"Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink. " --The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1798
I recently made my first visit to Alberta's famed UNESCO World Heritage Site, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. It is a beautiful, serene, and desperately dry place. On the bluff where the centre is located, I could see for hundreds of miles in all directions. I saw sere, golden brown hills. I heard the wind blow through dry, dry grass. I observed with dismay the meager, meandering trickle of the Oldman River as it moved through this landscape. When I returned to the office, I read with new appreciation and apprehension the articles in this issue of LawNow about water as a scarce and valuable resource, in Alberta and around the world.
Although water is the most widely occurring substance on earth, only 2.53 percent is fresh water, and two thirds of that is locked in glaciers and permanent snow cover. The test is salt water. Coleridge's poem points out this paradox: surrounded by an ocean of salt water, his ancient mariner faced certain death for lack of fresh water. Fresh water is necessary for all forms of life on our planet, but it is becoming increasingly scarce, threatened by a myriad of pressures, and thus increasingly valuable. The use, management, and conservation of fresh water are global and local concerns. Fresh water is destined to be one of the dominant issues facing the world community and Canadians in the next few decades.
The United Nations declared 2003 the International Year of Freshwater, and conducted a year-long series of events, conferences, studies, and research initiatives aimed at focusing attention on water issues. A highlight of the year was the creation of the World Water Development Report, a joint undertaking of twenty-three UN agencies, and a major initiative of the new World Water Assessment Program. The Report begins with the following words:
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Earth, with all its diverse and abundant life forms, including over six billion humans, is facing a serious water crisis. All the signs suggest that it is getting worse and will continue to do so, unless corrective action is taken. This crisis is one of water governance, essentially caused by the ways in which we mismanage water ... of all the social and natural resource crises we humans face, the water crisis is the one that lies at the heart of our survival and that of our planet Earth.
(Executive Summary, pg. 4). The full report can be found at www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr/table_contents.shtml.
The World Water Development Report sets a series of challenges to all nations as the basis for future action to address the water crisis. They include
* Meeting the basic needs of the world's population for sale and sufficient water and sanitation
* Securing the food supply--especially for the poor and vulnerable through the more effective use of water
* Protecting ecosystems--ensuring their integrity via sustainable water resource management
* Sharing water resources--promoting peaceful cooperation between different uses of water and between concerned states
* Valuing water--managing water in light of its different values (economic, social, environmental, cultural), moving towards pricing water to recover the costs of service provision, taking account of equity and the needs of the poor and vulnerable
* Governing water wisely, involving the public and the interests of all stakeholders
* Ensuring a knowledge base, so that water knowledge becomes more universally available
* Recognizing the relationship between water and cities, and the challenges of an increasingly urbanized world.
The United Nations hopes to use these challenges to define a compelling policy agenda and to achieve measurable progress in meeting them by the year 2015.
In Canada, water is a matter of both federal and provincial jurisdiction. Provinces have the authority to make laws about water supply, use, pollution control, hydroelectric and non-nuclear power development, irrigation, and recreation. The federal government has jurisdiction over fisheries, the protection of navigable waters, shipping, international water management, and some aspects of environmental protection.
The Federal Water Policy has existed since 1987 (www.ec.gc.ca/water/en/info/pubs/fedpol/e_fedpol.htm). Its overall objective is to "encourage the use of freshwater in an efficient and equitable manner consistent with the social, economic, and environmental needs of present and future generations" and its two main goals are to "protect and enhance the quality of the water resource" and to "promote the wise and efficient management and use of water" (pg. 3). To meet these goals, the federal government relies on five strategies:
* Water pricing, to make users conscious of the real value of water resources, encourage efficiency through technological advances, and encourage conservation
* Scientific leadership through research, technological development, and data collection
* Integrated planning, taking into account all water uses and water-related activities within whatever political, administrative, economic, of functional boundaries exist, and including public/private collaboration, and joint federal/provincial/territorial planning
* Legislation addressing the health and safety of Canadians, and complementing and respecting provincial jurisdiction
* Public awareness, encouraging opportunities for public input on water decisions that have broad social, economic, or environmental implications.
Each Canadian province has its own legislative framework to govern the use, management, protection, and conservation of freshwater. Alberta's Water Act will be well discussed in the articles in this issue. In Ontario, the Walkerton tragedy led to the Sale Drinking Water Act, 2002, along with earlier laws such as the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act and the Water Resources Act. Manitoba formulates water policy through statutes such as the Water Rights Act and the Groundwater and Water Well Act. In New Brunswick, the Clean Water Act provides a comprehensive framework for water policy implemented through regulations that cover everything from watercourse alterations to water wells. Provincial and territorial governments' websites provide a wealth Of online information about legislation, water policy, and management.
Many of our most cherished national images are bound up with water: emerald green lakes in the Rockies, cottage country in Ontario, fast-flowing rivers in British Columbia, ice hockey on frozen ponds in every province, and the oceans that define our space, from sea to sea to sea. But are Canadians immune from the worries that infuse the UN's World Water Development Report? "Water, water, every where"? Well, not exactly. The Federal Water Policy points out "we Canadians tend to be complacent about water. It is an article of faith that our country is lavishly endowed with crystaline rivers and lakes. Generations of us have been conditioned to view Canadian water as a bottomless well. But the well is neither as deep nor as full as we think ... About 60% of Canada's freshwater drains north, while 90% of our population lives within 300 kilometres of our southern border. In other words, to the extent that we Canadians have lots of water, most of it is not where it is needed ... Put simply, Canada is not a water-rich country" (Introduction).
This suggests that Canadians need to stop taking fresh water for granted and to begin to develop a different attitude that values fresh water for the precious resource that it is. As engaged citizens, we need to learn more about the stresses being placed on our fresh water supply, the laws that manage its use, and the fine balance between responsible use today and conservation for tomorrow. Knowledge is key to changing attitudes. We hope that this issue of LawNow contributes to that knowledge.
Fresh water, as an increasingly scarce and valuable resource, is bound to be one of the defining issues of the twenty-first century. Canadians and all the world's citizens need to pay attention to the discussion, debate, and decision-making.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2004|
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