For far too many watersheds, basic water quality information is inaccessible. That's because it's locked away in the proprietary reports of corporations or tucked away in a file somewhere in an organization that is understaffed with overworked people. Or because it's simply not being collected in the first place.
I've witnessed the power that water can bring to a community -- not hydroelectricity, but human empowerment. It happens when a single borehole is drilled deep into the ground, and a pump installed. Clean water becomes a source of hydration, refreshment and strength, freeing people up to do great things.
The Wabigoon River has been sacred to the people of Grassy Narrows for generations. Along with the chain of lakes through which it runs, the river provided fish, drinking water and nearly full employment in guiding and commercial fishing. But shortly after the mill started dumping, mercury began appearing at alarming concentrations far downstream and throughout the entire food chain.
The epitome of health advice, drinking more water can sometimes be easier said than done. Between keeping track of your water bottle, remembering to take a drink every hour, and the constant trips to the bathroom, getting your daily quota can have you feeling as though you're sinking rather than swimming. The solution: Lemons.
Like many Canadians, I have struggled to understand the importance of something as seemingly mundane as water. With our Great Lakes and mighty rivers, we're used to seeing water everywhere. I began appreciating how critical water is to survival when visiting the Kurdish region of northern Iraq with World Vision last month.
The proponents of Raven Coal failed because of their short-sightedness. A risky, 16-year coal mine project is unsustainable in every sense of the word and Central Vancouver Island rightfully rejected this model of long-term pain for short-term gain. So what does this mean, and where do we go from here?
On the mountainside, listening to the World Vision Bolivia staff who guided us explain just how many kids get sick, and even die from the same disease I had suffered from, I wanted to cry. Children all over Bolivia battle this kind of illness every day. Little kids, especially those under five years old, undernourished already and with developing immune systems, are struggling to stay alive just because of the basic human need for water. Waterborne illness is easy to catch, as I discovered. But for children all over Bolivia, it is very difficult to get rid of.
Earth's oceans, lakes, rivers and streams are its circulatory system, providing life's essentials for people, animals and ecosystems. Canada has one-fifth of the world's freshwater, a quarter of its remaining wetlands and its longest coastline. With this abundance, it's easy to take water for granted. Many of our daily rituals require its life-giving force. Yet do we recognize our good fortune in having clean, safe water at the turn of a tap?
When I was a boy, we drank water from lakes and streams without a thought. I never imagined that one day we would buy water in bottles for more than we pay for gasoline. Canada has more fresh water per capita than any nation, but many indigenous communities don't have access to clean drinking water. Surely, in a nation with so much natural wealth, we should expect better appreciation, treatment and protection of the air, water, soil and rich biological diversity that our health, prosperity and happiness depend on. The right to live in a healthy environment is recognized by more than 110 nations -- but not Canada.