Is water abundance in Canada and the United States myth or reality? That question is explored in a new paper from the Canada Institute on North American Issues, a program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The paper presents the independent views of two experts, an American and a Canadian.
G. Tracy Mehan III, former assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental consultant with The Cadmus Group, Inc., provides an American perspective. Mehan offers general data and specific examples to demonstrate that overall, the United States has abundant water resources to meet all of its needs and many of its wants. However, lack of environmental protection and a failure to value water economically have caused local water problems, shortages, and disputes. To ensure that clean water remains abundant and available, Mehan recommends full-cost pricing of water and its supporting infrastructure (basically charging what it actually costs to get clean water from source to tap) and creating economic and environmental rules to allow for market transfers from agricultural water users to more productive uses. In addition, Mehan recommends more comprehensively protecting watersheds, reducing nonpoint source pollution, and treating stormwater runoff as a resource to be conserved for the water cycle. Mehan also cautions against being distracted by ideological debates over free trade, protectionism, or globalization, “issues [that] are distractions from the hard work of environmental stewardship.” Solidly pragmatic and reasonable advice all around.
David B. Brooks, senior fresh water advisor to Friends of the Earth Canada, offers a complementing Canadian perspective. While acknowledging that Canada has more water than most other countries, he believes that water abundance in Canada is a myth perpetuated in part as an excuse to not take stronger water protection measures. Brooks claims that “Canada is a laggard in terms of water regulation compared with the United States,” primarily because the wonderful policies put forward by the Canadian federal government are rarely implemented and even more rarely enforced. Domestically, Brooks advocates sensibly moderate policies to better assess groundwater resources and protect drinking water with federal-provincial cooperation. He agrees with Mehan that concerns over bulk exports are overstated, since “the only people who really need more water are farmers, and they require vast quantities – and expect to get it cheaply.” Like Mehan, he recommends solving water supply problems by managing water demand rather than creating more supply through dams and other environmentally destructive projects. Together, these experts offer persuasive and succinct policy recommendations to ensure abundant and clean water in Canada and the United States.