Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Will Canada's Water Cure the US Drought?

In the face of global warming and eight dry years, the United States is confronting its worst drought since the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression. Between 1930 and 1940, 2.5 million people were forced to leave the southwest plains and 50 million acres of formerly productive land was destroyed thanks to a combination of drought and poor farming practices.

Nobody is saying the impacts of this year's drought are on that scale. However, Alabama Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions have are already requesting a disaster declaration for 19 Alabama counties as corn farmers and cattle ranchers face potential ruin. The more drastic consequences may occur much further north, in Canada.

The US federal government, particularly President Bush, still has not agreed to impose mandatory cuts on greenhouse gas emissions. Until they do, they are effectively saying that they are prepared to live with the consequences of global warming rather than try to prevent them. For the states already affected by drought this will mean longer and more severe water shortages and increasing strain on already endangered farmland. If that occurs, the US government will be left with three choices to address the looming catastrophe:

  1. do nothing
  2. relocate millions of people to more economically productive areas
  3. gain controlling interests of Canada's fresh water supply.

One guess as to which option the US will choose. Abandoning large tracts of the country isn't just economically undesirable, it would also mean relinquishing two of America's most cherished bedtime stories - 1) that it's man's right to control and exploit nature for his own benefit, and 2) manifest destiny, the myth that "the American government was "destined" to establish uninterrupted political authority across the entire North American continent."

The US thirst for Canadian water is not a myth. It's a desire and policy goal that's been prepared for by international trade agreement's (NAFTA) and clearly stated by numerous US politicians, most recently Kansas congressional hopeful John Doll.

If the drought continues, look for renewed calls for large scale water diversions from Canada - an alarming possibility given rising world temperatures, shrinking glaciers, and a booming Canadian oil sands industry that has already swallowed up enough water rights to quench the thirst of a large city.

17 comments:

lady macleod said...

It boggles the mind how Bush and his administration can ignore the reports on global warming. At the recent G8 conference, he did it again. I agree, if we don't do something now, we are cooked - literally.

Odiyya said...

like a goose....

The Mound of Sound said...

I believe this is the one, lone issue on which the Canadian people would quickly and clearly draw the line. I don't know anyone who isn't alive to this issue nor anyone who would tolerate Canada's water resources being pillaged. Bear in mind we don't actually get all that much more water than other places. We just haven't accessed the local water supply as other states have. The idea that we have a never-ending, bottomless water supply simply = well, it simply doesn't hold water.

Kyle G. Olsen said...

The USA has plenty of water. The Missouri and Mississippi rivers are much closer to the USA Southwest.

By the way, Alabama is in the South East, east of the Mississippi. It would be much easier to transfer water from there.

On top of that, water transportation infrastructure is incredibly expensive. In most cases it will be cheaper to desalinate brackish ground water that to build pipes and pumps.

The Great Lake States and Provinces have signed a deal to not transfer any water out of the basin.

I don't know why you still harp about this: it is a non-issue.

Robert said...

Canada is already providing lots of non-renewable resources to the US (aka gas), if a water allocation could be agreed upon between the US and Canada, I say pump this renewable resource (aka water) across the border.

Odiyya said...

But Robert, you are American are you not? don't you think thats a bit of a misplaced endorsement?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Odiyya,
I don’t know why there isn’t more effort in the US to limit the use of water. Rather than hauling water over large distances or pumping huge quantities out of the ground, we need to focus on conservation. A renewable resource is not an infinite resource; there is a limit to how much can be effectively harvested in a given interval. We need more funding for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and both D. of Agriculture and D. of Health/Human Services (not to mention their state and local counterparts) need to encourage Americans to diversify the produce in their diets and to consume less meat. The latter will save money on health care, as well as serving to reduce the water demand.

-erd

kat said...

how can we deny water to the Americans? is it some sort of punishment for GW ignoring global warming? i am sure that many Americans are environmentally conscious people, just like there are many Canadians who are not. (trust me i have great debates with them, i know they exist)
sure we may have our differences over Americans taking "our" resources, but what makes them ours? a fucking imaginary line?

Water is a human right that should not be denied. Water is a universal right, all things depend on it for survival.

has anyone heard of privatization of water in other countries? things like making it illegal to catch rain water!! i fear this may happen in canada, when rich corporations realize how precious a commodity water is soon to be... yikes. so no, i dont think this is a non-issue because people are fickle and greedy, and we've seen how easy it is for governments to back out on agreements.

Odiyya said...

your point is a bit mixed Kat. One one hand you are saying we should share our water, but on the other you're worried about privatization of water.

Canada likely isn't going to "share" water. The US will gain access through free trade, which makes water a private commodity availabe for sale in massive quantities to the US. Wheter that comes in the form of diverstions or the world's biggest bottled water sale doesn't really matter.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Kat,
Sharing common wealth is important, but so is stewardship. I agree with your assertion that natural resources don’t necessarily follow humans’ laws or sense of ownership, but there are many people who consume without regard for others. The US has a history of internally redistributing and re-appropriating natural resources within its borders. If you’re unfamiliar with how the City of Los Angeles gets much of its water, this subject may inform your opinion on the matter "Canadian water".
And, alas, the geography geek and former cartographer in me must weigh in on this: A border is not an "imaginary line". It is a conceptual line, a legal line- but a real line, to be sure. I know a survey-pilot or two who have flown near the Colombia-Venezuela border who will attest to this fact.

-erd

kat said...

i am saying that water isn't a commodity and we shouldn't sell it at any cost. the problem with starting to sell water, is that it further separates the rich from the poor.what about those who cannot pay for water? which in a drought situation, the vast majority of people live below poverty (case in point The Prairies in the 1930's) i guess i wasn't clear on that.

i guess all im saying is that if the states ended up in a drought situation again, as fellow human beings we have to help them out, and not stick it to them by forcing them to pay while they turn into dusty skeletons. i guess im thinking more about a not so distant future apocalyptic senario...caused by global warming...

Odiyya said...

Gotcha. Sorry for that.

I see where you're coming from now. I think the best possible scenario is that the drought vulnerable states start putting forward top notch conservation measures now, as suggested by ERD. That way if and when a larger drought occurs they won't necessarily need to bring in water from anywhere.

Woman at Mile 0 said...

Great post! I added you to my blogroll Concious Earth.

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. said...

We have to become aware that there is only ONE water well - and we all are dependent on it.

Already, the USA are using up so many natural resources, out of proportion to their population compared to the rest of the world!

Not only do we all need drinking water and water for agricultural purposes. Water has myriad of health benefits: cold shower, sauna, hot herbal baths.

Find more in my water and health book: Health20 - Tapping into the Healing Power of Water", McGraw Hill 2007.

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

...and my co-author Roanne Weisman is Canadian!

Anonymous said...

The important thing to consider is that this is an extremely delicate issue for most Canadians. They already have seen the rip off of NAFTA. Due to bungling on our leaders behalf back then, we cannot cut sales of oil to the U.S. Unless we first cut back our usage.

Image if you will some sort of natural disaster that cuts production severely. Well, if Canadians were loosing fuel and could not heat homes etc., and wanted to divert enough to keep our population alive and going, according to NAFTA we could not. We would FIRST have to cut use of the already short supply, then cut to the U.S. That's kind of evil if you ask me.

To keep soccer moms driving Peggy and bobby to practice in SUV's!

I could see trucking water on humanitarian grounds, but the selling it is just scummy and nobody should be getting rich off it. Sorry, but Canadians will not allow for giant pipelines cris-crossing cottage country and through our cities, draining our last resource so people can live in deserts.

If the U.S. Was doing something about global warming and cutting back emissions and stopping the pushing of huge decadent vehicles, maybe there would be talk of some sort of aid, but as long as people have some perverse desire to live in the middle of a place where humans were never meant to live...well I don't know how one can expect help.

Surely the U.S. Could attack and take it, but you would be dealing with and endless Guerrilla war not unlike Iraq. We would not just go "oh okay then..."

You guys need to conserve and stop wasting everything. Yes Canadians waste too, but we do have more and less population. Didn't america see this coming?

Anonymous said...

Finally, i suggest the U.S. spend the big bucks and desalinate...sorry not my problem.

30k kids dies from starvation every day, and now suddenly this is a concern because it's america.

Jesus h christ! What a dark and evil bias.

pollocanada said...

OK, first of all, there are still people in North America (on both sides) who are considering Canadian provinces and territories to be just few more northern states of the U.S. and by some means considering Canadians to be just northern rebels.

Secondly, why not get cheaper water from Canada, if U.S. really wants it can get it for free without even stretching a finger.

The biggest fear and driving force is here the threat of losing conforts of life. The worry about economy make sense as well but used as a coverup for political gains. Water is required for any economy to function. However, just as other developed countries in the world can thrive with much LESS water then why the U.S. needs to be by FAR the highest consumer of water in the globe (as well as highest consumer of oil in the world)?

Isn't this just that people are unconfortable to give up indivifualistic life style and individual rights and confort level?

The word "savings" was never a big hit. "Saving" sounds almost like an insult for many. That's particularly true for the U.S. (let's hit the U.S. yet again).