“Many of us who have lived most of our lives in the industrialized countries of the North may find it difficult to imagine running out of water. We have lived with steady supplies most of our lives and have used it lavishly. But at current rates of use, we will run short.” – Maude Barlow, Blue Gold

Right after I heard this author speak at International Week at the University of Alberta, I bought the book that this quote is from. There was a very interesting panel that was put together to discuss a very important issue of our day – water and the way that we use it.

First in the panel there was the President of the Syncrude Oil company in Alberta. He discussed the many different ways that his company works to reduce the amount of water that is used to extract oil from the tar sands. Despite the reduction techniques of reusing the water many times for cooling, there is still a massive amount of water that is used by the oil industry. As the different members of the panel presented their opinions and relationship with water, you could feel a resentment for the oil industry becoming very strong. Most of this resentment was directed at the President of the Oil company. In the question period at the end of the presentations by the four representatives, there were many harsh questions directed at Syncrude. One member of the audience aptly pointed out that the resentment and anger was wrongly directed, because we as a society create the demand for all this oil. There are many desires that we have as a consumerist society that contribute to the rapid depletion of fresh water sources.

Another member of the panel was a professor from the University of Alberta. For many years he has been doing research on the water levels in the Alberta area. He presented his findings that the glacier that flows into the Bow River is melting at an alarming rate and it is the key source of fresh water for the Calgary area.

The third member of the panel was a UofA Business graduate who wanted to start a company that was socially responsible. He began a water bottling company called Earth Water that donates a good portion of the proceeds to the United Nations Refugee Fund.

Maude Barlow also spoke in this panel and presented the basic ideas of her book Blue Gold. She described the many cases of pollution of surface water and the use of ground water at rates that are faster than the water is replenished. What inspired me most was the use of stories of her travels to various third world countries that are harshly affected by a shortage of water.

In North America, we may not yet notice the consequence of our lavish use of water. In Canada there is seemingly and endless supply of water. What we aren’t noticing is the problems that have been occurring in developing countries for quite some time already. Countries like Mexico, particularly in the urban areas, have almost completely used up their ground water supply, and it can no longer be replenished. Now that there is no water in the aquifer that lies beneath the ground, the city is sinking at a rapid rate.

Many of the poor people in the slums are not able to pay to have water delivered to their houses. They also cannot afford running water or pipes into their houses to deliver municipal water. Many of the rich people in poor countries can afford pipes and they are paying much less to have municipal water delivered to their houses rather than the high delivery price that the poor people must pay. Water is a basic human right, and many poor people cannot afford it.

This then leads to the discussion on the commodification of water. If water is a basic human right – then why isn’t it accessible to all and why is the private sector gaining so much control over it? Why do we as North Americans feel the need to have water bottled?

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