Canada Dry?

Via the Vancouver Sun, commentary on Canada’s perception of water and potential issues with a thirsty United States:

“Canada has probably one of the largest resources of fresh water in the world. Water is going to be — already is — a very valuable commodity and I’ve always found it odd that Canada is so willing to sell oil and natural gas and uranium and coal, which are by their nature finite. But talking about water is off the table, yet water is renewable.”

— Paul Cellucci, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, 2001 to 2005

The thought that Canadians might sell fresh water to Americans begins in, of all places, a small town in Newfoundland. Gerry White was a pilot and entrepreneur who wanted to sell water from Gisborne Lake, fresh and clean and 16 km long. White flew over the crystal clear lake one day in 1996 and devised a plan to skim 500,000 cubic metres and ship it in bulk by ship to overseas customers. He argued this would lower the lake only one inch, replenished naturally in just a jiffy.

White argued it would be a godsend to jobs-poor Newfoundland, especially the small community of Grand Le Pierre, once a thriving cod-fishing town. The town’s mayor, Edward Fizzard, backed the plan and its bottling plant but when environmentalists got wind of it, White’s grand plan was scrapped. The argument was that allowing the water to be sold in bulk would make Canadian water a ”commodity” and thus subject to the terms and conditions of NAFTA, and allow the U.S. to buy it. Mayor Fizzard was unhappy. “The water is just running into the Atlantic Ocean, no one is getting one nickel out of it.”

At the time Jean Chrétien was prime minister. His government went along with popular sentiment and refused an export permit. However, by 2011 the then ex-prime minister admitted it was finally time for Canadians to debate whether they should share their water with the rest of the world.

“We have to be able to debate any issue. We’re selling oil. It’s finite. We’re selling natural gas. It’s finite. Water, it’s raining and snowing in Canada every year. Water is something that is not finite.”

Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer predicted in 2014 that fresh water issues between the U.S. and Canada will soon make Keystone XL pipeline tensions look silly by comparison. “Five years from now we will be spending a lot of our time diplomatically dealing with water.”

Many schemes to export water from Canada to the U.S. have been proposed. The Great Recycling and Northern Development Canal proposed to divert water from 20 rivers down to Georgian Bay, then south via pipelines to the parched U.S. southwest. The North American Water and Power Alliance Project proposed to divert Yukon, Liard and Peace rivers in Canada into the Rocky Mountain Trench to create an 800-km long reservoir that would transfer water into the U.S.

During the 1990s, a proposal to export water by ocean-going tankers was pitched to several Canadian provinces. Here in B.C. in 1991, Sun Belt Water of Santa Barbara, in partnership with Snowcap Waters of Fanny Bay, proposed to ship bulk water to California by marine tanker. In 1999 Nova Group Ltd. asked for a permit from the Ontario government to export 600-million litres of water annually from Lake Superior to Asia. Denied.

Canadian governments, both provincial and federal, have repeatedly refused to allow any bulk export of fresh water, but (most curiously) have never really explained the reasons for their refusal. In contrast to other natural resources like oil, water is annually replenishable.

Perhaps Maude Barlow has a reason why water shouldn’t be exported. Writing as the national chair for the Council of Canadians in the Huffington Post July 29, Barlow stated the federal government is already selling out Canada’s water rights. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently signed the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The massive increase in Canadian beef and pork exports that have been negotiated will allow producers to export close to 70,000 tonnes of beef to Europe annually and an even higher amount of pork. Trouble is, since it takes more than 15 million litres of water to produce one tonne of beef, immense amounts of water will be needed.

CETA will also give French companies Suez and Veolia, the two biggest private water operations in the world, access to water management in Canada, for profit. Under a recent federal government edict, cash-strapped municipalities can only access federal funds if they adopt a public-private partnership model, and several Canadian cities have recently put their water or waste water service contracts up for private bids.

CETA also says if a government introduces any new environmental, health or safety rules that were not in place when the foreign corporation made its original investment, that corporation has the right to compensation. One American energy company is suing Canada for $250 million because Quebec decided to protect its water by placing a moratorium on fracking.

Fracking? Evidently that new enterprise also demands huge amounts of water. So, do we run the risk of losing easy access to fresh water for our own domestic consumption, or do we have unlimited and replenishable supplies that could easily be exported to thirsty customers for huge profits? Apparently, nobody really knows. To save the planet from global warming, should we be exporting clean water rather than dirty oil?

In this endless summer of constant heat, western drought, and forest fires (yet more water needed), it might prove expedient to find some answers. Perhaps it’s time for an inventory of our greatest natural resource, or even a national debate on its use, to ascertain where we really stand on this key issue. Pretty soon, it may be important to know.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 at 11:12 am and is filed under Canada, United States.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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