The Great Lakes: An International Water Bank With Very Low Interest Rates

Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun, an interesting article on a report that indicates even the Great Lakes aren’t great enough to sustain North Americans’ reckless water use in the event of a continentwide water shortage. As the piece notes:

“…I think we have to stop considering the Great Lakes as the thing that’s going to irrigate the Red River Valley and supply water to the dry American southwest,” said University of Alberta biologist David Schindler. He co-authored the paper — a review of recent research into water resources across North America — with two biologists from the U.S.

“It’s like our big bank account with a low interest rate. In the case of Lake Superior, that water is only renewed at a rate of about two-tenths of a per cent a year on average. That’s the sustainable water we have to work with, not the whole lake basin, if we want to continue to have a good lake for future generations.”

Schindler pointed out that the planet’s warming climate will only increase the rate of evaporation on the Great Lakes, slowing their rate of renewal even more.

“There have been numerous attempts in the last 10 years for various jurisdictions to take Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes basin and, fortunately, somebody has noticed the flaws every time and they’ve been beaten back,” he said

Canadians like to think that much of Southern Canada has a surplus of fresh water, Schindler said, but in fact the region has lower-than-average water levels by global standards.

Schindler said Thursday that more long-term monitoring of watersheds and other smaller bodies of water is critical, especially in Western Canada, to help keep water demand in line with supply. He said the three studies ongoing in Ontario and another in the Maritimes are very helpful and hopes to see similar studies take place on the Prairies.

“In the West, where water problems are probably going to hit first with greenhouse warming, we don’t have any long-term records that are comprehensive,” he said.

Schindler said Canada’s vast number of lakes offer important insight into the need to combat climate change, but federal and provincial officials are turning a blind eye to the warning signs.

He said governments need to get ahead of future water shortages to prevent a crash — by making sure that new residential and commercial development is designed around existing, nearby water sources, for example.

“We need to start planning to use less water,” Schindler said. “If we need big population and industrial centres that need a lot of water, we should put them where the water is and not try to divert the water after the fact, which is an ecological disaster,” he said.

“Seeing the continent burning, while the politicians are busy fiddling, I think we need to start considering things like switching to crops that require less water and more efficient methods of irrigation and (monitoring) household water use. We really need to stop using the water treated for drinking standards for flushing toilets and watering lawns.”

He hopes government officials will take appropriate action to prevent a crisis, but has far more confidence in action being taken the United States.

“I’m expecting good things on the American side,” he said. “They’ve got a really good (environmental) team in place, but I suspect on this side of the border, we’ll be caught with our pants down.

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 14th, 2009 at 10:17 am and is filed under Canada, Great Lakes, 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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