Although Canadian rivers and lakes are affected by climate change, the biggest threat to our freshwater supply actually comes from shortages in other countries, most significantly the United States. Transboundary schemes to divert or export water have been the subject of spats and legislation since the beginning of the last century, but the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its definition of water as a commodity leaves us vulnerable to resource grabs by American interests. As the law stands now, bottled water can be exported, but as long as no province agrees to export water in bulk the rest cannot be compelled to follow suit. If however, one province enters into a contract with a US company, as BC nearly did a few years ago before cancelling the scheme after public outrage, billions of gallons will flow through the resulting legal loophole.
At least laws still protect some of our water resources. The recent gutting of environmental archives and science libraries risk making it harder for future researchers to gauge the decline in our natural resources.
The USA is facing a number of water-related problems. In the industrial northeast, and on parts of the Eastern seaboard, water sources are becoming increasingly polluted and unusable. Remember Love Canal? It's worse now.
The other side of the country is suffering a severe water shortage, particularly in the heavily populated southwest. The state of California, source of much of the continent's fruit and vegetables, is experiencing the worst drought in history, pitting urban and agricultural users against each other for control of scarce resources. (Dare I say, the next Dust Bowl?) The Sacramento River is so dry that salmon farmers will have to transport the fry to the sea in trucks.
The mighty Colorado River, which runs through seven US states and into Mexico, is one of the most controlled in the world, with huge demands for its water and the resulting hydro-electric power. Unfortunately, if too much water is diverted then not enough is available to generate power. Climate change and drought have meant that the water is evaporating at a great rate: Lake Mead in Nevada, the reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam, has dropped more than 100 feet since 2000, and the once lush delta of the Colorado is now dry and scrubby. Often the river doesn't even flow as far as the Pacific Ocean. With the settlement of the West in the 1920s, a series of agreements allocated water from the Colorado to states along its length, which include Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Wyoming, all of which receive a percentage of the precious water.
In January of this year, US President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in agricultural counties in eleven states. Farmers in these communities are eligible for emergency low-interest loans to see them through the worst drought in years.
The severe snowstorms suffered by the US East Coast sadly have no effect on the other side of the country. "Once you cross the Rockies, nothing east is going to help you," climatologist Brian Fuchs told Associated Press.
* Running Dry: Beyond the Brink by Jim Thebault is a must-view. Don't be put off by the opening credits: it's a powerful preview of the upcoming documentary