Thursday, April 10, 2008

Water, water everywhere! Will we have enough to drink?

Water rate increases in pipeline for 3 years

I read with interest the decision by Ottawa City Council to increase water rates by 29.5% over three years. I also note that the Citizen (perhaps like any news organization trying sell its product), uses the more provocative term "jump" as opposed to increase, to somehow suggest that this increase is unnecessarily large. A more helpful analysis, however, would point out how ridiculously low our water rates have been.

I have been tracking my personal water consumption since 2004. That year I consumed a total of 88 cubic meters, or 88,000 liters of clean, treated water. This translates into an average daily consumption of 242 litres. At first blush, this may seem high, but is actually significantly lower than the average Canadian, who, according to Natural Resources Canada personally consumes 343 litres per day. (According to a UVic study based on OECD data released in 2001, total per capita consumption exceeded 1600 cubic meters per year, when all use was taken into account.)

For this valuable resource I paid a total of $166.12 or less than 1/5 of a cent per litre. Such a low cost for water does not encourage anyone to conserve. In fact, I believe the charge is so low that for most of us we tend to treat it as almost a "free" commodity. We think nothing of taking lengthy showers, letting the tap run to get the 'coldest' water, or using the hose in the summer time to wash down a dusty sidewalk.

So, in 2005 it wasn't for economic reasons that I decided to curtail my water use. I simply wanted to be more conscious of my consumption habits. Since then, with some modest effort, I have been able to reduce my daily use to about 127 litres per day. This still equates to a personal annual consumption of about 47,000 litres of treated water. My goal is to reduce my thirst further to less than 100 litres per day.

Achieving this reduction would still be more than twice the amount that the UN has calculated as a minimum requirement. As reported in the BBC, they have recommended that people need a minimum of 50 litres of water a day for drinking, washing, cooking and sanitation, yet in 1990 over a billion people did not have even that.

As reported in Canada Vs. the OECD: An Environmental Comparison,

Canada ranks a dismal 28th among the 29 nations of the OECD in terms of per capita water consumption. Only Americans use more water than Canadians.


Since 1980, overall water use in Canada has increased by 25.7%. This is five times higher than
the overall OECD increase of 4.5%. In contrast, nine OECD nations were able to decrease their
overall water use since 1980 (Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Poland, Finland and Denmark).

Clearly, Canadians are gluttons when it comes to water consumption. It is essential that we continue our efforts to change our ways. Properly costing this valuable resource is a good place to start to promote conservation.

I had the good fortune to hear Maude Barlow speak at the University of Ottawa in late January on the topic of the Right to Water. Her work is very important.

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