Healing Gaia

Celebrate World Water Day

Canada is home to 7 percent of the world's fresh water, yet we have few laws to protect it.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published March 19, 2015

Saturday, March 22 is World Water Day. According to the United Nations, over one billion people lack access to clean drinking water.

Most Canadians can't identify with this. When we turn on the faucet in the morning out flows fresh, clean water ready for making coffee or for taking a long hot shower. We believe water will be available in virtually unlimited amounts whenever we need it. But this is a fragile arrangement that far too many Canadians take for granted.

Aboriginal residents of Fort Chipewyan located on the Athabasca River have been concerned for years that toxins from oilsands production were responsible for higher than normal rates cancer and other medical conditions.

Since the oil industry in Alberta was mainly self-regulating, it was easy for corporations and government to claim that the development of the oilsands had no effect on the level of pollutants found in the Athabasca River.

Thanks to scientist Dr. David Schindler, it's clear that this is far from the truth. In 2010, Schindler conducted research into the sources of pollution entering the Athabasca River near the oilsands.

His findings proved beyond a reasonable doubt that for years both the oil industry and the provincial government had been providing misinformation by stating that the production of bitumen was not contributing to pollution levels in the area.

Dr. Schindler's findings proved carcinogen laden smoke from the refineries settled onto the snow in winter and that each spring the melting snow released these pollutants into the Athabasca in amounts equivalent to a major oil spill.

When the Alberta government continued to challenge Dr. Schindler's findings the federal government had no choice but to step in and have federal scientists look into the matter.

In 2013, the final report concluded that pollution levels in lakes surrounding the oilsands had significantly increased in the years following the 1960's when oil development in the area began. As production intensified, the pollution levels increased accordingly.

Following the release of this document, the federal government set up the Canada-Alberta oilsands Environmental Monitoring Information Portal. Unfortunately, this site is not managed by an independent body and still claims that pollution resulting from oil production falls within acceptable levels.

What many Canadians don't realize is that the 2012 Omnibus Bill C-45 introduced by the Harper government allowed changes to be made to Canada's Indian Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Fisheries Act and the Environmental Assessment Act. These significant changes took place during a time when the federal government was facing increasing opposition to continued development of the Alberta oilsands.

According to Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians, changes made to the Navigable Waters Protection Act alone means that 99 percent of Canadian lakes and rivers are without environmental protection.

This is an important point because damage from the oil industry is not limited to the means of extraction and production. In less than a month there were three rail accidents near Timmins, Ontario involving the transportation of crude oil. The most recent derailment happened March 7 when 38 cars left the tracks and two ended up in the Makami River leaking oil into the local water system.

In 2010, the United Nation's Human Rights Council declared access to water a basic human right. Canada is home to seven percent of the world's fresh water and yet we have few laws to protect it.

Celebrate World Water Day by watching The Nature of Things episode, Tipping Point: Age of the Oilsands. This 44-minute video originally aired in January 2011, yet its messages remain timely.

Happy World Water Day!

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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