By Sharon Hill, The Windsor Star September 15, 2010
WINDSOR, Ont. — Southern Canada’s fresh water supply is dropping on average by an amount that equals 1.4 million Olympic-size swimming pools or about the volume of Lake St. Clair a year, a Statistics Canada study has found.
The first study of its kind that spans 34 years should be a wake-up call for Canadians who take water resources for granted and are “incredibly wasteful,” Brian Branfireun, a University of Western Ontario biology professor who specializes in water resources, said Tuesday.
“Absolutely we should be concerned,” Branfireun said. “The vast majority of people on this earth elsewhere in the world think about water availability every single day and we’re spoiled.”
Our abundance of water, especially around the Great Lakes, has made us accustomed to the unlimited availability of water and we built our economy around it, he said.
The downward long-term trend is a “quite significant” finding and now Canada has to get used to thinking more about water usage and management, he said.
“It’s going to start to become an issue in some regions within a generation.”
The Statistics Canada study found the water yield, which is precipitation and the melting snow and ice, declined overall by 8.5 per cent in southern Canada between 1971 and 2004. Although the water yield bounces up and down over that period, it is declining on average by 3.5 cubic kilometres a year.
It’s an annual loss equal to about the amount of water in Lake St. Clair, said Statistics Canada analyst Heather Dewar.
“It’s something we want to watch.”
The study did track water use — Canadians used about 1.2 per cent of the average water yield in 2005 — but didn’t look at the reasons for the overall decline in water yield or what could be done about it. Statistics Canada drew a line across the country and looked at the state of freshwater resources in the southern area which has 98 per cent of the population.
Dewar said 34 per cent of Canadians live in the Great Lakes drainage region but it only produces four per cent of the national renewable water yield.
“A lot of our water supply is generated in northern Canada but a lot of our population is concentrated in the south.”
Dewar, who is the managing editor of the Human Activity and the Environment annual statistics, said Canada has the third highest freshwater volume in the world behind Brazil and Russia. Yet we don’t get that water when and where we need it. The study found the Prairies had the lowest water yield.
“The amount of water there per square metre in the Prairies is less than in Australia or South Africa,” Dewar said. “We think of those areas of the world as being very dry.”
A changing climate seems to be behind the overall decline, said Branfireun. Melting glaciers mean less ice and snow coming down from mountains over time, some regions are getting less rainfall and there’s more evaporation, the University of Western Ontario professor said. Warmer winters, for example, means there’s less ice on the Great Lakes which boosts evaporation.
Here is Essex County, water studies are being done. The International Joint Commission has started a study with the Windsor Utilities Commission and the University of Windsor to look at water quality and water levels over the last 40 to 50 years.
Saad Jasim, the director of the Windsor regional office of the IJC, said we’re not going to run out of water but we should try to conserve it.
The Source Protection Committee in the Essex region has done a water budget that looks at how much water the region has and how it’s used. The preliminary findings show there are no widespread problems, said Jeremy Wychreschuk, the Essex Region Conservation Authority’s director of watershed engineering.
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