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.