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Market News

 June 19, 2010
Canada's Water Resources - We may not have enough!

 OTTAWA - The world's supply of freshwater is limited and finite. While Canada is blessed with an abundance of freshwater, an expected increase in the development of the natural resource sectors begs the question of whether our country has enough to support economic growth while also maintaining the health of our ecosystems.

This is the main conclusion of a new report from The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NTREE) that examines the sustainability of Canada's water supply and its use by the nation's major resource sectors. 

The report, which reviews water use by the agriculture, forest, mining, electricity and oil and gas sectors, says that the time is now for Canadian policy makers, businesses, environmental groups and other concerned Canadians to look at ways to modernize outdated and inadequate water management practices.

The report concludes:

  • Data on precise water use and access to such data is limited, making it difficult to know the national supply of water and the amounts being used.
  • Approaches to allocating water in most of Canada are increasingly outdated and may no longer be appropriate given new environmental pressures and competing economic interests.
  • Several levels of governments share jurisdiction over monitoring and managing water, leading to potential confusion among businesses which need water for production purposes.
  • There is an overall lack of capacity and expertise across the country to effectively manage water resources.
  • The impacts of climate change are expected to transform the way Canadians need to manage water resources.

"Governance at a national level is not currently positioned to respond to expected increasing pressure on our water resources," says the report's executive summary. "This is largely due to jurisdictional complexity, inconsistent approaches across the country, policy fragmentation, a lack of resources, and insufficient technical, scientific, and policy capacity."

Growth in the natural resource sectors is expected to climb by between 50 and 65 per cent by 2030. The report calls for a national framework to deal with the issues and expected pressures outlined in the report.

"We need to know whether we are in a position to sustainably manage our water resources for future generations and if we have the capability to deal with issues like an anticipated change in precipitation patterns caused by climate change."

"While Canada is blessed with an abundance of freshwater, an expected increase in the development of the natural resource sectors begs the question of whether our country has enough to support economic growth while also maintaining the health of our ecosystems," said NRTEE Vice-Chair Robert Slater.

NRTEE President and Chief Executive Officer David McLaughlin said Canada needs to get a better handle on the quantity of water being used and how much is needed in the future.

"New stresses and demands are likely to pose a significant challenge to the sustainability of Canada's water resources if action is not taken now," said Mr. McLaughlin

Key Highlights of the Report

  • According to Statistics Canada, the natural resource sectors account for at least 84 per cent of gross water use in Canada. The figure does not include gross use by the hydro and oil and gas sectors. 
  • The natural resource sectors accounted for approximately 12.5 per cent of GDP in 2009 and are expected to grow by about 50-60 per cent by 2030.
  • All Canadian provinces, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, share freshwater resources with other provinces/territories and/or the United States.
  • At least 20 federal agencies have responsibilities regarding water management, covered under 11 different pieces of legislation.
  • Water use licenses exist in all provinces and territories, but vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In most cases, one-time fees are payable at the time of application. Some provinces have fixed prices, while others have variable fees.

Natural Resource Sectors

  • Thermal electric power generation is responsible for 64% of water withdrawn across Canada, making it the greatest water user in the country.
  • In 2005, agriculture was responsible for 10% of gross water use and 66% of national consumption. Irrigation makes up 77 per cent of all agricultural water use. 
  • Unlike the thermal power sector, hydroelectric power is not a significant consumer of water. However, hydro facilities can affect stream flow and water levels and have important impacts on ecosystems and downstream users.  
  • The oil and gas sector uses relatively small volumes of water at the national level, but has important water quantity and quality impacts at the local level.  In 2007, three-quarters of all Alberta's oil production was water-assisted.
  • British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan together account for 92 per cent of agricultural water use in Canada.
  • Mining operations can benefit from robust adaptive water management plans to cope with climate change. For example, melting permafrost in Canada's North will have a serious impact on the stability of structures such as tailings impoundment facilities

More Details are available:

Electricity Sector

water-leaf-1-75px-engAs the most significant gross water user in Canada, the electricity sector will face choices about Canada's future electrical generation mix that will have implications for the sustainability of water resources. For fossil and nuclear power generation, water availability is a key consideration, both in terms of constraints at existing facilities and siting of new facilities. more...

Oil and Gas Sector

water-leaf-6-75px-engEven though the oil and gas sector uses relatively small volumes of water on a national scale, the anticipated strong growth for the sector will have important consequences for regional water resources. The sector's impacts on water quality and ecosystems will continue to be a challenge for the sector to manage. more...

Agriculture Sector

water-leaf-3-75px-engDue to irrigation, the agriculture sector consumes more water than any other natural resource sector in Canada. Anticipated increases in demand for irrigation, meat, consumable crops, and biofuels, coupled with the pressures expected from the effects of climate change, will likely result in increased water demand by the agriculture sector. more...

Mining Sector

water-leaf-7-75px-engThe mining sector is not a significant user or consumer of water, however mining activities can impact water quality and ecosystems if not managed properly. Climate change impacts may have important consequences for the management and future design of mines across Canada, particularly in the North. more...

Forest Sector

water-leaf-5-75px-engPulp and paper manufacturing industries have significantly improved their water use practices and account for approximately five per cent of gross water use in Canada, of which only two per cent is consumptive. Canada's forests play a crucial role in influencing the quality and quantity of water resources; in light of climate change impacts, more research is needed to better understand forest-water resource interactions. more...

The report Changing Currents: Water Sustainability and the Future of Canada's Natural Resource Sectors  is available for download

Source: www.nrtee-trnee.com