Madam Speaker, I welcome the attention being brought to the House today regarding the protection of Canada's freshwater resources.
I am pleased that this concern extends beyond potential trade of our water resources by referring more broadly to how we manage our watersheds and specifically to the need to prevent transfers of water between drainage basins or watersheds.
Indeed the watershed is recognized as the fundamental ecological unit in protecting and conserving our water resources. Bulk transfer or removal of water, whether for use elsewhere in Canada or for export purposes, could potentially have a significant impact on the health and integrity of our watersheds.
It is important that Canadians work together to ensure that we take a comprehensive and environmentally sound approach to protecting our water resources and their watersheds.
Water is an essential part of all ecosystems, from the functions and life support provided by lakes, rivers and streams to the role of the hydrological cycle in sustaining water in its various forms.
Access to adequate supplies of clean water is crucial to our health, to our quality of life and to Canada's competitive position. Much of our economy and jobs are tied directly or indirectly to our supplies of water, from farming, forestry and industrial development to tourism and the recreational sector.
With 9% of the world's renewable freshwater resources it is easy for us to assume that Canada has an abundance of water. Given that Canada's land mass is approximately 7% of the world total, 9% of its water does not seem disproportionate.
If we consider the imbalances in geographical distribution of water resources, the question of abundance becomes more relevant. About 60% of Canada's water flows northward while 90% of the population and most of Canada's industrial activity are found within 300 kilometres of the Canada-U.S. border where freshwater resources are increasingly in demand and some areas are polluted and unsafe.
In addition to these geographical variations in water abundance, Canada also experiences significant variations over time in water availability. For example, the Red River in southern Manitoba has experienced flows ranging between 1 cubic metre per second and 2,700 cubic metres per second. The Great Lakes watershed, which is home to 9 million Canadians and 33 million Americans, is experiencing its lowest level in 15 years.
Compounding these short term variations, climate change is expected to result in significant changes to water availability in different parts of the country. Thus although Canada would seem to possess substantial water resources, there are regions in Canada in which scarcities exist or will exist.
We must therefore have a strategy to ensure that water resources are managed and protected for future generations. It is clear that interbasin transfers involving man-made diversions of large quantities of water between watersheds have the potential to cause the most significant social, economic and environmental impacts.
However, we cannot ignore other means of bulk water removal such as by ocean tanker or pipeline which may cumulatively have the same impact on watersheds as large scale interbasin transfers.
For this reason I consider it of paramount importance that the issue of bulk water removal, including for export purposes, be considered in its entirety and that we not develop solutions to one problem at a time at the expense of a more comprehensive approach.
Over the last 30 years concern about large scale export of Canadian 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 of the United States with limited water supplies.
Several of these proposed megaprojects are worth mentioning. One of the largest continental water transfer proposals and probably the best known is the North American Water and Power Alliance project of the 1960s. This project would have involved the diversion of water from Alaska, northwestern Canada and watersheds surrounding Hudson Bay and James Bay to arid areas in the western United States, the prairie provinces and northern Mexico.
Another proposed megaproject was the grand recycling and northern development canal which would have transferred James Bay into a freshwater lake by building a dike between it and Hudson Bay 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 investments in Canada in the short term, would not benefit Canadian society in the long term.
The federal water policy of 1987 addresses Canada's experience with interbasin transfer projects by advocating caution in considering their need and by endorsing other less disputed alternatives such as demand management and water conservation.
The current focus of water exports proposals, however, is by tanker ship using water from lakes and streams such as last year's proposal to export water from Lake Superior to Asian markets, or by tanker trucks or pipelines carrying water from surface to groundwater sources.
Not only have the economics of water export clearly changed in terms of capital investment needs, but so has our understanding of the scope and the extent of potential environmental social and long term impacts. As I have already stated, bulk water removal, including export, must be viewed from a watershed approach.
This leads to the second concern that we take action to address the broad range of concerns facing freshwater in a comprehensive way rather than limiting ourselves to one export of water.
I support this motion. I believe a comprehensive approach is what Canadians deserve and what Canadians will get.