And yet Canada is on the front lines of rapid climate changes that affect the water cycle. Where, when, and how much rain, snow or freezing rain falls is changing across Canada.
This is the water that we depend upon to replenish our groundwater, rivers and lakes, which continue to have a significant and increasing impact on water availability and quality in Canada and around the world.
However, Canadians remain divided on energy policy and resource development, and on appropriate solutions that balance environmental, economic and social needs. As Canadians, we must move beyond this and implement changes to better manage our water resources sustainably.
Water front and centre
We must manage our water sustainably because water is central to environmental, social and economic sustainability and therefore sustainable societies. This is the focus of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals identify targets that must be achieved for livelihoods, health, education, environment, cities, oceans, equity and partnership.
It’s important to understand that these goals are not isolated, but interrelated. This is why, even though there is a goal for water (SDG 6), there are 40 targets in the other 16 goals that relate directly to water.
For example, we cannot have good health if we do not have clean and accessible water, and children cannot go to school or adults to work, if they are not healthy. With water often at the heart of many social and economic inequities, it is critical to address water quantity, quality and access issues in order to meet all of the goals and to achieve the global sustainable development vision.
It requires federal co-ordination and leadership on water to overcome challenges of fragmented jurisdiction, such as following through with their commitment to create a Canada Water Agency, develop a national flood forecasting system and ensure universal access to adequate drinking water supplies.
Research institutions must also step up to advance our knowledge, develop and assess decision support tools and solutions, and communicate their findings to communities, governments and economic sectors.
Canada could support the world in achieving water sustainability, but it must first get its own house in order and achieve the UN’s water goals nationally.
Canada still has not reached universal access to reliable, potable water supplies for everyone, especially First Nations communities. Lead pipes, disinfection byproducts and aging infrastructure are interrupting drinking water service and negatively affecting human health.
Canada already has the expertise, technologies, industries and research capacity to make good on a commitment to water sustainability and universal achievement of the UN’s water goals for all Canadians. But it needs leadership to advance research and practice to expand our existing strengths, and export these internationally.
Canadian research institutions have a role to play in bringing the country together by showing Canada and the world the solutions and benefits of achieving these goals.
There are significant long-term benefits at stake, including the enhanced health and well-being of current and future generations, as well as expanded economic opportunity. But, to achieve these, political leadership needs to transcend partisan lines in order to do what is right.
Ultimately, we have an opportunity to make where we live a better place and to get our own watersheds in order. This will help us create a better, more just, equitable and sustainable world for all. The alternative is, quite simply, unthinkable.
Corinne Schuster-Wallace receives funding from Global Water Futures and the Canadian Tri-Agency. She is co-chair of the Working Group on Climate Change for the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research.
Robert Sandford receives partial funding from the Global Water Futures program at the University of Saskatchewan.
Stephanie Merrill is a volunteer board member of the Saskatchewan branch and National board of the Canadian Water Resources Association and the Nashwaak Watershed Association.
We acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional custodians of the lands on which our offices are located: The Pambalong Clan of the Awabakal Nation – Newcastle campus at Callaghan | Darkinung People – Central Coast campus at Ourimbah | Biripai People – Port Macquarie campus
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and pay our respect to their ancestors past and present and acknowledge future leaders.