09/23/2014 05:23 EDT | Updated 11/24/2014 05:59 EST

Would Canadians Rather Make a Quick Buck or Have Clean Water?

In honour of Small Change Fund's National Freshwater Fund, let's talk about all the issues facing our freshwater supply in this country. Canadians are becoming dangerously complacent about the amount of freshwater we have available to us; a luxury we are able to afford due to the fact that we live in a country with the world's third largest freshwater reserves. We waste about 335 litres a day -- almost three times more than European nations and second only to the United States. With these statistics, it seems inconceivable to think that there are actually communities here in Canada that have limited access to clean drinking water.

In Quebec, blue-green algae is a common occurrence in lakes, and 40 per cent of Montreal's water supply is leaked due to crumbling pipes, and the water that does make it to its destination has potentially hazardous lead levels for children under six. While the rest of the country is dumping clean water over our heads, First Nations reserves in northern Manitoba lack access to clean drinking water and sewage. Every other day, the people on the reserve have to make the trek from their homes to chip holes in the ice to fill up their buckets with water. This sounds like something we hear on television about life in developing countries, not in Canada.

Meanwhile, the Harper government is fiddling, if not throwing in a match. In Alberta, two to four barrels of freshwater are required to extract one barrel of oil. Approximately 1.9 barrels of oil are extracted per day. It is no secret that Harper would like nothing more than for Obama to jump into bed with him regarding the Keystone Pipeline, which Harper spent millions of public dollars to promote. By now we are all well aware of the environmental catastrophe that this pipeline could potentially trigger - one of them being the contamination of water supplies.

The damage goes far beyond oil. Last year, Harper pushed for greater beef and pork exports to the European Union. Although it appears irrelevant, meat production is highly water intensive; it takes over fifteen million litres of water to produce just one tonne of beef. Beef producers are now exporting around 70,000 tonnes of beef to Europe in addition to an undisclosed amount of pork. This is causing the already-strained water supply in Alberta to be higher taxed. Furthermore, in Manitoba, Lake Winnipeg is plagued by nutrient overload due to the waste from intensive hog operations.

Last but not least, how could we forget about fracking? Two to five million gallons of locally-sourced freshwater is used for one well, and will subsequently be contaminated by ground contaminants. Approximately half of this water is stored in steel containers until it can be injected underground in oil and gas wells. While it is not entirely clear what happens to the other half, there are indicators to suggest that this toxic water makes its way back into the water supply. While it is true that the federal government does not regulate the exploitation of natural resources, it does have the power to step in and limit the practice should any environmental concerns arise, such as the chemicals involved posing a threat to waterways with fish.

It's important to keep in mind though, that just because they have the power to doesn't mean they will. Nova Scotia has placed a ban on high-volume fracking for onshore shale gas due to the concerns of its citizens, and was therefore quick to be criticized by finance minister Joe Oliver, who would never let something silly like democracy get in the way of his agenda. Indeed, this is the same Joe Oliver who took his anti-reason crusade to Washington to accuse Jim Hansen, one of America's most renowned scientists, of using "exaggerated rhetoric" for which "he should be ashamed" for pointing out the environmental consequences of the Keystone Pipeline. In this case, he criticized Nova Scotia of "step[ping] back from responsible development of its resources" and shunned science once more to say that fracking "doesn't create an environmental risk." Good luck getting any support from the federal government.

None of this is new information. This is merely a wake up call for Canadians to realize that our water supply is not infinite, that there are people right here in Canada who lack access to it, and that what little we do have is going towards digging holes in the ground or exporting meat to France. It's a wake up call for Canadians to ask ourselves are we willing to give up one of the basic necessities of life in favour of making a quick buck?

Written by Zara Paris


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