The effects of climate change are making a water scarcity an issue in jurisdictions we never thought possible, including municipalities and regions in Canada once thought to be home to plentiful resources.

This World Water Day, the theme is Water for Peace, recognizing that water scarcity can cause strife between neighbours, industries, communities, and countries.

With this in mind, WSP Canada’s Director for Water and Wastewater Treatment and Facilities for Western Canada, Justn Rak-Banville, provides his thoughts on where and why water scarcity is becoming an issue, and what proactive steps can be taken to reduce its impacts.

How much of an issue is water scarcity in Canada right now?

When discussing water scarcity, many Canadians exhibit a light-hearted attitude, understandably so, given the country’s access to 7% of the world’s freshwater resources. This abundance often leads to practices such as using drinking water to overwater lawns, utilizing water chillers in corner stores to cool fridges, and utilities going decades without rate increases or implementing measures to meter their customers. As a result, Canada is one of the most prolific water consumers on a per capita basis, boasting one of the highest consumption rates globally.

The issue is a pressing concern in Canada, set to play an increasingly significant role in our future. It affects the availability of drinking water, agriculture, industry, and ecosystems. In some regions, it leads to drought and famine; in others, conflicts arise over water rights and access, underscoring the urgency and complexity of addressing water scarcity.

Water scarcity has escalated into a critical global issue, impacting both developing and developed nations. This multifaceted challenge driven by climate change, population growth, and escalating water pollution, underscoring the onset of a severe water crisis. Consumers are increasingly faced with tough choices to reduce water usage and change their lifestyles.

Where in Canada is water scarcity an issue right now?

The western provinces are notably susceptible to water scarcity. British Columbia has encountered drought conditions affecting both urban water supplies and agricultural irrigation. Alberta and Saskatchewan, regions pivotal for their agricultural and energy sectors, face mounting water stress due to over-allocation and the intensive demands of oil sands production. Notably, Alberta is currently developing specific treatment criteria for oil producers to mitigate this issue.

The climate crisis is increasingly manifesting as a water crisis across Canada, evidenced by natural disasters in recent years. Forest fires ravaging the prairies, numerous flooding incidents, droughts leading to the natural depletion of water tables, thawing permafrost, and retreating glacier runoff have significantly disrupted Canada’s water cycle.

How long has water scarcity been an issue in Canada?

Water scarcity in Canada, while historically influenced by natural variability in water availability, has seen a marked increase in severity over recent decades. Some events that immediately come to mind that highlight the growing concern are:

  • In 2015, parts of Saskatchewan implemented water rationing due to algal blooms affecting the raw water supply from Buffalo Pound.
  • The summer of 2016 saw southern Ontario and parts of Eastern Canada imposing drinking water restrictions to manage consumption amid limited supplies.
  • Alberta experienced reduced glacier runoff in 2018, prompting many Albertans to curtail water use and scale back farm production.
  • In 2019, drought conditions in British Columbia necessitated drinking water rationing, despite the province’s generally abundant freshwater resources.
  • Chronic drought conditions in Southern Manitoba in 2020 forced communities and farmers to ration water supplies.

The amplification of these challenges is partly attributed to human activities such as urbanization, industrial expansion, and intensive agriculture, which have exponentially increased water demand. Meanwhile, climate change has begun to significantly disrupt the hydrological cycle, resulting in less predictable water availability.

Are there proactive measures that can be taken to reduce the impacts of water scarcity?

Solutions to water scarcity encompass a wide range of strategies, necessitating an integrated approach that leverages technology, policy, and societal change to address the complexity of the issue:

Technology and Innovation

  • Technological advancements play a crucial role in mitigating water scarcity. Innovations in water recycling and reuse, such as membrane bioreactors for wastewater treatment, have the potential to drastically improve water efficiency in urban and industrial sectors. Desalination technologies present a viable option for coastal areas to enhance their freshwater resources. In agriculture, smart technologies like precision irrigation systems and soil moisture sensors can significantly reduce water consumption by optimizing water use.

Preventative Measures:

  • Watershed management is vital for sustaining water quality and availability. Practices aimed at restoring and protecting natural habitats can lead to improved water conservation outcomes. The implementation of green infrastructure, including rain gardens and permeable pavements, is beneficial for stormwater management and the replenishment of groundwater supplies.

Policy and Regulation:

  • Policy interventions can provide a framework for water conservation. This includes the introduction of water pricing strategies that reflect the true cost of water, establishing regulations on water withdrawals, and offering incentives for adopting water-efficient technologies. Such policies can encourage more sustainable water use across various sectors.

Community and Business Engagement:

  • Engaging communities and businesses in water conservation efforts is essential. Promoting the installation of efficient water fixtures and appliances, as well as advocating for water-wise landscaping practices, can lead to substantial reductions in water demand. Encouraging these practices at the home and business level can have a significant impact on overall water usage.

Collectively, these solutions underscore the multifaceted approach required to address water scarcity effectively. Combining technological innovation with preventive measures, comprehensive policy frameworks, and active community and business engagement can create a sustainable path forward in managing water resources.

Is this something that will get worse in Canada? Are there other regions that could be impacted?

Water scarcity in Canada is concerning and is likely to worsen, especially as climate change increasingly influences water availability and demand. The Country’s susceptibility to the impacts of climate change, including altered precipitation patterns and extreme weather events, certainly forecasts a challenging future for managing water resources in my opinion.

The rising incidence of extreme weather phenomena, such as prolonged droughts and widespread floods, introduces further complications. These events not only disrupt the immediate availability of water but also affect long-term water management strategies, increasing the vulnerability of ecosystems, agriculture, and urban infrastructure.

The interconnected nature of climate change and water scarcity means that the repercussions of these challenges are widespread, underscoring the need for global cooperation and innovative solutions to ensure water security for future generations.



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