Monday, October 15, 2007

Water, Canada, drought, and thirsty

At a party fourteen years ago a Canadian friend announced that if the US ever invades Canada it would likely be over water rights. My husband at the time and I shook our heads, the very idea that water could be at the center of any fight was so strange to us. We lived in Maine, where snowmelt swelled rivers and flooded towns each spring. Water. I mean, there is so much of it everywhere. Right?

Since then there have been studies done about the issue and it turns our friend wasn’t having a senior moment. Canada has only 0.5% of the world's population, but its landmass contains approximately 9% of the world's renewable water supply. I learned about water’s finiteness when shortly after our Canadian friend made his statement, when we became live-aboard cruisers.

Live-aboard cruising is like camping, you take with you what you need. Carry-in, carry-out. That included water. Our sailboat was a solid, heavy and roomy. It carried 100 gallons of water in two tanks under the bow.

We didn’t think about water too much while we sailed in the US. When we needed some, we filled up using one of the available water taps at a marina. However, after crossing to the Bahamas we learned different. Rainfall during the months that we would be there average an inch and a half. The Bahamas Islands are a desert country, situated on limestone and coral, only inches above sea level, and wells are unheard of. Locals collect rainwater in cisterns. For visitors, marginally drinkable water is available for prices ranging from 5 cents to 60 cents a gallon. Many boaters own reverse osmosis contraptions and make their own water.

All this was new to us Mainers who see so much snow, ice, and rain each year. “Conserve water” became our norm. Showers consisted of stove heated water, measured and poured into a bottle that had a pump and handle. If it rained, hubby quickly stopped the scuppers and collected it. You never saw a man move so quickly as when that first raindrop hit the deck. He could go from a napping prone position in his berth to standing on the forward deck with bucket looking at the sky in 5 seconds flat.

Living for two years with a finite amount of water made an impression. Not having enough water scared us, and never mind that it was our choice. What about the people for whom having no clean water is not their choice? We were sobered by our American lifestyle of waste.

Now with the Georgia extreme drought those memories surface again. I see the pond level outside my apartment slowly sink, revealing long-submerged trees and branches. I hear of nearby wells going dry. I worry about the farmers. I cringe at the maroon parts of the drought monitor maps like the one on the left. I like water. I like Canada. I just don’t want to have to go to Canada to take a shower.

For More Information: May 10, 2006 CBS article:
Drain Canada The American Prospect: Prepare For U.S.-Canadian Water War

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