UN World Water Day: Canada’s Water at Risk

Today, the Green Party of Canada is pleased to mark the United Nation’s World Water Day. This is an opportunity to focus on the importance of freshwater in our lives and how we will protect and preserve it. This day comes as the UN is also marking the International Year of Water Co-operation.

Tragically, as with so many issues relating to our environment, this is a day to remind ourselves of the threats to and recent attacks on this very critical natural resource.

“Canada has no national strategy to address very urgent water issues facing our society,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands. “Our Federal Water Policy is more than 20 years old and has never been implemented. We need to make use of its excellent guidelines immediately in order to deal with the impact of climate change, contamination, shortages, pressures to bulk export, and more.”

In May, 2012, a report by the Forum for Leadership on Water, a group of academic, NGO, and retired public-sector experts on water policy, stated that decades of policy and funding neglect had left Canada “crippled,” as it confronts growing threats to its water.

Since then, the situation has grown worse with the Conservatives’ aggressive promotion of the extraction industries, leading to the end of credible environmental assessments, the gutting of the Fisheries Act, and the virtual elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act – which leaves the great majority of our lakes and rivers vulnerable to development.

Even the Great Lakes are at risk. “The Great Lakes, which hold more than 95 percent of North America’s surface freshwater – 20 percent of the world’s – are continuously threatened by climate change pollution, over-extraction, invasive species, and wetland loss,” said Cathy MacLellan, Green Party Energy and Natural Resource Critic. “As the south and mid-western US continues to experience severe water shortages, the shared Great Lakes and Canada’s other fresh water resources are vulnerable to weak legislation concerning bulk water exports.”

Recent reports that Lake Erie is in trouble again, after having nearly died and then being revived in the 1970s, are disturbing. Earlier this year, Lake Winnipeg was given the title of Threatened Lake of 2013 – the most threatened lake in the world – by the Global Nature Fund (GNF). It is being poisoned by blue-green algae feeding off sewage and agricultural chemicals.

At the same time, small freshwater lakes are being used as toxic dumps. The Fisheries Minister has allowed certain lakes to be reclassified as ‘tailings impoundment areas. This absolves mining companies from having to build man-made containment ponds designed to protect natural water systems, and fish.

Our wetlands, too, are in danger. “Canada has about 25 percent of the world’s wetlands – lakes, rivers, swamps, wet grasslands, peatlands,” said Janice Harvey, Green Party Fisheries Critic. “Historically, we have played a key role internationally in protecting them. With the gutting of the Fisheries Act and the aggressive expansion of the Alberta tar sands this is no longer the case.”

“Our freshwater is in a fragile state for a variety of reasons, which might have been adequately dealt with before climate change,” said May. “Now, the fight to stop the rise in temperatures globally is crucial to saving this resource for future generations.”