Alberta holds only 2.2 per cent of Canada’s fresh water,
and the entire province is thirsty.
A booming oil patch, parched farmers’ fields, and a growing
number of homes and businesses — everyone wants a sip.
At the same time, Alberta’s mountains have seen less snowfall
over the last two decades and glaciers are shrinking. Both
feed the rivers that are Alberta’s main source of water for
drinking and irrigation.
Last year, former premier Peter Lougheed called on Albertans
to treasure water.
“I believe that water is more important than oil,” he said.
Warming up to the problem
Global warming will hasten the melting of Alberta’s glaciers,
said Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a
water research group based in California.
“Alberta is dependent in the summer months on some of that
glacial runoff to provide that base flow, and that is going
to disappear over time,” he said.
“Couple that with very rapid population growth that is going
on up here, the industrial development, and the tarsand developments
that I think are potentially problematic from a water consumption
point of view, and you have as many water challenges as the
rest of us.”
Water experts aren’t alone in sounding the alarm.
A provincial report called Water for Life released in 2003
notes that some watersheds have already reached the limit
of available water. The remaining ones will also be tapped
out as Alberta’s population and economy grow.
“Fluctuating and unpredictable water supply in recent years
has stressed the need to make some major shifts in how we
use and allocate this renewable, but finite, resource,” according
to the report.
Robert Sandford, chair of the United Nations water initiative
in Canada, said it’s time for Alberta to treat water differently,
or face the consequences.
“Water scarcity could limit social, economic and environmental
development in the province in the near future. Choices that
we make now can avoid unnecessary pain and difficulty.”
in the pipes?