“Water is more valuable than oil.”
Former U.S. President George W. Bush
Canada exports huge quantities of water to the United States and all over the world. As the world’s fifth largest exporter of agricultural products – which are composed mainly of water – huge amounts of Canadian water leave the country every day.
Whole lakes are shipped in every direction by means of our vast and efficient agricultural system. And the world is a better place because of it.
International customers get quality food to feed hungry populations. Canadian farmers prosper – and so does the rest of the country.
Early explorers were simply astounded at the endless plains, fertile soil and the relatively predictable rainfall we are blessed with.
Improved farming techniques and farming science have meant that each year there is more crop available for export. New crops come on – like canola and soybeans – and this means even more business for our agricultural export business. The more crop there is for export, the more water goes overseas, or down south.
Canada owes its success in large part to its agricultural sector, and no matter how much new technology comes on the scene, people will always need good food. The fact that so much water leaves our country every year in our agricultural exports troubles no one, nor should it. It’s part of a natural cycle. Eventually that water comes back.
Water leaves our country every day in thousands of other products as well.
So if a politician announced a sale to a foreign nation of four trillion litres of water locked in agricultural products, he would be praised. But just let that politician propose that the same amount of bulk water be sold to a foreign country – especially to the United States – and he would have to run for cover. It would be the end of his or her political career.
Most Canadians are perfectly happy to sell our water to the highest bidder when that water is contained in agricultural products or the thousands of other export products that contain water. But we have some kind of visceral reaction when anyone dares to suggest we sell water that’s not contained in something else.
Over the years, many schemes have been proposed for the large-scale sale of water. Massive diversions, dams, container ship transport. Almost all of these plans have been shot down.
The world is getting hotter, drier and thirstier. Demands for freshwater are growing louder all the time. Wars have even been fought over water.
The American southwest is getting drier by the day. Water is being drawn from the Ogallala aquifer, from which the southwest takes so much of its water, at a rate eight times faster than it is being replenished. Anyone looking over at Glen Canyon Dam water level knows how far down the overused Columbia River sinks every year.
Americans need water and we have it.
Canadians should begin to look at water as a commodity – the blue gold that it is.
It goes without saying that the ecological and environmental impediments to any water export plan must be dealt with intelligently. In some cases, those plans will make no sense.
But in some cases they will. Much of our national aversion to selling water to the U.S. southwest is just thinly disguised anti-Americanism.
We should put such trivial emotions behind us and look at the big picture. Our water could help those incredibly productive places like Silicon Valley keep boosting our standard of living. Our water could turn that southwest desert into a garden that can grow food for the world.
And our water – our blue gold – can make us rich.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.