Thursday, March 6, 2008


Overshadowing world economic, energy and pollution challenges, there looms in my opinion, the biggest challenge mankind has ever confronted. It is also possibly the most complex. The world’s need for fresh, potable water has already exceeded its sustenance ability level. Not its want but its basic requirement. The usability of the little fresh water that exists on earth is being depleted as a result of environmental and climactic repercussions, many of which may be permanent, as well as through the industrial destruction of water ways and reservoirs. All this is a result of the perpetual intensification of the human imprint on nature. About twenty per cent of the earth’s population isn’t getting its daily ration and forty per cent is without essential sanitation. The status of water is being elevated to “basic human right,” well beyond other less fundamental commodities such as oil or even wheat. It has reached the realm of oxygen. Although easy to accept if you live in a rare country on the "we have plenty" side of the water debate, this classification can lead to potentially delimiting barriers to its movement and sharing.

All societies, both the have and have not in the water firmament should become familiar with this perspective. It is one of the highest hurdles to be overcome as water begins to flow in bulk quantities across borders, through other than natural means. As new realities permeate the domain of this very basic resource, such as becoming commoditized and traded through futures contracts, or as innovative methodologies surface for moving bulk water from one corner of the globe to another, events cascading on the flow of this life sustaining resource can only be described as a paradigm shift. There is little doubt that water will in time become more valuable than oil. Although water is already an economic commodity, with sound reason and in a spirit of broad magnanimity it could also become a social and cultural commodity to be managed and traded responsibly. The predicament here is weakness in government resolve.

Humanity will look to those who are geographically privileged and inadvertently placed in control of large quantities, to manage it responsibly and to share. While many suggest the problem is a financial one, or a question of waste, or just as likely the result of pollutive practices, mankind isn’t about to dramatically alter its behavior. There have have been endless debates and studies. Now it is time to establish policy.

First, and here's the anomaly, lay a deep line in the sands of water’s control - Public vs. Deregulated Privatization.

Historically, the exploitation of natural resources has not been executed in any manner that maximized the benefits to the federations from whose lands they were extracted. Unfortunately, corporations with the help of the legal profession were able to take advantage of situations as the public’s representatives engaged in negotiations with mandarins unfamiliar with the terrain. We have endless examples where the public’s interests were negotiated from positions of irresolute bearing mired in gullibility and ignorance, rather than from strength. Radically contrasting dispositions and strategies must be undertaken for the responsible stewardship of the fresh water systems.

The following is the synopsis of a plan specific to Canadian federal and provincial governments. It is also a proposed mindset.

Canada is the obvious place to start given that it holds roughly 20% of the world’s known fresh water supplies, and perhaps even more if one considers its percentage of strictly “clean and usable” fresh water. British Columbia in particular has the anomalous and glorious advantage of having 7% of the world’s fresh water supply flow through it’s tributaries. It has pristine fresh water in excess of 400 million-acre feet (AFY) each year (1 acre foot = 325,851 gallons or 1,300,000 liters). That means over 130,340,400,000,000 gallons flow into the Pacific Ocean each year. The numbers are staggering, and that’s just B.C.

Taking a leadership position and a prescient approach within this new paradigm will also provide exemplary guidance that other communities can mirror when such time comes that they too must take advantage of their own natural water resources to enter a market expected to become a multi trillion dollar industry. Canada can take the opportunity to take hold of the “fresh water enterprise” before corporations and international bodies dictate the conditions and substantively set the framework for all of its aspects.

• Form a federal trust, including the participation of all Provinces to control and conduct the commercialization of all fresh water bulk sales from Canadian watersheds. Although this federal trust will report to parliament, its net income should go strictly to the benefit of the country’s social underpinnings of medical care, pension systems and education whose financial futures appear grievously under-funded. Distribution of funds should be proportional to the base of tax paying citizens domiciling in each Province.
• Set levels of transparency on all elements of ecological impact on the removal of targeted percentages of the fresh water flow.
• Set a sustainable and environmentally sound policy on the stewardship of the country’s watersheds. Take leadership on the research front as has been demonstrated possible by such institutions as the University of British Columbia, whose auspices and participation should be encouraged and invited.
• Establish levels of permitted collection from each targeted watershed.
• Launch the initiative in the most readily accessed water sheds and the ones closest to the intended markets. Profits from the nominal initial expenditures will finance expansion of infrastructures as well as the creation of reservoirs for satisfaction of long term needs.
• Set parameters for negotiation of just and reasonable agreements on the sale of fresh water, protecting the long term interests of the country, proffering ethical dimensions to all relationships.
• Ignore all entreaties from foreign bodies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, foreign capital funds or multinationals.
• Don't accede to the too often misguiding postulation that private management or private participation is required for any competent or efficient commercialization to ensue. This is water we are dealing with. No massive infrastructure decimating the landscape or damaging the ocean is required.
• Ignore all pressures to deregulate and privatize. Too many examples of abuse currently exist and the daily headlines are evidence that proceeding publicly with caution will be the only way to ensure achievement of social and ecological objectives encompassing this unique resource. How do you provide real oversight on a conglomerate based in Dubai that might be obscurely controlling your fresh water? Rattle a finger? ... not effective. Send in the troops? Not likely, but then would you wince when the CEO pays himself a $400 million bonus for a year?
• Establish rules of trade without getting bogged down by confining and paralyzing international bodies. Erect the precedents.
• Terminate the controversy over terminology in NAFTA dealing with what designates "bulk" water as a product. The squabble over whether a ship is really just a BIG bottle and therefore should be treated the same way under NAFTA is silly. Make it so.

To do otherwise would be foolish and create a widespread dissonant roar of discontent from a population claiming its “basic human right” which would bring to a grinding halt the common sense exploitation of a very renewable (for Canada) natural resource that could benefit many generations to come.

As the urgency of the world’s demand for water takes a dramatic shift, Canada would already be along the path, taking responsible, prudent, and compassionate bearing in the management of this too precious and fundamental resource.


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