Wednesday, March 23, 2011


A nearby neighbour here in central Florida was perplexed by my response to a suggestion water from the Great Lakes would resolve drought issues along the American south.

He thought building a pipeline pumping water from the lakes to the parched south would be a great American economic stimulus project which, in addition to creating thousands of jobs, would eventually alleviate environmental concerns about America's water shortages. He'd just never considered that Canada, which shares the Great Lakes with the United States, might want to have a say in the matter.

Lost amongst the hoopla of the Parliamentary debate in Ottawa this week, there's been a three-day conference in Toronto that kicked-off "World Water Day" on Tuesday. There is real growing potential for violent conflict to erupt over fresh water as the global population grows amidst a backdrop of climate change and over-population. And, the Great Lakes represent as much as a quarter of all of the world's surface fresh water, and 95% of the entire North American supply.

The three day conference held at the prestigious Munk School of Global Affairs of the University of Toronto, has been looking at the prospect of future wars being fought over water. The planet's population will top 9-Billion people by mid-century. Combined with climate change caused by global warming, and the growing impact of natural disasters they add-up to what one expert described as a "hydro-climatic bomb" which has already started to tick. A very recent case in point - Tokyo's tap water has been deemed unsafe for infants because of radio-active emissions from those crippled nuclear reactors which are several hundred miles from the city.

As Canadians edge ever closer to a spring Federal Election, the former Prime-Minister Jean Chretien, is unlikely to get much political support for proposing that we should not be afraid of a national debate about exporting some of our vast water resources. Mr. Chretien told the Toronto conference he believes a new national discussion is needed. During Mr. Chretien's term as Prime Minister in the 1990's intense public backlash derailed plans at both ends of the country (in British-Columbia and in Newfoundland) as well as Ontario to export fresh water to the United States and by tanker elsewhere overseas; as we do oil and natural gas.

Be that as it may, Mr. Chretien's suggestion was swiftly rebuked by the Council of Canadians. The 1985 creation of Alberta publisher Mel Hurtig and author Pierre Berton, the "council" has substantially expanded its mandate since Ottawa activist Maude Barlow became the national chairperson. Ms Barlow is the author of: "Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Rights of Water". Ms Barlow says it's disconcerting that the former Prime Minister is opening the door to a water-trade debate. She told the "Globe and Mail" the country would lose control of the resource if it begins providing it to customers south of the border and beyond. Five years ago the Great Lakes Commission, a partnership of the US States and Canadian Provinces which border the lakes, estimated that communities around the basin of the Great Lakes already were pumping 850-Billion gallons of water out of the system every day. That free flow of fresh water is unlikely to have diminished in subsequent years.

Research presented at the Toronto conference suggests that 25% or more of the world's water(related)conflicts over the past 5000 years have occurred in the 11 years since the start of the 21st Century. That's likely just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. R.W. Stanford, a Canadian with the "United Nations International Water For Life Decade" says the global water situation is changing so rapidly that it may soon no longer resemble anything that's existed on the planet before.

Humans of the future may adapt to life without the benefits of oil, natural gas and gasoline. We can't survive without fresh water. When it starts to run out. That is when things will get really ugly.

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