Privatization of water and Albert's water allocation were hot topics at a recent talk in Edmonton. Will Alberta's water be for sale?
Canadian activist and National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians Maude Barlow spoke in Edmonton on the 26th of October, at the University of Alberta, to a crowd of over 400 on the issues associated with water markets. Maude Barlow has been involved in the fight for water as a human right for many years; she was instrumental in the UN General Assembly declaring water as a human right. Ian Douglass of Australia, joined her via Skype, and updated us on the privatization of Australia’s water. Aboriginal environmental leader Sudana Goodstriker, warned the crowd about the unsustainable use of water by oil and gas.
“Anything we can do to help you avoid our mistakes” Ian Douglas, addressing the crowed on the mistakes Australia has made in water allocation policies and urging Albertans not to follow Australia’s example.
Australia has a highly deregulated water market, where private ownership and speculative buying has driven the Murray Darling river system in Australia to face critical water shortages. Critical water shortages have forced the Austrian government to buy back water rights for a sum of 5 billion, in order to conserve enough water in the basin to protect the ecosystems. If water levels are to low for to long, the river systems become unhealthy, essentially they fail to function properly.
Water speculation in Australia, means precious water resources are being bought up by large foreign entities and water speculators. It is in the best interest of private water companies to maximize consumption, by pushing farmers to grow water intensive monoculture crops. Australia has no laws that protect the water rights of citizens. Cash strapped territorial governments are also selling off Australia’s publicly owned water infrastructure.
Many South American countries such as Chili have private water services, cutting of water supplies to those who cannot pay for it. Companies are buying up large tracts of land in Africa where they can secure large supplies of water for agriculture production. As desertification spreads and water demands increase, Canada’s water will draw a great deal of attention. Canada is already facing pressure from the United Sates, to sell Canada’s water.
Our Water is not for Sale is an Alberta organization bringing together a broad spectrum of citizens, politicians, social and environmental NGOs, and organic farming groups. The organization was formed to stand against water markets being created in Alberta. The organization believes Alberta should implement a system based on needs, rather then a system which gives the water to those who can pay the most for it.
Alberta is set to change its water laws from a First In Time First in Right (FITFIR), to what many believe will be water markets throughout Alberta. If Alberta does implement water markets, they will be the first province in Canada to do so. According to the Council of Canadians, recent reports by government appointed bodies, released by the government, show they are almost exclusively focused on expanding water markets. For their part, the Alberta Government denies they are moving towards water markets.
Is Alberta facing a water crisis and on a larger scale is Canada? Some Alberta communities such as Okotoks have had to limit their size, because of water shortages. A large portion of Canada’s clean water is not easily accessed, such as icebergs and glaciers.
Virtual Water exportation is the water used to grow crops, which are then shipped outside of the region or country. Canada is a large supplier of food crops to the rest of the world, making Canada a net exporter of Virtual Water. Any type of bottled beverage exported outside the country, is also the exportation of Virtual Water. Some studies estimate that Canada is exporting Virtual Water at 60 billion cubic meters per year, and rising.
The state of Vermont has a very different way of approaching water issues, then most other developed areas. Vermont holds the water in trust for the people of Vermont, the water is owned by the public, there is no private ownership. Vermont has very progressive water use laws. As Alberta moves towards a change in water laws, Albertan's will face a choice. Should water markets be created in Alberta, similar to those of Australia? Or should Alberta take the route of Vermont, holding the water resources in trust for the people and the ecosystem?
As the demands for water increase, the fight over water rights will increase. “These wars will not be fought on battle fields, but on the floors of the worlds stock exchanges” Says Barlow. Pollution and misuse of Canada’s water supplies, Virtual Water exportation, and an ever-increasing demand by a growing public, are straining Alberta and Canada’s water resources. If water markets are approved for use in Alberta, it will set a precedent for the rest of Canada that our water is for sale.