Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 8, 2003
Irrigation quaffs water supply
The Alberta government's water strategy announced in late November is a step in the right direction for a province where the demand for water is increasing and the supply decreasing. While the province's Water For Life document is short on specifics on how Alberta will meet its goal of reducing water use by 30 per cent by 2015, it has proposed establishment of a provincial water advisory council, as well as regional bodies, that will have some say in how that goal is met.
What is disconcerting more about the publicity surrounding the report's release more than the report itself is the implication that if we all just do our part by taking shorter showers and not watering our houseplants so much, everything will be OK. Well, certainly we should all do our bit to conserve water. It is a collective responsibility to ensure that the province has an ample supply of fresh water.
But it needs to be noted that only 11 per cent of water consumption in the province takes place through municipal systems. If those systems were totally shut down, Alberta would still be 19 per cent short of its goal.
Of course, the municipal systems won't be shut down and it's unlikely that, with growing populations, Alberta's cities, towns and villages will be able to cut their water consumption much, even with enthusiastic conservation efforts.
If effective conservation is to occur, the largest water users - irrigation (45 per cent) and cooling for power plants - will have to bear the load. Steps will also have to be taken to stem the seemingly small use of water by the petroleum industry (two per cent of the total) for oilfield injection and pumping steam into underground oilsands. The water used in those procedures is typically entirely lost to the ecosystem.
The Pembina Institute, in an April 2003 report, Oil and Troubled Waters, recommends that industrial users of water be charged for their use. Currently, there is almost no incentive for them to conserve and increase efficiency in water use.
Charging for water is an essential step in encouraging conservation. Currently, Edmonton residents are among Canada's most conservative users of water while Calgarians are among the least conservative.
The difference is not that Calgarians are inherently more wasteful, but rather that all homes in Edmonton are metered for their water use while in Calgary almost half are not. When you have to pay for something, you will tend to be more careful how you use it. The catch here is that water charges must be affordable for those on low incomes.
Irrigation farmers will likely blanch at having to pay for water, especially since they are already becoming more conservation-minded. Such a proposal is complicated by the existence of subsidized farming in other nations and the fact that North American consumers rarely pay the real cost of food.
Still, if the government is serious about conservation, it will have to find ways of cutting the amount of water used for irrigation. This is one point the province's water strategy conveniently ignores.
Also disconcerting is the document's calling for "improving our ability to capture and store water." Laid alongside the minister's suggestion that Alberta may build large dams in the mountains for storing water, it appears that dam building may be part of the government's strategy. If so, it would be a step that should be subject to much scrutiny and debate.
Indeed, the government's water strategy will not solve Alberta's water issues, but rather has outlined the political territory in which the debates of the future will occur.
The government has set forth a reasonable goal; it will now need to use reasonable means to achieve that goal.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.