A prominent water expert says Canadians shouldn't worry about wasting so-called "blue gold," because the country is literally flooded with it and won't run out. 

'Energy is important, it's going to be important in the future ... we're not really wasting water, we're wasting energy.' —John Carey, retired Environment Canada scientist

The former senior executive at Environment Canada says Canadians should instead be concerned with the vast amounts of energy used to treat it and pump it to their taps. John Carey made the comments Wednesday at the World Water Congress in Montreal.

One per cent of all electricity generated is used for wastewater treatment in Canada, while as much as 10 per cent is spent on drinking water, Carey said.

Municipal governments can monitor consumption by installing water meters that charge meaningful rates.

"Energy is important, it's going to be important in the future … we're not really wasting water, we're wasting energy," he said after addressing the congress delegates.

"When we withdraw water to flush a toilet what does it really matter if it's seven litres or 15 litres if it all goes back? All we've done is borrowed it."

Money speaks to Canadians, scientist says

In his speech, Carey called on Canadian experts to persuade the country's water-rich citizens to cut back on their usage for the sake of energy conservation — and for their wallets.

This approach, he insisted, would have a better chance of hitting home with Canadians than existing water-conservation campaigns.


Do you conserve water? Take our poll.

He said it's difficult to persuade Canadians to conserve water when most of the population lives near the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, home to 20 per cent of the planet's freshwater.

"They're trying to make us feel guilty for how much water we use and trying to get us to do something about it," said Carey, the recently retired head of Environment Canada's water science and technology directorate.

"None of these campaigns, I would argue, have truly captured Canadians' attention."

But he thinks economics could. Carey said meters have been known to cut water consumption in half.

The congress has drawn some 3,000 delegates from around the world to discuss research and health concerns in the developing world.

The congress has been criticized by several Canadian advocacy groups who question the presence of corporate sponsors such as Veolia Water and Suez Environment — both private multinational water companies.

The Council of Canadians protested outside the congress on Monday, accusing conference organizers of promoting a privatization agenda.

Conference organizers insist the participants and programming reflect a balanced perspective on water.