This year’s World Water Day has officially come and gone (it takes place on March 22 every year) so this article is an opportunity to reflect. Protecting freshwater resources and watersheds is so easily overlooked as we often can’t see the impacts of water availability or quality. But — like climate change — it is fast becoming a very time-sensitive challenge to meet. The number of people without access to clean water and sanitation is increasing, while the availability of freshwater resources is decreasing. According to the U.N., more than half the people on Earth will be living in water-stressed regions by 2050.
We celebrated World Water Day here at CCCS with a ski at Bull Mountain on March 6th and a swim at the Recreation Complex on March 21. We are probably more blessed than we realize, when it comes to the abundance of clean water we have access to, just by turning the tap.
So much so that we can fill an entire swimming pool (873,143 litres to be exact) with potable water. This year’s World Water Day theme was Valuing Water, and how that affects how it is shared and managed: someone from a drought-stricken part of the world, for example, would probably consider our swimming pool as quite a luxurious or even wasteful way to use that much clean water.
The solutions to protecting freshwater resources are going to be different in different parts of the world. We value recreational water use and can afford to fill up a swimming pool if it’s managed well, so perhaps we also focus on preserving water quality and freshwater habitat, and assisting other regions or countries in meeting their freshwater needs.
One of the biggest uses of water resources globally, that we don’t often think of, is power generation and this creates a big challenge in drought-stricken countries that are experiencing water shortages more and more frequently. According to The World Resources Institute, up to 98 per cent of the world’s power relies on water, to either power or cool hydroelectric or thermoelectric systems. Countries have experienced droughts in recent years that caused a complete shut-down of their hydroelectric grids because of low reservoir levels.
This is yet another reason to combat climate change, but adapting might also mean converting these areas to power generation that is less reliant on water resources that are only becoming scarcer. Wind- generated power is becoming more affordable on the consumer end, at least in the U.S.: it costs as low as one to two cents per kilowatt hour, compared to an average 13.3 cents per kilowatt hour from traditional power generation. And other, more reliable technologies (for when the wind isn’t always a blowin’) like geothermal are being developed in more sustainable and affordable ways. We may be able to generate power using water resources, but there are things we can do to help others become less vulnerable to water shortages.
Closer to home, when you look at reports on the major impacts to B.C.’s biodiversity, many of them come down to water use: pollution of both terrestrial and aquatic environments, consumption (drawing down or fragmenting habitat), water body alterations, energy use, and aquatic invasives are some examples. B.C. has a lot of freshwater but we also have the most biodiverse province in the country so it makes sense to also focus our efforts on water quality and habitat when thinking about our strategies moving forward.
At the end of the day, water must be shared. In order to do that equitably, we have to consider the different ways people value water, and balance that with what is environmentally responsible.
Brianna van de Wijngaard is the communications co-ordinator with the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society.