We’re all using more water than we realize

It is important for us to understand the concept of ‘virtual water.’ Ninety-two per cent of all the water we use is for food production.

Nestlé recently outbid the Township of Centre Wellington to buy a well near Elora, Ont. The township wanted the well to protect water access for the growing community.

Currently three provinces charge for water extraction. Ontario charges $3.71 per million litres, B.C .charges $2.50 and Quebec charges $70.

If, as seems almost certain, Canada signs on to the latest free trade agreement the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Nestlé could sue any level of government interfering with its use of water that it has bought.

Earlier this year, Gordon Hoekstra reported in the Vancouver Sun that two Carrier First Nation traditional leaders at Fraser Lake had proclaimed the first traditional aboriginal water laws in the province and declared that no development would take place on their traditional territories in the northern Interior unless the water laws were followed.

The Regional District of Nanaimo tells us “On the ‘wet coast’ of B.C., it is easy to take our water supply for granted. In dry summer months, water consumption triples, even though there is much less water available. As the region grows, more people will be using the same limited resource. The quantity and quality of our water is directly impacted by human activity including the amount we use on a daily basis. It is important that we all do our part to protect our water.”

And it is important for us to understand the concept of ‘virtual water.’ Ninety-two per cent of all the water we use is for food production. The other eight per cent is for domestic and industrial uses. The 15,400 litres of water it takes to produce one kilo of beef is called ‘virtual water’ because we only see the beef, not all the water that was used to grow it. It only takes 822 litres of water to produce a kilo of apples. You can find out a lot more about virtual water at the website www.angelamorelli.com/water/.

We can reduce water use far more effectively by having one meatless day per week and by reducing the shocking amount (30 per cent) of food we waste than by reducing the amount of water we use for baths and showers or toilet flushing.

Is water a human right owned by the community where it originates, or is water a commodity, to be traded between highest bidders? If you talk to neoclassical economists and their followers, everything should be available on the open market and only market forces can manage the items bought and sold there effectively. But that only works when the managers of business are not driven to maximize profits at the expense of every other interest.

My husband’s grandmother owned a field below a railway cutting through Cowichan Station. When the company’s work on the tracks damaged her land, they offered her rights to a spring on their land in compensation. Eventually the local church found a way to pipe off some of that water, too. Everybody was happy.

China has a lot of money to spend on growing appetites for meat and on the water to produce it. Will scarce water be better protected by enforcing rights or by selling to the highest bidder?

Marjorie Stewart is past-chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.