From “Day Zero” in Cape Town, South Africa to Jordan and Israel’s depleted reservoirs to droughts in the Prairies it seems like water and access to water is being discussed more often and with more urgency than ever before. It makes sense though, as water is vital to maintaining life, and without it there wouldn’t be any life to begin with.
It’s easy to assume that living in a water rich country like Canada we wouldn’t face the same problems as countries like Jordan or South Africa, but alarms bells are ringing for those willing to listen. In British Columbia they’re feeling the consequences of climate change as mountain snowpacks are melting faster and earlier, leading to arid and drought-like conditions as far-reaching as Saskatchewan. It may come as a surprise that Vancouver has had a water restriction use in place every summer since 2015.
Closer to home we face our own set of issues. This past winter we saw swollen rivers in Southern Ontario that led to the flooding of communities in Brant County and beyond. The Grand River burst over the banks and residents, schools, and businesses had to evacuate. In 2016, much of Southern Ontario faced drought-like conditions with 20-25% less rainfall than normal. It was farmers that bore the brunt of that drought with a huge loss in spring crops and smaller yield all around.
Flooding in Brant (Photo: Annie Poulin - Radio Canada)
Aside from a changing climate putting pressure on our water systems, much of Ontario is expected to grow in population size. Yearly, an estimated 100,000 people per year are expected to move to the Greater Golden Horseshoe area. In Simcoe County, Barrie outpaced the national growth rate at 5.6% according to a 2016 census report, the national average being at a 5% growth rate. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but it matters because at the moment Simcoe’s vital water systems are not protected from the urban sprawl and inefficient development which places them at risk.
So, with changes in weather patterns, growing populations, a growing demand for water, and less water, what are we to do?
First, don’t panic. It’s not all doom-and-gloom. People are rising up to the challenge to protect what matters.
This can be seen quite pointedly in Ontario’s Greenbelt that has had 13 years of success in protecting our natural heritage, supporting our farmers, and promoting the economic and natural wonders of our land. There is a reason that 9 in 10 Ontarians support the Greenbelt. It works.
Since its inception, the Greenbelt has expanded to include 21 major urban river valleys and seven coastal wetlands providing further protection of our water systems. Recently, the Province of Ontario held consultations with the public on the potential expansion of the Greenbelt north into Simcoe County and south into Brant County. This would bring a baseline of protection to water systems crossing municipal boundaries such as the Waterloo and Paris/Galt moraine complex, and catchment and wetlands west of Minesing in Dufferin and Simcoe counties.
21 major urban valleys and seven coastal valleys were included into the Greenbelt in May 2017
Aside from the larger picture of policy there are actions that every citizen can take to help preserve our water:
- Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth – There’s no reason to be running water while brushing your teeth. Turn off the tap until you’re ready to rinse and you can save up to 9 liters of water a minute!
- Don’t run the washing machine or dishwasher until it’s full – It’s inefficient to be doing half-loads, just wait until you have a full load to turn on the machine.
- Use less electricity – The power plants we get our water from use a lot of water in the process of making energy. Turn off the lights, unplug the electronics, and conserve water.
- Fill up your sink – When washing a lot of dishes fill up your sink with water instead of having the tap run the whole time while scrubbing.
- Boil what you need – Save some energy and water and boil water only for the cups you need.
- Reduce food waste – It takes water to grow the food we eat so reduce your waste and save water.
Green Infrastructure – Growing in popularity, green infrastructure offers some simple solutions to make your home more water friendly:
- Rain harvesting – grab a barrel, bucket or pail and let it fill with water when it rains, then use that water for the lawn, garden, or potted plants around your home.
- Rain gardens – use a combination of soil and plant material to capture and treat storm water. Relatively low-cost and easy to maintain they provide temporary rainwater storage and filter runoff.
- Xeriscaping – group together similar vegetation to reduce the watering requirements of your garden.
I know it doesn’t seem like much but small actions add up and when everyone plays their part we can go a long way to protect the resources we both want and need. So, in lieu of today being World Water Day why not make a resolution to start?
Duffins Creek, Pickering (Photo courtesy of Amy Whalen)
-Engagement and Digital Media Assistant at Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation