Yet, as Maude Barlow says in her book on the water crisis, Boiling Point, even water-wealthy Canada cannot afford to take fresh water for granted.
“Make no mistake, the world is running out of accessible water,” the author states in the introduction to the book (p. xiii), going on to explain that while the worldwide demand for water is set to increase by 55% in the next 15 years, available water stores will likely cover only about 60% of what is needed.
Droughts, wildfires, and water shortages are common in many parts of the world, but even Canada is not immune from water problems, as the author shows in the following chapters.
A large part of the problem, as Barlow indicates, is Canadians’ complacency about and often cavalier treatment of the abundance of water in this country.
The first chapter, “A History of Neglect and Abuse” details several threats against this country’s usable water, including increasing industrialization; pollution from untreated sewage, herbicides, and other sources of contamination; endangered source water; ecosystem degradation, including the loss of forests that naturally filter out contaminants; polluted groundwater; and the push for growth at all costs.
The following chapters discuss the details of how governments are putting the health of Canadians at risk by refusing to enact and enforce adequate water protections. Barlow shows the previous federal government was especially prone to stripping away protections from Canada’s lakes and waterways, preferring to support business interests instead.
The case of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and its two-decade-long boil water advisory is an especially apt example the author uses to discuss the effects of water contamination and neglect, but it is far from alone, as she shows in subsequent pages.
The author calls for the current federal government, very new at the time the book was written, to break with the previous administration’s habits and to recognize it as a human right worthy of protection.
Resource extraction and agribusiness are currently two of the major polluters of lakes and rivers, as the next chapters show, with bitumen spills as a source of possibly calamitous contamination in the case of an accident.
Fracking for oil and gas, mining, and the use of pesticides that leach into the groundwater could destroy much of the country’s waterways, making it undrinkable simply to enrich a few business owners and investors.
A passion for water protection is clear in this book, which is detailed enough to be authoritative but simple enough to be accessible to readers who are not experts on the subject. While the focus is on government inaction and corporate greed, there is also enough information for ordinary people to begin their own campaigns for improved care of Canada’s water.
The decline of Canada’s water systems that Maude Barlow details in Boiling Point might cause readers to despair about the future, but her call to action and recommendations for the restoration of protections show there is still time to act.
As she says in in her conclusion, “Future generations have the same right to breath clean air and drink clean water. Much rests on what we do now” (p. 245).
When World Water Day ends, what will people keep on doing to protect the health of lakes, rivers, oceans, and the people and animals that depend on them?