Water is the giver of life. Clean water is the essential element in a sustainable society. For years, people all around the world have lived with poor quality water – and as a result infant mortality, sickness, disease were rife. In the past two centuries, the link between clean water and health was confirmed and shown again and again., yet even with that knowledge – the world faces an uncertain water future.

Sustainable Water

Having just returned from the BCWWA Conference in Whistler – and hearing the many stories of troubles, challenges, improvements, and interventions that water practitioners around BC are experiencing, it’s refreshing to hear stories of sustainability and progress. But despite this. its troubling to see that in the West – clean water is seen as a right for those who can afford it (the “Global North”) – yet for those who can’t (the “Global South”) well, too bad.


The Western Problem

8019648_025c537c8c_m Things are heating up on the North American water front – with global warming, increasingly intense agricultural demands, and populations growing in areas that simply don’t have adequate water supplies. In my life-time, we will likely see whole cities run out of water in western nations such as America and Australia. Las Vegas draws water from Lake Mead, expected to dry up in 25 years or so. Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia is preparing to recycle effluent into drinking water. They simply do not have the water supplies necessary to sustain the city in dry times such as they are currently experiencing.

These are two examples of Cities that have been developed without a consideration for the sustainability of their water supply – and now they are paying the price.

The Canadian Problem

There are a number of rivers or lake systems that are in Canada, but drain to the South, the Columbia system, the Milk River in Alberta are two that come to mind. These and many other river systems are under threat from government agreements such as NAFTA, which have weakened national water security for Canadians.

All this water is looking pretty tempting to the States. These guys are considering building pipelines from Canada to the Southern States in mulit-modal corridors, “NAFTA Super-Highways”, that will not only transport people and trucked goods, but will have pipes for water, gas, oil, cables for communications and electricity.

A group of Texan farmers are in the process of suing some Mexican farmers for using water in an Mexican tributary of the Rio Grande, which forms the border of Texas and Mexico. These Mexican’s have drawn water from this river for their farms for ever, but these Texans claim that the water rightfully belongs to them, and are asking for 500 million dollars in damages.

This little group of Mexican farmers is not the real target – rather this is a test case to see how the law treats NAFTA agreements and how this will apply to Canadian water. (Source – Maude Barlow – Blue Covenant)

The Kootenay Problem

For all intents and purposes, we have a lot of water here in the Kootenay. Most of it ends up in the Kootenay-Columbia System, which threads it’s way to the States, crossing the border for the last time just south of Trail, BC.

Taking a cue from the Mexican case mentioned above, it is possible to see a future where Canadian Municipalities will be sued by American corporations or governments for using, diverting, storing any amount of water. Cities such as Castlegar feel pretty safe with “all that water” flowing past our front door every day of the year. Cities such as Rossland feel relatively secluded from continental water debates. But neither of these Cities may be immune from the fights that could ensue as America runs dry and the NAFTA agreements are debated in court.


Water Wars

The next major wars in the world won’t be religious, they’ll be over water and/or food. It all comes back to water, who’s got it and who needs it. There is an international perception that Canada has all this fresh water, but it’s not as though it is accessible – either it flows north to where hardly anyone lives, or it’s locked in lakes that would have their ecosystems destroyed if wholesale extraction of the water were to occur.

As with any war, the people who survive are those who are prepared. Setting up households and whole communities to be self sufficient and not just water-wise, but water-misers.

We are all vulnerable, because our water supply is uncertain – through drought, climate change, over extraction of groundwater, pollution of water sources, cost of water supply, or water wars.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

4 replies on “Sustainable Water”

  1. Hey i was wondering where id be able to fins more info on las vegas water problems im writing a college research paper on it and i am SUPER interested please let me know!! PRETTY PLEASE

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