Canada may be on the brink of a fresh water crisis and unless Canadians start taking notice, our economy will suffer. That’s the conclusion of a leading water expert following the release of a new poll commissioned by Unilever, RBC and the Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade, which shows that a significant majority of Canadians (80 per cent) are “confident” that Canada has enough fresh water to meet the country’s long-term needs. Further, two-thirds disagree that Canada has a fresh water shortage problem at all.

But the research findings contrast sharply with increased warnings from Canadian NGOs and a report from Environment Canada that asserts Canada faces numerous threats to its valuable, fresh water resources.

“Water scarcity has already constrained economic growth in parts of Western Canada and low lake levels have caused a reduction in shipping loads and reduced water availability for clean hydro-electric power on the Great Lakes, ” says Bob Sandford, chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade. “With climate change, water quality and availability in parts of Canada will further deteriorate. Our economy will be seriously impaired by the effects of climate change.”

In fact, the health of the economy is directly linked to the availability of fresh water. Environment Canada estimates that water contributes $7.5 to $23 billion annually to Canada’s economy.

“We need to change our attitude toward water and implement conservation techniques in our everyday lives,” says Sandford. “When it comes to water sustainability, everyone has an important role to play from NGOs to governments to corporate Canada to individual Canadians.”

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When CWT spoke with Sandford yesterday afternoon, he said: “We ought to be ahead of this problem.” For individuals, he suggests that it’s not just about turning off the tap when brushing teeth. “We should be valuing water, and seeing where we use water in our lives. Look at landscaping, lawns, and other activities. We also have to examine the quality in which we’re putting [water] back.”

On the bright side, Sandford is pleased to know that the majority of Canadians (53 per cent) rank freshwater as the country’s most important natural resources, ahead of forests (20 per cent), agriculture/farmland (14 per cent), and oil (8 per cent). If we make the link between importance and supply, there’s a chance for real change.

“We need to be concentrating on our water actions-what they mean to the economy and our way of life.”

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