Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Water in Canada:A Resource in Crisis by Hanneke Brooymans

This 2011 book published by Canadian Currents is written with that same sort of Alberta-grown call-to-action tone backed up by solid data that made Alberta journalist Andrew Nikiforuk reknown for his exposure of the oil sands industry. Water in Canada begins with a foreword by Dr. David Schindler, Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta and an expert in water-related issues.As Schindler remarks in the forward, Canadians are surrounded by freshwater, making it easy for us to take freshwater for granted. However, this view is "at variance with what freshwater experts deal with and read about every day.” Describing his own experience, Schindler quotes, "it is like the view from the locomotive 10 seconds before the train wreck."As Schindler promises, Brooymans compiles all the expert data, (and insider facts) and writes the story of Water in Canada as an excellent read. She is a real life Edmonton Journal writer with that Albertan drive to speak the truth, and the book is a summary of years of research by herself and others committed to studying detailed measurements now exposed to the public eye. In her challenging introduction she muses, how would humans "handle environmental issues if they lived to be 200 years old? How cavalier would people be about their tinkering with the atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration, for example, if they knew they were the guinea pigs?" It is an interesting philosophical approach, and it sets the tone for an examination of ways we have allowed industry to destroy the nature to the enrichment of a few and the detriment of many, based on a shared cultural assumption of infinite water resources. Brooyman remarks, “ Canadians are not water rich- we only think we are." She adds, “can we snap out of our collective delusion in time? Maybe. But that would require a significant boost in the country's collective water literacy, which is currently as shallow and murky as a mud puddle." Expect plenty of water-related expressions in the book, the book is rife with them, but then tend to be placed at just the right moment, and so work to give punch to the writing rather than to detract. The book, written like all good journalism, delivers regarding water politics, economic issues, sustainability and other concerns. Brooyman also ventures from the philosophical to the psychological, describing a mental condition called “environmental generational amnesia” as a driving concern of hers throughout the book."Yes, humans are adaptable...but do we want our grandchildren drawing on shrunken, polluted streams and rivers and frolicking in filthy puddles that used to be crystal-clear lakes and thinking this is normal? It could easily happen. Peter Kahn, a human development psychologist, calls this environmental generational amnesia. With each generation the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation in its youth takes that degraded condition as the non-degraded condition-as the normal experience."In exploring the quantification and health of our water supply describes the mechanics of the hydrologic cycle in an intriguing way. It is hard to write science for lay-people, but Brooyman does an exceptional job. Lake volume data in Canada is not generally available, as "while volume is measured for larger lakes (80 to be exact), the 2 million smaller lakes are relatively shallow." Brooyman explains that there are “645 lakes larger than 100 square kilometres, and Statistics Canada estimates they hold 17, 398 cubic kilometres of water. River length and outflow is also measured, as well as maximum discharge. Water assets based on a region depend on many factors, including precipitation and other features.” Brooyman also explains mapping groundwater (I wondered how they did that) and uneven distribution, which is fascinating, adding something I mused upon, Ontario has the most people and the least lakes.Each chapter in the book is well-sequenced, moving quickly to a study of the business of bottled water. Part Two, (the book is divided in three parts) water governance, including fair-handed information on governance of the Great Lakes and other international waters. The final part of the book, Part Three, is called “ the future of water” and includes a chapter on changing attitudes, another on changing climate, and a discussion of future care-taking, clean up and research. Finally, she includes an examination of the potential for business to exploit opportunities in ensuring clean-water technologies meet their mark. Or market. A tight, optimistic conclusion includes inspirational words from Maude Barlow and the extensive bibliography and index. Highly useful, a recommended read.