Barlow warns of looming water crisis

The world is running out of fresh water. No, this isn't the premise for Hollywood's latest apocalyptic blockbuster. It's happening, and Maude Barlow is coming to Whitehorse today to hammer that reality home for Yukoners.

The world is running out of fresh water.

No, this isn’t the premise for Hollywood’s latest apocalyptic blockbuster.

It’s happening, and Maude Barlow is coming to Whitehorse today to hammer that reality home for Yukoners.

But it might be a tough sell.

Especially considering that the event, Water: Commons or Commodity, will be taking place in Shipyards Park right beside the fast-flowing Yukon River.

“It’s my greatest enemy: the myth of abundance,” said Barlow.

“Canadians are always told that we have 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water stock. But most of that is in great big rivers running to the North and it’s not down where 90 per cent of the population lives.”

There are some terrible hotspots in Canada.

All of northern Alberta is in crisis, said Barlow.

In fact, Alberta is going to be the first have-not province in Canada in terms of fresh water.

And the Great Lakes are also declining.

The World Bank has predicted that in 20 years world demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 per cent.

“In the future anywhere that has fresh water is going to be at a complete advantage,” said Barlow.

“So to destroy it, allow mining companies to destroy it or allow it to be bought and sold for profit isn’t very smart.”

Barlow is the national chair of Council of Canadians.

She is a prominent Canadian activist and the author or co-author of 16 books, including the international best seller Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and The Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

“As Canadians we’ve taken our water for granted,” she said.

It’s been 40 years since there’s been an amendment to the Water Act, and it needs to be updated.

We don’t have national drinking water standards.

We haven’t properly mapped our groundwater, and we don’t know if it’s being overly consumed, she said.

“I think it is, but we haven’t done the proper research on it.”

And then there’s something called a Schedule Two, which allows mining companies to use small lakes as tailings ponds.

Recently, the BC government signed off on turning Fish Lake into a tailings pond for Taseko Mines’ proposed Prosperity Mine.

The healthy lake, just west of Williams Lake, is home to thousands of rainbow trout and will soon become a toxic dump.

While there are no Schedule Twos in the Yukon, there are many contentious issues.

Water standards in the territory are lower than national standards, said Barlow.

And while it is trying to get a new wastewater treatment plant into operation, Dawson City spent years releasing its sewage into the Yukon River.

There are over 120 abandoned mines throughout the territory, said Barlow.

Acid leaching from these mines could pose a threat to our water system.

Then there’s the Carmacks Copper Mine, which was recently denied its license by the Yukon Territorial Water Board.

The proposal had already passed the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board and government scrutiny.

However, the water board found that the proposed technique of acid heap leaching was unproven and the corporation’s effluent standards were not high enough to protect the local watershed.

It was a small victory for fresh water.

Then there’s ATCO.

When Premier Dennis Fentie engaged in secret talks with the Alberta-based corporation to privatize Yukon Energy, water rights were also on the table.

“We want Canada to name its water a public trust so that it cannot be privatized and sold as private property,” said Barlow.

“When water becomes a for-profit industry, companies tend to cut corners, rates for water delivery and sewage go up exponentially and the protections just aren’t there in the same way as they were when they were public.”

So, the choice remains for Yukoners – pollute and sell our water or conserve it for all so that in 20 years time you’ll be able to go to the Yukon River, dip in a cup and take a sip.

Water: Commons or Commodity will take place at Shipyards Park today from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Barlow will be holding a panel discussion at 7 p.m. along with Carl Sydney, of the Yukon River Inter-tribal Watershed Council, and Bill Slater, an environmental consultant.

The kid-friendly event will also include a play, music and food.

Entrance is free but donations are encouraged.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com