In the coming month, the Canada West Foundation will be releasing an extensive new research report entitled From H20: Turning Alberta’s Water Headache to Opportunity. In the lead up to this important event, we are releasing a series of water background information sheets to help set the context of the water debate.
The following is an excerpt from the fourth release entitled “Placing Water Use in Context.”
“Across the Canadian water policy community, cheap water has been fingered as a significant contributor to Canada’s heavy use of water. In terms of residential use, this may indeed be the case given the large number of Canadian homes that remain unmetered, and for those that are metered, municipal water rate structures that do little to promote efficient use or conservation.
But again, municipal water use is only about 10% of the total water withdrawn, and residential use itself is only about half of that 10%. What is more important—and often overlooked—is Canada’s role as a global exporter of “virtual” water embedded in the production of goods and services exported internationally, whether that be grain and other agricultural produce, manufactured goods, auto parts, and even oil or natural gas.
There are few if any products and services that do not require water as an essential input in the production process, and with 80% of Canada’s GDP resulting from international exports, it is clear that a lot of the water “used” in Canada is water actually “used” by foreign consumers of Canadian exports. The same applies to Alberta. Agriculture in Alberta currently uses about 35 km3 of water per year. But 27 km3 of that water—over 75%—is exported abroad as “virtual” water (Zehnder 2008.) Of course, Canada and Alberta imports a lot of “virtual” water as well.
The point here is not to defend the profligate use of water by Canadians, argue against the merits of water conservation, or forestall ways to improve water resources management practices. Far from it. In fact, all of these goals are of paramount importance. If the world is indeed to become more water-short in the future, then Canada’s role as virtual exporter of water—one of the world’s few remaining “lifeboats” for water—will only grow in importance. Given the role played by Alberta within the larger Canadian export economy, this fact is as relevant here as anywhere else.”
Click here for the full text of “Placing Water Use in Context”
Published By: Casey Vander Ploeg