03/20/2013 05:35 EDT | Updated 05/20/2013 05:12 EDT

How Can Canada Lead the World in Global Water Management?

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Water resources in Canada play a crucial role in driving growth at home and abroad. This is true not only in key sectors such as agriculture and resource development, but also with respect to advancing social welfare and quality of life. However, global water challenges, such as declining water quality and supply, climate change and population growth -- as well as subsequent pressures on food production and dated municipal infrastructures -- can pose a significant threat to the sustainability of industries, businesses, cities and its people.

Although many see the global water crisis as rife with challenges and potential catastrophes, we must work diligently to search out and seize opportunities for innovation. We must shift our perspectives on water issues and seek to connect innovative ideas and people. Viewing both domestic and global water issues through this lens will help drive important conversations forward and push Canada to the forefront of sustainable water management. This is indeed what we have set out to do this week in Ottawa during Canada Water Week at the Canadian Water Network's Connecting Water Resources 2013: Changing the Water Paradigm.

Canada is well-positioned to be a global leader in water management with a significant portion of the world's freshwater supply. Although our expertise in water management and science is cutting edge, in order for Canada to lead, we need much more than good research and the best practices; we also need a meaningful public and private sector commitment and a willingness to approach water challenges from a new perspective -- one that recognizes sustainable water management as a value, not as a cost.

The 2013 Canadian Water Network conference is doing just that. We are bringing together a network of world-class water experts, academics, and private and public sector leaders to address current and emerging water challenges affecting key areas including:

Resource Development: Oil and gas, mining, and forestry sectors comprise almost 20 per cent of Canada's GDP. These sectors are increasingly under global scrutiny as Canada's natural resource exports grow. What must Canada's resource development sector do to improve its record on water use and protection and its standing globally? How can more sustainable practices in these sectors build the foundation for Canada to lead a Blue Economy?

Municipal Water Management: The development of water systems in cities around the world date back almost a century. With Canada's municipal water infrastructure deficit at more than $80 billion, according to the 2012 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card by the Canadian Construction Association, the Canadian Public Works Association, the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, it is indicative that many municipalities need to increase the pace of their water management system upgrades to accommodate rapid urbanization. What are the implications for public health and safety, urban planning, and climate change and risk management?

Agriculture and Food Production: Abundant agricultural resources in Canada have allowed the country to become the world's breadbasket, standing as one of the top global exporters of wheat, canola and beef, according to Statistics Canada. How will water management approaches and new technologies help Canadian farmers and food processors sustain long-term production of exports to satisfy the growing global population and demand for food?

Margaret Catley-Carlson of the Global Water Partnership sums it up nicely: "Each region and industry is affected by unique water challenges and opportunities. It isn't about building a better faucet; it's about looking at the heart of what the issues are today and how these will evolve in the future. By connecting water experts, industry and business leaders, policy makers and researchers, we can collaboratively identify the underlying water challenges to establish economically viable models for sustainable water management that organizations and countries around the world can adapt and build on."

About Canadian Water Network (CWN):

Headquartered at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canadian Water Network ( was created in 2001 by the Networks of Centres of Excellence Program to connect international water researchers with decision-makers engaged in priority water management issues. Canadian Water Network works to unite the expertise of researchers, practitioners and implementers to respond to water challenges.

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