Expert challenges federal politicians to link water with the economy
COLETTE DERWORIZ, CALGARY HERALD
Published on: September 14, 2015 Last Updated: September 14, 2015 7:07 AM MDT
As the federal election enters its final month, one of Canada’s most influential environmental scientists says it’s time to start focusing on water.
The campaign, which started six weeks ago, has lacked much debate on climate change — including its impact on water.
“I see these very imminent problems and here we have our so-called leadership candidates running about harping on each other’s scandals and who can do better with the economy,” said David Schindler, a retired University of Alberta ecologist. “We are going to forget all about the economy when we run out of water.
“To a scientist who spent his lifetime studying this, what we see is as obvious as a bunch of boys walking by with big leather gloves and bats. There’s going to be a ball game. It’s just a question of when and where, but it’s going to be soon.”
His comments come after high temperatures and low rainfall across Western Canada caused the worst drought in more than a decade this summer, leading to large wildfires, water restrictions and a province-wide agricultural disaster in Alberta.
Schindler will speak at In Deep: A Conversation About Water — a one-day symposium on Oct. 3 that will bring together internationally renowned experts at the Banff Centre in Banff.
The symposium, organized by the Whyte Museum, will have both global perspectives and specific concerns about the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia River Basin.
“The morning will try to give a broad sweep of the water situation globally right down to the local,” said Henry Vaux Jr., a retired professor of resource economics at the University of California and chairman of the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy. “In the afternoon, the focus is on the Columbia River Treaty.”
The United States has suggested it’s ready to start talks with Canada on the renewal of the pact, a 51-year old treaty that created dams for electricity and flood mitigation in the Pacific Northwest.
Vaux, the symposium’s moderator, said the treaty is often debated but the speakers will work to educate attendees on what’s at stake for both the U.S. and Canada.
“The treaty, it looks almost certain it will be up for renegotiation in the next two years,” he said, noting one side or the other will have to ask for it. “There are stakes in terms of water supply and potential of reallocation of the water supply.
“That has implications for power production in Canada and agriculture in the United States and it also has some implications for fisheries.”
Schindler will speak more generally about Western Canada’s freshwaters in a changing climate, including the decline of the Bow River flows, glacial melt and the effect on fisheries — all issues he suggested could be addressed by politicians.
“The first thing we ought to do is pressure our federal and provincial politicians for some regulations on everything from population development to water use. We are still the world’s most profligate water users,” he said. “Second, we need those climate regulations now … if we don’t get on top of this in the next 10 years, we are going to see incredible suffering.”
Schindler added that water needs to be connected to the economy.
“I haven’t yet heard one mention about the billions of dollars that are going to be paid out to farmers for the agricultural disaster happening in Alberta and parts of B.C. this summer,” he said. “That happens every few years, and yet it’s scarcely mentioned as part of the economy.
“It’s like someone who only ever looks at their income, but not their expenses.”