Divine Intervention: The Great Canadian Water Supply Proposal

By Sullivan, Don | Canadian Dimension, August-September 1994 | Go to article overview

Divine Intervention: The Great Canadian Water Supply Proposal


Sullivan, Don, Canadian Dimension


Water is something that we as Canadians have taken for granted. We assume that water is something that we have plenty of. This is true to some degree, but most of the water in Canada flows north, where the smallest portion of the Canadian population lives. It is precisely for this reason that a large amount of resources by various levels of governments in Canada has been spent to research the feasibility of diverting this water to the southern portions of Canada. Southern Canada needs vast amounts of water to quench the thirst of our economy.

With the passage of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) water has taken on the form of a commodity that can be bought and sold by the "free market economies" of Canada, United States and Mexico. The commodification of this important resource will undoubtedly entice our provincial and federal governments to sell water to help bail us out of times of economic despair. In fact, water is one of the most sought after resources in the United States. The US would be a more than willing customer for our water, as it is now facing severe shortages, due primarily to bad resource management policies and political interference.

This has led to various schemes by the US to divert Canadian water to parched areas in mid-western States. Two proposals that readily come to mind are the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) plan and the Grand Canal project. Both of these diversion projects, for one reason or another, have been written off in some circles as pie-in-the-sky schemes that would be politically and economically unfeasible. But when it comes to water, logic has a funny way of taking a back seat.

However, one project that would link various rivers and lakes in Western Canada to supply water to the States, The Supply For The Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin, has been completely over looked by the environmental community in Canada. This water supply proposal, governed by the Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin Board (SNBB), has been quietly taking shape since the early 1970s, with the full knowledge of the federal government and those of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The project is so large in scope that it should send chills down the back of anyone concerned about the future of Canada's riparian ecosystem.

The Water Supply For The Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin is a nine-volume report commissioned in 1967 and completed in 1972 by the Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB) at a cost of $10 million dollars. It lists 23 diversion projects and some 55 dam schemes. The authors of the report state that "The Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin Study is not intended to be a development blueprint for the future. However, the purpose of the study becomes clear when examined in the historical context ... The supply study can be thought of as a first step in a larger planning process." In lay terms this simply means use the report as a blueprint but never admit to it publicly. Projects which have been a source of tremendous conflict over the years between various provincial governments and the environmental community such as: the Old Man Dam, Churchill River Diversion, Rafferty-Allameda Dam and portions of the proposed Assiniboine River Diversion are just a few of schemes in this so called "planning process" report.

This huge water diversion and storage scheme by the PPWB is intended to supply future water needs in western Canada for irrigation, industrial and domestic purposes, but a closer look at the proposal would indicate that there is an underlying motive to supply water to the United States. The report itself gives little or no thought to the social, economic and environmental impacts associated with a project of this magnitude.

Along with an updated report on this proposal in 1982, the Canada West Foundation - a right wing think tank out of Alberta - conducted its own analysis of various water supply proposals. …

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