Mr. Speaker, the issue of fresh water export has troubled Canadians for at least three decades. There are new dimensions in the 1990s, however, which were not part of the debate in the 1960s.
Public concern has been heightened, for example, by aboriginal resistance to export proposals threatening their traditional areas and by recent predictions that global warming could result in losses of water availability of about 20 per cent for some of the settled regions of the country.
At the same time, we should be aware that there is, as of this date, no significant export of water resources from Canada, only a little trade in beverages and some small exchanges of treated supplies between neighbouring border communities. No lakes or rivers in Canada have been diverted out of their natural courses to flow south of the border. No supertankers have departed Canadian shores under contract to deliver bulk water supplies to overseas destinations. That is the reality of our present situation.
There have been, and there will continue to be, of course, proposals for water export which range from the use of pipelines and tanker trucks to draw on groundwater reserves, to marine transport from coastal streams, to the more grandiose schemes involving large scale diversions of rivers. All of these proposals
have the potential to affect the social, environmental and economic benefits Canadians derive from their water resources.
For this reason it is of paramount importance that the issue of water export be considered in its entirety, that we do not develop solutions to one problem at a time at the expense of a more comprehensive approach to this whole issue.
Over the last 30 years, concern about exports of Canada's water resources has risen primarily as a result of proposals to divert massive amounts of water to the United States to deal with water shortages or to allow for increased agricultural, industrial and urban development in areas in the United States with limited supplies. Concern has also focused on the possibility that once these taps are turned on, it would be very difficult to turn them off.
Several of these megaprojects are worth mentioning. One of the best known is the North American water and power alliance project of the 1960s. It involved the diversion of water from Alaska, northwestern Canada and watersheds surrounding Hudson Bay and James Bay to the dry, arid areas of the western United States, the prairie provinces and northern Mexico.
Another megaproject was the grand recycling and northern development grand canal project which would have transferred James Bay into a freshwater lake by building a dike at its northern end and impounding the rivers that empty into the bay. The flows of rivers would have been reversed to deliver water to the Great Lakes and from there to other destinations in North America.
These megaprojects, while having the potential to create jobs and investment in Canada in the short term, would not benefit Canadian society in the long term.
With 9 per cent of the world's renewable fresh water resources, it is easy for us to assume that Canada has an abundance of water and can support limited export of its water resources. This perception is not well founded. The idea that if we do not use all the water, it is somehow wasted fails to recognize that there is no surplus of water in an ecosystem. All the water serves a purpose in sustaining the dynamics and functions of that ecosystem.
Thus, although Canada would seem to possess substantial water resources there are regions in Canada in which scarcities exist or will exist. These areas include the river basins of the Okanagan, Milk, South Saskatchewan and the Red-Assiniboine Rivers, as well as nearly all of the smaller river basins of southern Ontario.
Within this context it is worth considering whether we would be better served by addressing all means of water export and not limiting discussion to interbasin transfers. Bill C-232 also mentions a need for policy, research and consultations among federal, provincial and territorial governments on the subject of interbasin water transfers within Canada. It provides no guidance, however, in this area.
That is unfortunate because Canadians have a great deal of experience with interbasin transfer projects. In fact, the volume of water transferred across drainage basin boundaries in Canada is several times greater than in any other country in the world. Virtually all of the larger existing interbasin diversion projects support hydroelectric power generation with smaller volumes used for irrigation, municipal supply and flood control.
Members of the House will be interested to know that the largest of these projects was constructed in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then construction and expansion of such megaprojects have been shelved in all regions of the country: the Kemano Alcan project in British Columbia; the Nelson River program in Manitoba, expansion of the James Bay hydro project in Quebec.
Energy demands have fallen and it is less costly to promote efficiencies on the part of the users of energy and water, rather than to continue to develop the new supplies.
The federal water policy addresses Canada's experience with interbasin transfer projects, but advocating caution in considering their needs, and by endorsing other less destructive alternatives such as demand management and water conservation.
There are no plans under consideration to proceed with any further interbasin transfers at this time anywhere in this country. That tells us two things of importance.
First, not only do Canadians oppose the large scale diversion of our lakes and rivers across the international boundary, they have learned from experience that interbasin diversions carry a high price for their own regional economies and environments.
Second, it would be shortsighted to pursue this issue in isolation of the larger context which considers changing public values, competing in complementary water use relationships and governmental priorities.
Federal programs and legislation related to the sustainability of Canada's water resources are currently being reviewed and the issues of export and interbasin transfers should be addressed in that larger context.