Water: Our most precious (and abused) resource

Did you know that the Great Lakes comprise 20 per cent of the world’s surface fresh water? That amount of water could cover all of Canada in a depth of nine feet. That’s a huge amount of water, right? We’ve got nothing to worry about. Actually, there is a myth of abundance. Only one per cent of that water is renewed every year. The rest evaporates. There are a variety of reasons for this, but a major culprit is climate change. We experienced a very mild winter this year, resulting in approximately 70 per cent less ice coverage. Less ice coverage means more evaporation. Another culprit is mining and dredging. Needless to say, these can all be attributed to human interference and it is our responsibility, as humans, to protect our most valuable resource.

Each year, Environment Canada does a great deal to protect our natural habitats and ecosystems. However, there are significant flaws in the system that Canadians should be aware of. For example, there are six major categories for water policy set out by Environment Canada, four of which include pulp and paper, mining, meat and poultry, and agriculture policies. Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, works in freshwater management, renewable energy, biodiversity, and environmental law. Vaughan approached Environment Canada to find out who, specifically, is responsible for enforcing the laws and policies for each category. When asked,  Environment Canada admitted that only two of six areas were being enforced and monitored. What is happening with the others, you might ask? Environment Canada has no idea and even stated that they didn’t know who had been monitoring these remaining four policies since the 1970s. That’s 40 years of potential neglect. For the shear fact of your health, alone, this statistic should startle and concern you.

My family owns a cottage in Honey Harbour on Georgian Bay. We love our summer home, but have witnessed rapid water loss over the last 13 years. What used to be five feet of shoreline is now closer to 20. To put it into perspective, every day, we lose the equivalent of seven seconds of water flowing over Niagara Falls from the Great Lakes. This is largely due to the dredging of the St. Clair river, but is also a result of climate change and other human impacts. Water levels are not only important to cottage owners and inhabitants of the Great Lakes basin, but also to fisheries, and healthy ecosystems.

Before attending Vital Signs II, an annual meeting on water levels and invasive species in the Great Lakes, I had concerns about our water, but really had no idea just how bad things were becoming. Have you heard of the fish species known as Asian Carp? This species of fish was first introduced to the Mississippi region “to turn algae in sewage treatment ponds into a potential food source. But as often happens, man-made solutions to nature’s problems created an unintended consequence” (source: “Keeping the Critters Out,” David Sweetnam, Georgian Bay Forever). The consequence? The carp escaped the sewage ponds and began taking over the Mississippi river, annihilating almost any species of fish in its way. It became the top predator, breeding and growing at an exponential rate, making it virtually impossible for other fish species to survive, wiping out everything in its path.

My words cannot do the severity of the Asian Carp issue justice. To see just how infested the Mississippi river has become, check out this entertaining (albeit serious) and educational video from the Water Brothers, a team of brothers whose goal is to protect our watery world. The image accompanying my article also demonstrates the infestation (the result of electro-fishing). As they state in their video, if we allow Asian Carp to cross the barrier into the Great Lakes, this fish species has the potential to be the most invasive species the Great Lakes has ever seen. The effects would be devastating, not only to our fishing industry and natural ecosystems, but also to our ability to enjoy our fresh water, recreationally. Again, if you have not watched the video, please do. It paints a much more thorough picture of the subject.

Every day, we take our access to fresh water for granted. We assume that it is this abundant resource that will continue to replenish itself for years to come, but it won’t. We have to take a stand and interfere, for once, in a positive way. Many people are of the mindset that we should allow nature to run its course, but we have already interfered. It is time for us to correct the error of our ways. This isn’t just about giving back to nature. It’s about us. We need water to survive. After all, our bodies are mostly water.

For more information about proposed environmental legislative changes and environmental and sustainable development, visit www.oag-bvg.gc.ca. Let your voice be heard and help make the Great Lakes a greener and “bluer” place to live, play, and thrive.

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