Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Myth of Abundance: The Common Claim That Canada Boasts the World's Largest Supply of Fresh Water Is False

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Myth of Abundance: The Common Claim That Canada Boasts the World's Largest Supply of Fresh Water Is False

Article excerpt

Most Canadians believe that we enjoy a super-abundance of fresh water -- anywhere from "one-fifth of world supply" to "roughly 40 percent of the Earth's store," as reported two years ago in The Globe and Mail. The big numbers support a perception that Canada has more water than we need. That is myth.

Recent data from the World Resources Institute place us fifth among the nations. The three big players are Brazil with 12.7 percent of the world's renewable supply, Russia with 10.2 percent and China with 8.3 percent. Next, we are in a group with similar shares: Indonesia (6.7 percent), Canada (6.4 percent), India (6.0 percent) and the United States (5.8 percent).

How did the common over-estimate of Canadian water arise? Probably from confusion between renewable water supply and the water sitting in our big lakes. The volume of water in all Canadian and US lakes is approximately one-fifth of the total for world lakes. But while our lakes are great for boating and fishing, we cannot consume their water unless we plan to dry them up. Our effective, renewable supply is the rain and snow that falls every year, renews aquifers, runs in rivers and passes through the lakes as it moves to the seas.

More than half of Canadian yearly river flow goes into the Arctic, leaving only 2.6 percent of the world's supply for the populated south of the country. That is the number we should have in mind for the current debates on water export.

If the Canadian public supposes that we are awash in excess water, there will be less resistance to sending our water south.

This is especially worrisome because our politicians and diplomats apparently believe the abundance myth. …

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