World Water Day: Canada and Abroad

-March 21, 2018 7:38pmET

World Water Day is marked annually on March 22. This year’s theme is the use of nature-based solutions to solve water problems — from sand dams in arid regions to restoring wetlands and groundwater supply.

Canada has the world’s third-largest freshwater supply, trailing only Brazil and Russia.

But where that water is — and how much can be accessed — varies across the country. From a Statistics Canada study: “this freshwater is not always easily available for use since it is unevenly distributed across the landmass and its supply varies from month to month and year to year … Water use per capita is also among the highest in the world—it is surpassed only by the United States.

As one might expect, freshwater yield is highest on the Pacific coast and lowest on the Prairies. More than half of Canada’s supply flows north to thinly-populated Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.

Again, Statistics Canada:

Canada’s many different landscapes and climate regions result in considerable challenges when measuring when, where, and how much freshwater is provided to ecosystems; how much is available for human use; and if the rate of renewal may be changing over time. As well, water quality varies naturally and can be degraded by human activities.

Clean drinking water remains an especially acute challenge for First Nations. Here are the communities with the longest-running water advisories, dating back to the mid-1990s:

Source: Indigenous Services Canada

A 2017 World Wildlife Fund report pointed to a lack of cross-country data on water quality and quantity:

Our water systems are facing increasing pressure every day. Growing populations are requiring more clean water. Increasing urbanization and agriculture are encroaching on habitats causing loss and fragmentation. Increasing demand for energy and resources are releasing increasingly more pollution and obstructing water flows. A warming climate is resulting in rising air and water temperatures, and changes in precipitation (from droughts to flooding).

Canada doesn’t collect and share enough data to assign a baseline health score to the majority of the 167 sub-watersheds that make up Canada’s 25 watersheds … when it comes to stressors, we observed significant evidence of disruption, whether from pipeline incidents, oil and gas development, hydropower dams, agricultural runoff, pulp and paper processing, fragmentation, urbanization or other activities — contradicting the widely held vision of Canada as a nation of pristine and abundant freshwater. 

Those 25 drainage regions range from “Newfoundland-Labrador” to “Pacific Coastal” to “Keewatin-Southern Baffin Island.”

Four regions have higher ratios of freshwater withdrawal to supply — which means a higher potential for shortages or conflict over usage: Okanagan-Similkameen (B.C), South Saskatchewan (Alberta/Saskatchewan), Assiniboine-Red (Saskatchewan/Manitoba), and Great Lakes (Ontario).

Electricity generation is largely responsible for the higher usage in those latter two regions, with most of the water returned to the environment.

Browse all 25 regions:

Source: Statistics Canada

What’s the water situation outside of Canada?

According to the United Nations:

  • 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water — between 25 and 30 per cent of the global population.
  • Global water demand is expected to grow 30 per cent between now and 2050.
  • Agriculture is responsible for 70 per cent of global water use, compared to 20 per cent for industry and 10 per cent at home. Drinking water represents less than one per cent.
  • By 2050 the number of people in water-scarce regions could grow from 1.9 billion to 3 billion.
  • About 1.8 billion people are estimated to drink water that’s untreated for human feces contamination.
  • About 70 per cent of the world’s natural wetlands have disappeared since 1900 because of human activity.

Capetown, South Africa is the first major city in the modern world to face the very real threat of running out of water.

Three years of unprecedented drought have left the city’s reservoirs less than a quarter full.

Day Zero, when the reserves are so low the city literally turns off the taps, was originally pegged for April 16th. That’s now been pushed by about three and a half weeks.

But severe water restrictions are profoundly affecting the lives of many of the city’s residents.

From the team at Perpsective with Alison Smith, more on water scarcity around the world: 

-Andrew Thomson


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