The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Canada is a “hydro-climatic time bomb:” water policy expert calls for changes to counteract damages

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It's going to blow!
Kirk Hall was filled to the brim on Oct. 7 with both students and professionals for a lecture regarding water policy reform.

The speaker was Rob Sandford, a member of the expert Forum for Leadership on Water, or FLOW.

His address focused on the implications of climate change and its economic cost in relation to Canadian water resources.

For FLOW, the key to solving the issue is involving both geological and social sciences.

According to Sandford, the changing composition in the atmosphere is causing “hydro-climatic conditions.” These human-induced changes include “deeper, more persistent droughts and flooding.”

“The cost of ongoing damage makes it difficult to keep the ongoing prosperity,” Sandford said of the dire economic consequences of climate change.

“The insurance [companies] warn us of these concerns — the number of severe storms is affecting the industry. Half of the money being paid out [by these companies] is related to water damage.”

According to Sandford, this is the initial cost of climate change. The fluctuating temperatures are no longer within normal ranges, thus making it more difficult to prepare for an event such as a flood. Sandford’s plans to diffuse the problem focus around better management of water and reformation of current water policies. Otherwise, it will be impossible to adapt to the changing climates. This is FLOW’s aim: government actions to protect water resources.

For towns and communities in the Northwest Territories, this is one of the greatest issues being faced. A combination of being downstream of glacial melting and temperatures rising faster than anywhere else in Canada threatens the sustainability of life for the area.

Currently, the policies and strategies that the government implements regarding water usage do not apply to or include First Nations reserves. This has resulted in leaving many on reserves without access to clean drinking water.

Sandford expressed this is due in part to the failure of the 1987 Water Policy Act, which was “never implemented in a meaningful way,” citing deregulation and privatization as problems.

“Water policy reform is inevitable. We need to create new allocation models, we need desperately to associate water with agriculture. The time for relevant reforms is here and now.”

After the lecture, a panel of correspondents including Professor Patricia Gober from the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Policy and John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair and director for the Centre for Hydrology, answered questions from the public.

According to Pomeroy, the situation in the Northwest Territories requires action sooner than later. He stressed the need to implement policies immediately.

“The changes [in climate] are making the landscape unrecognizable in the North.” Pomeroy described the changes as “getting wetter,” as in snowfall instead of rainfall.

Among places south of the Northwest Territories, Pomeroy listed the Rockies and prairies as affected zones. A “decline in the snow-covered periods of a month and a half” in the Rockies, and storms “greater in area, length, and intensity” in the prairies.

Gober, who stated that FLOW’s purpose was not to respond to climate change but rather to adapt, stressed the need for better leadership in addressing climate change.

“Those who understood the long-term effects were in the business community,” she said. “They saw that their long-term opportunities would be hindered by water shortages… There is influence in the business community.”

Whether or not the power lies within the citizens of Canada, the government, or the business community, Sandford stressed the main objective is to simply find a solution, and fast.

“In Canada, climate change will soon affect us all. What we’ve collectively done over time has created a hydro-climatic time bomb. We need to figure out how to diffuse it.”


Photo: mitwa17/Flickr

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