Climate change is resulting in longer and longer duration droughts throughout the major agricultural regions of the American west and California. Some say it's only a matter of time before the US demands Canadian water and takes it one way or another

Climate change is resulting in more often and more severe droughts throughout the major agricultural regions of the American centre, west, and California. This in turn puts critical strain on water surface and acquifer resources which are being drained to meet irrigation requirements, and for city water supplies which are reaching crisis levels in recent years Some say it's only a matter of time before the US demands Canadian water and takes it one way or another
Photo Credit: CBC

Canada has water, the U.S wants it.

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Once again this year, severe drought hit west coast  North America and the south-western US. This put enormous pressure on existing water supplies for agriculture and cities across a large section of the continent.  Also again this year, the situation reached crisis levels for south-western U.S. and  California, the biggest suppliers of fruit , nuts and vegetables to all of North America.

Folsom Lake reservoir north of Sacramento California in Jan 2011, and again in July 2014
Folsom Lake reservoir north of Sacramento California in Jan 2011, and again in July 2014 © California Department of Water Resources

 Many Americans once again looked to Canada and said there is plenty of fresh water being “wasted” by allowing it to flow freely into James Bay, the Arctic and Pacific Oceans. They say that the water could be sent to them,… some insisting not could, but should.

Although water is a critical resource and becoming ever more so because of climate change, it has not been discussed in Canada’s current election campaign.

Lloyd Alter has written several times on this subject. He is an adjunct professor teaching sustainable design at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. He is also the design editor at Treehugger and a regular contributor of environment related articles to Treehugger, the Guardian newspaper, Corporate Knights magazine and others.

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Lloyd Alter-adjunct professor Ryerson University Toronto, editor and contributor to Treehugger, and to the Guardian newspaper, and Corporate Knights magazine.
Lloyd Alter-adjunct professor Ryerson University Toronto, editor and contributor to Treehugger, and to the Guardian newspaper, and Corporate Knights magazine. “it’s not a question of IF the Americans will come for Canada’s water, but WHEN” © inhabitat.com

Professor Alter points out that there have been a number of schemes in the past to take fresh water from Canada and send it south to alleviate shortages in agriculture and in American cities.

In the 1950’s there were plans to use nuclear explosions to blast canals from Canada’s north, down to the US border. The plan was called the North American Power and Water Alliance, or NAWAPA. An incredibly ambitious concept, it would change the ecology of North America. Most Canadians would be absolutely horrified at the thought, but most have also never heard of it. Yet the idea has never gone away, and still lurks in the minds of many American politicians, and industrialists.

The idea was to redirect flows of major Canadian rivers southward through the Rocky Mountain trench, to the US west.  and also dam James Bay, blast a huge canal south through Ontario and send water into the Great Lakes, and then southward to the central US.

The North American Water and Power Alliance, proposed in the 1950's was proposed to divert massive amounts of water from Canadian rivers flowing to the Arctic and Alaska, and send the ma south.It is still very much alive with detaled proposals/analysis made in 2010 and 2012
The North American Water and Power Alliance, proposed (NAWAPA) in the 1950’s and 60’s was proposed to divert massive amounts of water from Canadian rivers- Yukon, Liard, Peace, flowing to the Arctic and Alaska, and send the ma south.It is still very much alive with detaled proposals/analysis made in 2010 and 2012 © schillerinstitute.org

Some Canadian politicians past and present have thought this incredible plan was not such a bad idea.

But even if not this particular plan, the idea of somehow allowing bulk water sales, while abhorrent to most Canadians, is not necessarily so to recent politicians, such as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984-1993) who introduced a Bill (C-156) that would have allowed exports by tanker and small-scale land diversion

The most recent is the leader of the New Democratic Party, Thomas Mulcair. He thought the idea of bulk exports of water was worth exploring while he was the environment minister in the Quebec provincial government.  He is currently the leader of the federal New Democratic Party seeking to be Prime Minister of Canada in the present general election campaign, but now insists he has changed his mind.

An empty water reservoir is seen in the hills above Los Angeles as a severe drought continues to affect the state of California on April 5, 2015
An empty water reservoir is seen in the hills above Los Angeles as a severe drought continues to affect the state of California on April 5, 2015 © phys.org

While some Americans have said their next war will be with Canada to be fought over water, Alter says that’s hardly likely. Why fight after all when you can just buy it.  He says they will just keep raising their purchase offer until it’s too good for Canada to refuse.

“We want the money”

He points to the oil sands in Alberta saying that the oil sands cause great disruption of the land, enormous pollution, and so on, but Canada has decided the damage is worth it.

“It’s one of the biggest environmental problems we have in the country yet It was a conscious decision, we want the money”, he says.

He also notes that the international giant Nestle is already sucking up vast amounts of ground water for bottled water sales, and that Nestle and many other industries are allowed to extract water in bulk at little to no cost, and without serious conservation measures, at the same time as Canada is barring bulk exports.

The
The “Grand Canal” scheme to dam the top of James Bay and blast a massive canal down through northern Ontario to bring fresh water into the Great lakes from where the Americans could siphon off vast amounts and send it further south to meet the huge agricultural demand and its increasingly desperate need due to changing climate. © Wikipedia/Public Domain

The Americans might argue that this makes water a commodity and under international trade deals they should be allowed access as well. They could also possibly argue that the little or no cost to Canadian industry while barring Americans similar access, is an unfair advantage or a trade barrier again under terms of various international trade deals.

A paper published recently by the University of Calgary School of Public Policy  and produced by an American professor recently suggested Canada consider sale of water to the US.

The author Rhett Larson, an associate law professor and environmental law expert at Arizona State University  wrote, “Canada should arguably treat water the same way it treats oil or gold – a valuable commodity on the international market with benefits from exportation outweighing the costs of depletion”.

The Enterpirse Bridge across Lake Oroville in California shown in 2011 and then in 2014.
The Enterpirse Bridge across Lake Oroville in California shown in 2011 and then in 2014.

Indeed he noted that both Canadian and US industry already uses water from the Great Lakes which are shared with Canada of which over 2 billion gallons per day are never returned. The largest diversion of water is pumped from Lake Michigan, at up to 3,200 cubic feet/second and sent south through the Chicago River and into the Mississippi.

“What is the difference between the water embedded in Canada’s industrial and agricultural exports and raw water exported in bulk tankers or pipelines? Either way, enormous quantities of water are being exported from Canada.” Writes the American professor.

In any case, Lloyd Alter says with climate change causing increased hardship and increasing the need it is not a question of “if” Americans will come demanding Canadian water, but “when”.

Council of Canadians- concerns of exports 2014

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4 comments on “Canada has water, the U.S wants it.
  1. Avatar Marjorie Bell says:

    Please, please stop the drainage of Canada’s fresh water supplies to the USA.. Just so the Americans can swim in their pools while we suffer the consequences of the ignorance from the US Gorvernment on Tariffs. We will happily send our surplus fresh water to the countries that need OUR water to sustain life.

  2. Avatar d t says:

    the water belongs to canada not the usa

  3. Avatar Mike says:

    I truly hope our politicians do not deplete our water supply! It to precious

    • Avatar Claude Demers says:

      Let’s look at what happens to our fresh water in eastern Canada.. It flows from brooks, to rivers to the St-Lawrence river to the Atlantic Ocean.
      Once it’s in the ocean it becomes salted and no good for human consumption.
      Countries with no fresh water, take water from the ocean, and proceed to remove the salt.
      In order to obtain fresh water they have to boil it, using petroleum thus causing pollution.
      The St-Lawrence river dumps 16.8 million litres of fresh water into the Atlantic ocean every second….yes every second.
      What if we take a small portion of that water and sell it to the USA?