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26th February 2022
Of all the natural disasters, droughts have some of the most long lasting and far reaching impacts

Feb. 16, 2022 4:06 p.m. LETTERS/OPINION

There is the perception that Canada has abundant sources of water. I mean, how could there not be? Outside of corn and wheat fields, one would be hard pressed to find a Canadian postcard without water pictured on it (frozen or not). But unfortunately, the West Coast may not be as wet as you may think.

According to the Government of Canada, 20 per cent of global freshwater resources are located within our boarders. That’s a large proportion of global stocks relative to the population size of the country. But less than half this amount, or only seven per cent globally, is renewable. There is another important detail that needs to be highlighted: this water is distributed unevenly, spatially and over time, across the country. To further exacerbate this, the Canadian population is also unevenly distributed across the country, with much of the population living in the most water scarce regions. This combination results in heavily used and stressed water stores.

Concern for Canada’s access to water is not novel — flash back to 1987 where Tom McMillan, minister of Environment, summed this up nicely in his introduction to the Federal Water Policy report, “Simply put, Canada is not a water rich nation”.

Surely British Columbia is excluded from this list of water scarce regions in Canada. How could it not be? We just had an atmospheric river flood the Fraser River Basin! While extreme periods of precipitation are expected to become a more regular occurrence for parts of the year, the remaining part of the year, is expected to see significant declines in precipitation. Climate prediction models developed for the Capital Regional District clearly indicate a pattern of wetter winters and longer, drier summers. The massive variations between the seasons results in two equally unappealing outcomes:

1. Increased chance of flooding in wet seasons

2. Increased chance of water shortages in dry seasons

So now what if I told you that many of these already water stressed regions (that are likely going to experience increased water stress climate variability) were also going to have 352,824 more residents spread among them. Well, that’s exactly what happened in B.C. between 2016 and 2021. The release of the Census data from Statistics Canada on Feb. 9, 2022, showed a 7.6 per cent increase in B.C.’s population from 2016 to 2021. Further to this, four of the five fastest growing cities in the country are in B.C. How is this growth going to impact already water stressed districts? Most likely in a negative way.

Still not convinced that this is a problem? Consider this: the last National Agroclimate Risk Report for 2021 revealed that 80 per cent of national agriculture land experienced drought conditions over the summer. Western Canadian farmers saw even more dire conditions, with 94 per cent of agricultural lands having been subject to drought conditions. Within this 94 per cent, 28 per cent experienced “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions (Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, 2021).

Of all the natural disasters, droughts have some of the most long lasting and far reaching impacts on the economy and society at large. Having grown up in Cape Town [South Africa], I am all too familiar with what improper drought planning looks like — and it’s not pretty.

Luckily for Canadians, becoming adept to handle drought conditions is not a new concept for many people around the globe. We’re at a great advantage — we can learn from their successes and shortcomings. As a province, we’re really good at establishing best practices and writing handbooks; there’s an absolute wealth of information that has beenm gathered and complied into user friendly handbooks available to us. Where we fall short is action in implementing these best practices. We need to band together and address the issues that exist within our water management systems. That means us, as residents, have a critical part to play in tackling the issue of water overuse and ensuring “water wealth” for future generations.

So go on, download the RDN rainwater harvesting handbook, put a pop bottle in your toilet cistern, and fix the leaking tap. Act now. Act before we reach that inevitable crisis stage.

Kate Fenton