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Water Today Title April 14, 2024

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Update 2019/4/18
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By Suzanne Forcese

A recent forum in Ottawa brought together Canada's leading experts in climate change and the emerging water crisis to explore the science and policy solutions required to position Canada as a global leader in water prediction, management and sustainability.

Dr. John Pomeroy, Director of the USask-led Global Water Futures (GWF) program spear-headed the event which was also co-hosted by the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW); Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER); POLIS (Program on Ecological Governance and United Nations University Institute for Water); and Environment and Health (UNI-IWEH). Together the groups authored the document Water Security For Canadians - Solutions For Canada's Emerging Water Crisis (The Document) to provide a comprehensive approach by modernizing the Canada Water Act (1970).

As stated in The Document, "We do not currently have the necessary capacity to drive the level of cooperation needed to deal with Canada's changing hydrological realities, and the implications for communities and economies are dire. Our national, legal and institutional architecture for water management is weak, ineffective and outdated."

"Water is where we see change," Dr. Pomeroy told Water Today, from Yukon where he was travelling up the Dempster Highway calculating flow and changes in water for the safe reconstruction of the flooded highway. He was speaking of the climate change that is affecting us all globally. The world is changing faster than ever before, causing glaciers - an important source of our fresh water - to melt. In Canada we are seeing catastrophic flooding, droughts, and wildfires resulting in billions of dollars of damage. "It's not just the quantity but also the quality of our water that is under threat. Our lakes are being overtaken with algae. Mining waste and farms are leaking into groundwater. We are seeing the highest number of water advisories in history. Unfortunately, most of them in First Nations' communities."

According to The Document, "Significant water expertise and experience exists across many sectors in Canada - academia, industry, Indigenous governments. However, we are missing the critical commitments and planning and management capacities needed to address increasingly complex and often controversial water conflicts and challenges." The document addresses 4 major stumbling blocks behind the stagnant status quo:
  • Water authorities and responsibilities are fragmented across river basins with overlapping jurisdictions and institutions with insufficient incentives, means or capacity for government to work together effectively to manage shared waters and solve problems.
  • Managing and responding to changing water regimes, particularly extreme floods and droughts is undermined by lack of national forecasting and prediction capabilities to support all levels of government decision-making.
  • Indigenous Nations are disproportionately affected by the emerging water crisis and Indigenous authority in water governance is not adequately recognized, supported, or respected.
  • Sustained action on climate and water adaptation is hampered by a lack of people and resources assigned to tackle the challenges and is exacerbated by weak and insufficient overarching national legal and institutional architecture for water management.

"There will be a tipping point reached over the next decades, putting at risk communities whose infrastructure was designed for 20th century climate change," Dr. Pomeroy added.

Dramatic climate changes predicted for the 21s century will see the hydrology of the Western Arctic intensify with increased snowmelt rates and flooding. Dr. Pomeroy referred to Lake Kluane in the Unesco World Heritage Site of Kluane National Park in Yukon Territory. "We've seen a 1.6 metre drop in the lake since 2016 with the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier."

Science is revealing that the rate at which water moves through the hydrological cycle is accelerating causing changes in weather and precipitation patterns.

"We've also created different conditions by introducing greenhouse gases into the picture," Dr. Pomeroy added. "Humanity has to act quickly."

"The Government of Canada is determined to provide the leadership to properly deal with the whole range of very complicated and crucial water issues," The Hon. Ralph Goodale, MP( Regina - Wascana), stated after the forum. "Perhaps even more crucial because of climate change." Following the trajectory of how quickly our world is changing, the prediction is that greenhouse gas emissions will increase the temperatures of the Western Arctic 6.1 degrees Celsius by 2099. Precipitation will increase by 40%. Once the freshwater reaches the land as rain or snow, permafrost will continue to thaw downwards by another 25 centimetres. Peak snow accumulation will rise by 70% and snow cover duration will be shorter by nearly a month causing the deeper snowpack to melt faster than it is now. Spring run-off is projected to increase by 130% and stream flows will almost double.

As catastrophic as that is "Canada is relatively fortunate compared to the rest of the world," in Dr. Pomeroy's opinion. Dr. Pomeroy is actively involved with international groups to diagnose, predict and solve the global water crisis. Dr. Pomeroy recently signed a 5 year MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Dr. Tandong Yao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to strengthen both China's and Canada's commitment to managing freshwater resources. The high mountains of Canada, the Arctic and the Tibetan Plateau aka the Third Pole are to be part of the collaborative research.

The GWF's collaboration with India, Israel, Iran and the Government of Kazakhstan also allows for the development of improved models to predict seasonal water flows and disasters as well as to assess risks to water quality and human health. It is all about building tools that the world needs to manage water risks in order to protect people, communities and the economy.

In the third pole the loss of glacier coverage timing is crucial. In the Hindu Kush Himalaya region of glacier covered mountains the glacial melt water provides drinking water during the dry season. If that timing is off 1.9 billion people could be without a fresh water supply. This could happen as early as 2100.

With colder winters in the east of Canada and warmer in the Arctic the jet streams are affected resulting in changes in Asia and a smaller temperature difference between the North Pole and equatorial regions.

It is a global crisis but Dr. Pomeroy offers hope with the promise of global collaborations and the high quality GWF scientific activity that is taking place across Canada at 18 universities. GWF has been designated as one of the 3 RHP (Regional Hydroclimate Projects) in the world by GEWEC(Global Energy and Water Exchanges) project of the United Nations World Climate Research Programme.

It all has to start at home. In Canada most water decisions are made locally, through provincial and indigenous jurisdictions. Yet most of our major river and lake basins are transboundary, involving multiple provinces, Indigenous communities and sometimes the United States in basin management.

"Canada is steward to 20% of the world's fresh water potential," Mr. Goodale added in response to a question regarding a very aggressive neighbor when it comes to water policy. "Canada's water is a matter of sovereignty. Water is critical. We need to develop the resolve and determination that there is a bottom line when it comes to water that cannot be crossed."

The Document proposes a more integrated approach that requires "all orders of government to work together, importantly because these waters cut across jurisdictional boundaries, rights and responsibilities. This approach requires a meaningful federal role in 4 key areas: Creating and mobilizing the knowledge needed to predict and respond to water problems; strengthening transboundary water management and cooperative federalism; strengthening reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; and improving collaborative river basin planning.

Mr. Goodale also stated that the Canadian Government is encouraging everyone to become aware of risks and responsibility. Individual municipalities have to take a bold step in re-evaluating zoning in high-risk flood areas. The Government is trying to encourage other jurisdictions to do the necessary mapping to ensure they are aware of what happens in extreme water events. "We currently have in place a $200 million Disaster Mitigation Fund spread over 5 years. The Government has also allocated $2 billion over the next 8-10 years of Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation. There are dozens of projects across the country to increase flood defences. Two billion is not enough but it is a start."

The Document states that "The financial cost to Canada of extreme water-related events is sky-rocketing...By pro-actively enabling the specific water solutions, Canada can save billions of dollars by preventing damage to infrastructure and ecosystems; reducing disaster payments for clean-up and recovery and mitigating long-term health care costs associated with poor water and environmental conditions and the increasing physical and mental health burden of extreme events."

In an impassioned plea presented to the district chamber of commerce in Regina, March 26, 2019, Mr. Goodale's words were: "Are we then condemned to that fate, picking up the pieces and cleaning up the messes after the fact? No, in fact we're not - not if we recognize the threat, and muster the political will to get ahead of it by investing up-front in the truly transformational "big water" infrastructure - both engineered and natural - for safe and clean water flows, greater flood-proofing and drought -proofing, and diversified water-based economic and social growth."

The Document concludes, "Together we can build on the common desire of Canadians to recognize water as part of our national identity and to show the world that we are not just a water wealthy country but also a water solutions country."

Mr. Goodale summed up the challenge, "There is a long way to go to realize a vision like that. But it is well worth the effort. The 2019 federal budget provides initial funding and a mandate for the department of Western Economic Diversification to pull all interested parties together to assess what's possible. We should be bold."

About Global Water Futures: GWF is a seven year University of Saskatchewan -led research program established within the Global Institute for Water Security in 2016 and funded in part by a $77.8 million grant from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. The research goal is to transform the way communities, governments and industries in Canada and other cold regions of the world prepare for and manage increasing water-related threats. GWF is the world's largest university-led freshwater research program. The program is developed and funded in part by three key partners - the University of Waterloo, McMaster University and Wilfrid Laurier University - and includes hundreds of faculty, researchers and support staff, hundreds of partners and 15 Canadian universities.



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