Frequently Asked Questions

Why conserve water? Canada has so much fresh water, we’ll never run out of it – right?

Canada is frequently said to possess 20% of the world’s water but in terms of renewable supply–a more relevant figure–we actually have only 6.5% of the world’s supply, much less than Brazil and Russia and about the same as the United States. As well, 60% of our fresh water drains north, away from where it is needed most — along the band hugging the U.S. border where the vast majority (85%) of Canadians live, which means less than half of Canada’s reliable flow of freshwater is actually geographically available for use by most Canadians (2.5%) without harmful water diversions.

 

This uneven distribution places many competing demands on local sources, which can result in both seasonal and chronic shortages. For example, between 1994 and 1999 over one-quarter of Canadian municipalities reported water shortages  – a problem that is exacerbated further by population growth pressures in recent years.

 

In reality, we are much drier than many of us would like to believe. Large parts of Canada, such as the Prairies and Oakanagan Valley in B.C., are semi-arid. Lakes and aquifers that we treat as bottomless reservoirs renew at an extremely slow rate so that, in many cases, we are actually draining them for generations to come.

 

Our perception of the Great Lakes epitomizes the myth of abundance. Many Canadians see the Great Lakes as an infinite supply of freshwater, however, the Great Lakes are for the most part non-renewable resources. They were carved out by retreating glaciers and filled by meltwater thousands of years ago. On average, only 1% of the water in the Great Lakes is renewed annually by precipitation and inflow from rivers and groundwater. So our seeming water abundance belies the fact that only a small portion–the renewable portion–is available for use each year.

 

My community is already doing a lot when it comes to water conservation. Is there a role for my community in ActionH20?

Absolutely. Canadian communities are among the highest water users in the world – second only to the US in per capita daily use. No Canadian communities – even the ones pursuing relatively aggressive water reduction targets – are using as little as our European and Australian counterparts (~150 litres per person per day, versus an average of 328 litres per person per day in Canada). ActionH20 is about pushing the boundaries of water conservation in Canada – we can do better. See Thinking Beyond Pipes and Pumps: Top Ten Ways Communities Can Save Water and Money for ideas on how to save litres in your community.

My community has a water quality issue – not water quantity. Is there a role for my community in ActionH20?

Yes. Water quality and quantity are inextricably linked. The first step to improving water quality is to reduce the amount of wastewater generated and maintaining adequate volumes of water in streams. Surface water quality can deteriorate from low reservoir levels. As well, increases in water temperature due to lower volumes (since shallow water heats up faster) can encourage organic growth and algal blooms. In coastal areas, increased ground water extraction can lead to saltwater intrusion in aquifers. As well, lowering water levels in aquifers can also encourage oxidation of aquifer wells and leach contaminants into the water.

Who’s funding ActionH20?

RBC’s Blue Water Project is generously supporting this programme.