Canada’s plentiful water resources could become endangered with climate change

Researchers W.L. Quinton, M. Hayashi and L.E. Chasmer co-wrote a study examining the changes in Canada’s permafrost cover in the northwestern areas of the country in 2010. The scientists concluded the persistent degradation of the nation’s permafrost had brought insecurity to the sustainability of Canada’s water resources. The study proved Canada’s northern regions were losing permafrost very quickly. Remote‐sensing analysis of a single square kilometre area had indicated that permafrost once occupied .70 square kilometres in 1947 then decreased to .43 square kilometres by 2008. The scientists blamed climate change and human disturbance for this drastic shortfall in permafrost layers.

Natural Resources Canada said this country is blessed with ample quantities of freshwater. According to the government agency, Canadian rivers release close to nine per cent of the world's renewable water supplies in a country with less than one per cent of the world's population. Also, North America’s Great Lakes have the largest surface area of freshwater in the world. Yet, despite the massive quantity of freshwater, Canada’s water resources might be threatened by climate change and other factors.

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Alexandra Pope wrote an article for Canadian Geographic in March 2019 outlaying some vital facts Canadians should know about their water resources. In her article, Pope noted how Canadians are wealthy in terms of freshwater. Although natural variations in seasonal rainfalls and snowfalls have created shortages in some years and flooding in others, Canada’s water supplies remain stable. Yet, Canadians as a whole aren’t necessarily adhering to ecological practises when the sustainability of the country’s water is considered. Pope said a total of 37 billion cubic metres of water were taken from Canada’s lakes, rivers and groundwater resources in 2013. Most of the water in this period had been used for industrial purposes, such as power generation, manufacturing and agriculture. For example, 83 per cent of the water used by Canada’s agriculture sector will never return to their original sources. Meanwhile, water usage by Canadian households actually decreased between 2011 and 2013, as industrial water consumption continued to surge. Even still, Canadians use an average of 223 litres of water each day at home, making this country the largest consumer of freshwater in the world according to Pope.

Unlike Canada, many other countries are impoverished in terms of water resources. Water supplies are diminishing worldwide, but the utilization of urban wastewater might provide at least part of an answer to this setback in sustainability. Stephen Leahy’s 2013 article, Dwindling Water Supplies Make Every Drop Count, underlines the importance wastewater could have for global survival. But an existing problem is the lack of water treatment plants in the Developing World. At present, just eight percent of wastewater generated in low-income countries undergoes chemical treatments. In contrast, high-income countries treat 70 per cent of their wastewater, while middle-income countries treat 28-38 percent of their wastewater.

Zafar Adeel, the Director of United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, said the volumes of wastewater hypothetically accessible on a worldwide basis each year corresponds to 14 months of drainage from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. Wastewater is valuable for having high level of nutrients, including potash, nitrogen and phosphorus, Leahy wrote. But using untreated wastewater has led to spates of diseases such as cholera. Chile prohibited the use of untreated wastewater in 1992 after the country experienced cholera epidemics en masse.

The sustainability of the world’s water resources represents an international issue, as with most environmental concerns. Wealthy countries such as Canada should be willing to assist developing countries to acquire water treatment systems – thus enabling the poorer areas of the world to use wastewater efficiently and safely. Moreover, North American and European wastewater should be expended to its fullest potential. Industrial overuse of water and the underuse of treated wastewater represent two important worldwide issues. At home, Canadians can become more cognizant about their personal water usage by addressing easily fixable issues such as faulty plumbing and leaky taps.