Water a precious resource

July 27, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Martina Rowley

As do many Canadians every summer, I, too, spent a few days at a friend’s cottage this month. The most fun locations in the warmer months, in my humble opinion, are those right along or close to a river or lake (not to diminish locations in the woods or mountains – those are amazing too). My cottage stay was along giant Lake Huron. 

Coming from Europe, my childhood summer holidays – visiting my paternal grandma in a beachfront town on the English east coast – meant swimming in saltwater. Great for swimming, where the salt content improves a swimmer’s ability to float, yet unpleasant when you get splashes or a hole wallop of it in your eyes or mouth. Regardless, I loved those seaside holidays. Now, when I visit one of Canada’s great lakes that look and seem like an ocean, I miss the salty sea air.

The world’s oceans, lakes and rivers are a vital resource for us. That makes them much sought after, and I hope we never see the day in this heating-up global climate when they become fought over. Alas, there exist many localized battles for freshwater resources already, and I will need to write a follow-up article on that point. Living in North America with the five Great Lakes and many thousands of smaller lakes and rivers providing ‘unsalted,’ drinkable water (after appropriate processing, of course), one may be forgiven for thinking we should not have a problem with the availability of water. But that is not so.

Most large bodies of water around the Earth are saltwater. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 97 percent of water is saltwater in the oceans, 2 percent is freshwater in the form of ice in glaciers, ice caps, and snowy mountain ranges, and a mere 1 percent is available to us for our daily water supply needs. Yes, just one percent of the global population now sits at just over eight billion. 

While the global population of humans keeps growing, our water resources do not. We have what we have, and many agricultural processes in developed countries use staggering amounts of water. Although the water cycle does demonstrate that ‘lost’ water does – in the most basic terms – cycle back through evaporation, cloud formation and then precipitation – that is the only sustainable renewal of drinkable water we get. Any additional “new” water coming from melting glaciers and icebergs cannot be considered a positive or renewable source, as their melting carries with it so many other issues. With these limitations should come greater awareness and certainly greater responsibility and action to protect and preserve this essential liquid.

If you have been reading my green columns here for a while, you can imagine that wasteful use and abuse of water makes me cringe. Typically, it seems to stem from either thoughtless, selfish or simply lazy habits, which drive me around the bend! Think of your friend who washes and rinses all their dishes by hand under a full-on running tap. Neighbours who hose down their slightly dusty driveway because sweeping it or allowing it to gather a little bit of dust seem unthinkable to them. Homeowners or golf courses who want their expansive and immaculate lawns or courses to stay a lush green throughout summer. And then there are industries and manufacturing processes that require massive amounts of water to produce something, like the Tar Sands, which need three to four barrels of water to clean and produce one barrel of bitumen, states the Natural Resources of Canada website. Or the large beverage corporations, who take billions of gallons from rivers or smaller lakes – like the Grand River or streams in the Blue Mountains – and thereby dry out local wells and aquifers that the area communities and farmers depend on. I will write about that particular aspect another time!

Many personal and business use habits can be improved upon, and to help it along, some towns and cities set and enforce water conservation laws in their summer months. In a recent ad in this newspaper, the Town of Orangeville announced the closure of Well 10, which provides eleven percent of our local water supply and asks that we “do our part to preserve and protect our water.” That closure aside, I would love to see more towns and cities setting strict regulations around wasting water. 

For example, some years ago, when I visited a friend in Las Vegas, I noticed their mandatory laws to conserve their scarce water supplies (they are a desert city, after all). As part of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the city adopted mandatory conservation measures in 2003, for example, seasonal watering restrictions, golf course water budgets, a grass replacement program, water waste penalties, and changes to municipal codes that significantly reduced the impact of new development on their water supply. 

From May to August, the use of sprinklers is not allowed between 11am and 7pm, never on Sundays, and then only for a 12-minute daily total. Drip irrigation is permitted two to three days a week, and only watering with a handheld hose is always allowed. Not allowed, though, is the use of Colorado River water to irrigate unused, decorative grass in their valley by the end of 2026. This means grass in medians, roundabouts, and at business centers. While these may sound like draconian regulations, they work: By 2021, sin city had reduced their annual water usage by 26 billion gallons compared to the year 2002, despite a population increase. 

Before you say we do not live in a desert here and have no shortage of water, I would say you are wrong on the latter point. Just because we have no noticeable shortage YET does not mean we should not be more mindful and frugal with water usage. I have experienced intentional water shutoffs and rationing during a particularly hot and dry summer in Germany, and that is no fun! Better to prevent that from becoming necessary in the first place and such measures becoming the norm in the future.

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