual meltwater from the last ice age, which means only 2 per cent is being replenished by the water cycle. In periods of drought, that glacial equity gets eaten into, as the state of California has discovered as it drains its aquifers to make up for the lack of surface water, and resorts to such measures as recycling toilet water. Drained aquifers, along with melting ice caps and glaciers, as well as carbon dioxide induced ocean warming are cited as the key reasons sea levels are rising.

Such statistics highlight the need to conserve, protect and appreciate this precious and limited resource. Our own City Council has declared Thunder Bay a Blue Community, a Council of Canadians initiative which avers that access to clean water is a human right, that water and wastewater facilities remain in public hands, and that the City phase out the sale or distribution of bottled water at city venues or City events. Eco-Superior enlightens school groups and the general public with a Back to the Tap program, which demonstrates the advantages of using continuously tested city water. Tap water invariably wins in a taste contest with bottled water.

Our own city leadership is a key player in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative to protect and restore our Great Lakes, and they need our public support, especially since the “leadership” of our southern neighbors has seen fit to gut the budget which would help make such reclamation possible.

First Nations communities continue to fight for this most basic of human rights, and horror stories abound regarding what life is like without clean, potable water. And in times of drought, indigenous communities downriver from commercial projects have had to resort to legal challenges to prove the precedence of human needs over industrial needs.

A local coalition of concerned citizen groups has a resolution before City Council asking them to reject the Trans Canada Pipelines Energy East proposal, as it is too great a risk to the 1842 significant waterways it crosses while traversing Ontario, a large percentage of them here in the Northwest. The Ontario Energy Board agrees.

Virtual water is something we rarely think about. That is the amount of fresh water required to create a product, such as the food we eat. Who would have guessed that a single almond requires nearly 5 litres of water, a cup of coffee 140 litres, or a hamburger 2400 litres. A National Geographic synthesis of research on virtual water states that lowering our water footprint means weighing the commercial value of a crop against its impact on the local water supply, and charging more to reflect the water’s value. It also cites the benefit of a vegetarian diet, which uses 60% less water than one which regularly includes meat.

Canada Water Week is an opportunity to celebrate our good fortune, and strengthen our resolve to protect this limited resource. Join EarthCare Thunder Bay and local water-focused support groups on Sunday, March 26th in the Baggage Building Arts Centre in Marina Park to celebrate Canada Water Week from 12 pm – 4 pm. Family-oriented activities will both entertain and inform. Visit www.earthcarewater.com/canadawaterweek2017