Only after the last tree has been cut down.  Only after the last river has been poisoned.  Only after the last fish has been caught.  Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof." - Wingspread Statement of the Precautionary Principle.
Research: Water

Cirque du Lake Movie: Speaking for Water!! 

Dear friends and water lovers,

Our 2004 Cirque du Lake water cycle circus tour in  celebration of our Great Lakes, communities and water  was a wonderful success! Our performances and bicycle  travels across Ontario were met with endless  hospitality, receptive audiences and passionate new  faces. Thanks to everyone for their amazing support.

While on tour we were able to capture lots of exciting moments on video which I have edited into an energizing 25 minute adventure.  More info at:

'Speaking for Water' is a journey into the heart and voice of water and other creatures. Many people have said that they find the movie inspiring and I hope that you do too. I would love for the movie to be seen by others to share and further an interconnected celebration of water and life.

DVD copies are now available (VHS on request) so get your very own copy today! Donations of $10-20 are appreciated ($40 for schools and organizations). Email me at or reply to this email.  Please let me know if you would like to screen the movie or if you have any suggestions.

We are Cirque du Lake asking how you celebrate!

Forever Water,
Neill Stewart

168 Union Blvd,
Kitchener, ON
N2M 2S4

Back to top

Little New in Conservation Plan
Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix - January 28, 2005

Dear Editor. 

After reading the government’s recent Water Conservation Plan, my reaction was:  that’s it? 

Conserving water on the prairies is obvious and long overdue, so this plan is an improvement over having no plan at all.  Nobody can argue with Principle 1 of the plan:  “Water sustains life:  water is essential for the health and well-being of all life, our society and the ecosystems on which we depend.”   

If, based on this simple principle, we gave top priority to protecting the water in all our development activities, there is hope for a green and prosperous economy for Saskatchewan.   

But, the plan’s agriculture sector reads:  “Saskatchewan is targeting significant growth in livestock production... This growth will significantly increase water use.”  So, it's business as usual, only more of it!   

This ties in with 2004 reports from SARM, Agrivision, and ACRE.  SARM’s Clearing the Path was to identify and suggest ways to remove impediments (interveners?) to rural economic development while standardizing RM regulations (amalgamation?).   

In its Droughtproofing the Economy report, Agrivision sets out a 50-year water management scheme calling for 15 more dams on our rivers.  Around the resulting reservoirs, it suggests creating 30 most-likely-to-succeed centres or ‘clusters’, along with increased industrial animal production, irrigation, processing plants, slaughterhouses, etc.   

And, finally, ACRE’s report suggests that, to ensure these chosen communities succeed, the government commit funding to support their infrastructure.  Meanwhile,  the rest of us are free to use our own money to build or maintain schools and highways! 

While the pig factories continue to suck up millions of gallons of our drinking water to flush tons of toxic manure out of the barns and onto the fields, ordinary folks down the road are taking three-minute showers with piped water... if they can afford it! 

Unfortunately, until the government gets serious about protecting our precious water and applies the same conservation rules to everybody, these make-work projects constitute nothing more than another missed opportunity.

Elaine Hughes
Archerwill, SK

Back to top

A "Fifty Year Water Plan" for Saskatchewan

A “Fifty Year Plan for Water Development” was recently released by the Saskatchewan

Agrivision Corporation in association with Clifton Associates Ltd. Funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the stated intention is to provide a framework for rural revitalization in Saskatchewan through enhanced water use.

The rationale for the plan was presented at a “Droughtproofing the Economy” conference in Regina on November 4th . Lead author, Graham Parsons, presented an argument that, if we were to manage it properly, Saskatchewan would have lots of water to consistently grow more crops, feed more livestock (which in turn would provide a basis for more food processing industry), generate more hydroelectricity, cool more thermal electrical generation facilities (including what he referred to as “green nuclear power”), create more water-based tourist destinations and enhance ecosystems. We are failing, he claims, to use most of the water that falls on, or flows through, Saskatchewan. This can be remedied, says Agrivision, by creating a series of dams and water diversion projects that would capture and re-distribute storm and flood water. Stream levels would be maintained in dry years, thus enabling a consistent supply of raw material from irrigated crop production to food processors who are currently discouraged by the drop in supply during times of drought.

In this plan, more irrigation farming is seen as the key to rural revitalization. The fact that much of Lake Diefenbaker’s irrigation potential remains undeveloped is explained by the lack of administrative infrastructure and support policies. Therefore, Comprehensive Water Development Corporations (CWDCs) are envisaged, each operating regionally to create plans for their area to maximize the level of value-added industry and employment activities. Candidate regions for such development would be the South Saskatchewan River Basin, the North Saskatchewan River Basin from the Battlefords to Lloydminster, the Qu’Apelle Basin, the South West River Basins (Battle/Frenchman/ Wood/Poplar/Swift Current Creek), the Churchill and Northern Water Development Area and the Assiniboine River Basin. $300 million of federal and provincial support will be sought for this development.

The proponents are anxious to make the point that benefits of their plan would also accrue to sectors beyond the agrifood industry. Representatives of forestry, tourism, energy and mining industries were called in to talk about the importance of water in their businesses. Images of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Saskatchewan as a significant electricity exporter, sail boats on beautiful new lakes, as well as the potential to copy the wealth of Alberta’s livestock and meatpacking industry were dangled before the conference participants.

However, in response to questions, the proponents acknowledged that we have very little understanding of the ecological role of the water that at this point appears to be “unused”. They see it as wasted, but agreed that we need to develop more data about the natural water regimes both on the surface and underground. I would suggest that we should be extremely cautious about further damming and diversion of water without that data being obtained and carefully examined. We’d better know what we’ve got before we consider changing it.

Frustrated with an apparent lack in leadership from government, Agrivision is initiating a  new “Saskatchewan Water Council”, with Wayne Clifton (head of the consulting company that developed the plan) as president. This body will try to move the plan to realization.

The questions that this initiative raises are very important ones. Do we share their vision of a prosperous, moisture-managed, more heavily populated Saskatchewan, replete with livestock alleys and power exports? Is it feasible? Is it desirable? Is it ecologically healthy? What would an alternative dream look like? At the end of the conference futurist Ruben Nelson urged Saskatchewan people to move from the “victim” role that we seem to have assigned ourselves, into a proactive one, and to work towards a “truly new tomorrow” rather than just tinkering with the familiar present. The challenge will be to define a “new tomorrow” to which we are all prepared to commit ourselves. I don’t think Agrivision’s 50 year plan will do the job. But it will provoke a lot of thinking and important discussion. 

Ann Coxworth
Saskatchewan Environmental Society
November/December 2004

Back to top

"It is really unfortunate that before Canada wakes up to the real costs of pathetic water treatment schemes the legal battles will be in full force." 
-  Dr. Hans Peterson, Safe Drinking Water Foundation

The human cost of not treating water properly, just like in thousands of communities across Canada
I have just returned from traveling among first nation communities in northern Alberta, I have never known such terrible health issues in any community anywhere,:  irritable bowel syndrome, Crone's disease, cancers of stomach, uterus, and prostrate, kidney failure, stroke, heart attacks, and mental disorders.
Neither have I ever seen such destruction of our forests and environment as in Alberta (thanks, Ralph).
Neither have I ever seen so many communities with boil water advisories, or communities who should have boil water advisories yet Health Canada assures them their water is safe! Walkerton residents are struggling with severe health issues from tainted water - but so are hundreds of native (and rural) people all over this country.
Recently the community of Clavet (near Saskatoon) received a boil water advisory for a couple of days - based on high coliforms - yet as you can hear from Dr Frickers' presentation at  coliforms and the Canadian drinking water guidelines do nothing to measure or protect public health.
When are the health organizations like Cancer or Heart & Stroke going to look to cause and prevention instead of to product development by their sponsors the pharmaceutical companies? When are people going to care about water - a basic human right - that is not available to all Canadians?
Please read the following Globe & Mail article - this could easily be your family ... The Walkerton Survivors: 

Sue Peterson
Volunteer Administrator
Safe Drinking Water Foundation

Drought proofing the Economy
Summary of Meeting
November 4, 2004

"Water is a funny thing.  When we have enough of it, it has almost no value whatsoever.  If you have lots of water, you don't even think about it.  But, if we don't have enough, it becomes priceless and the most valuable resource there is."  ~Dr. John Pomeroy, B.Sc., Ph.D., Saskatchewan Watershed Research Facility (SWRF), U of S

Click here to read the report.

Back to top

Response to Open Letter to Premier Calvert
of August 7, 2004

October 19, 2004

Dear Ms. Hughes:

Thank you for your August 7, 2004 open letter to Premier Lorne Calvert, in which you expressed concern about the impact of intensive livestock operations (ILOs) on drinking water quality in particular, and the environment in general.  The Premier has asked me to respond.

As you have noted, progress on improving drinking water has been encouraging, particularly since the introduction of the Safe Drinking Water Strategy in April 2002.  As part of the way that drinking water supplies are now managed, further sampling and follow-up occurs to determine the cause and resolve any problems (when the results of routine monitoring indicate that there may be contamination).  Although a boil water order is issued whenever E. coli bacteria are found my monitoring, Saskatchewan Environment (SE) has determined that many of these instances occur because of poor sampling technique rather than actual contamination of the water supply.

We recognize that protection of water sources is important to help ensure safe drinking water supplies and economic viability.  To this end, SE and Saskatchewan Agriculture, Food and Rural Revitalization (SAFRR) have established an ongoing water quality monitoring program in the vicinity of several large hog ILOs in south-central Saskatchewan.  To date, no negative impacts on surface water quality have been observed.  The Spirit Creek Watershed Monitoring Committee was established in 2000 to provide an independent review of a hog project in the Spirit Creek Watershed, and to develop a surface and ground water monitoring program in that vicinity.  The data collected to this point does not show evidence of contamination or deterioration of water quality.  Further, the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority was established in 2002 to assist water users, municipalities and other interested parties in developing watershed plans to protect their water resources.

I trust that this information addresses your concerns and I thank you again for your letter


David Forbes
Minister of Environment

Cc:  Premier Lorne Calvert
        Honourable Mark Wartman, Minister of Agriculture and Food

Back to top

Snake Oil Salesmen


For the past several decades, rural people have been exposed to “experts” that can fix water with the most “extraordinary treatment systems".  Even treatment techniques that are legitimate, when used inappropriately may give you worse, rather than better quality treated water.  I will discuss some of those products below. 

Carbon filters

The big advantage of carbon filters is the removal of dissolved organic material in the water.  Dissolved organics can colour the water as well as impart taste and odour among other things.  However, carbon filters rapidly loose their effectiveness on typical rural water in Saskatchewan

Water Softeners

Water softening on most surface waters, such as dugouts, is really not that big of an advantage.  Water softeners exchange the calcium and magnesium in the water for sodium.  Most surface waters generally have low amounts of calcium and magnesium.  Well water can, however, be softened, but the softened water should not be consumed due to increased levels of sodium.

Magnetic Filters

What about magnetic filters?  It is a bit like the water treatment company that sold a black box to a convent in Oregon .  They carefully lowered the black box down into the well, collected their booty, and went on to the next gullible person they could sell something "heavenly" to.  A reputable water treatment company was called in months later to the convent and they recovered the black box.  It had a crucifix in it.

Snake Oil

We typically think of snake oil salesmen as people selling poor products excessively priced.  While Health Canada has filing cabinets full of "water treatment sales gimmicks", their enabling legislation has no teeth to do anything about them.  Rural people simply have to fend for themselves.

Rural residents now have another treatment solution to watch out for.  Sask Water and Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA), are promoting water pipelines without considering inherent serious quality issues nor alternate and in many cases more appropriate solutions.  Here are some of the problems with the actions of these agencies:

  1. Neither of these agencies has addressed the appropriate response to most rural water quality issues – invest in research and development (R&D), and solve the problem.  Indeed Sask Water’s annual legal costs are now around 20-50 times higher (and growing) than what they have annually spent on R&D. Instead of investing in scientific and engineering solutions both agencies subscribe to the notion that the problem is too difficult to solve.  Their solution is to pipe so-called "good quality water" over vast distances across the province.
  2. Neither of these agencies has addressed the inherent problems of moving water over long distances in pipelines.  Their first line of defense has been to call their product "raw water" or "non-potable" and for years they got away without conducting any tests on the water.  Sask Health and Sask Environment stood idly by giving them the seal of approval.
  3. Neither of these agencies recognized the risks of protozoan parasites, viruses or indeed bacterial pathogens, such as Campylobacter.  That's why Sask Water and PFRA (blessed by other government departments) promoted a pipeline extracting water downstream of Saskatoon 's sewage discharge.  They then processed the water with minimal conventional treatment and proceeded to sell that water to unsuspecting farmers and communities.  Treating sewage-tainted water is a challenge that I suggest not even some of the best water treatment plants in the province (City of Saskatoon and Regina ’s Buffalo Pound) would be too keen to do.  Data for one pathogen alone, Cryptosporidium, downstream of Saskatoon ’s sewage outfall, should give some indication of the challenges that need to be dealt with.

Meeting all Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines (and its not so stringent relative, the Saskatchewan Water Quality Guidelines) did little to prevent the Cryptosporidium outbreak in North Battleford .  The lack of recognized waterborne outbreaks in many Saskatchewan communities does not ensure that the water is safe. 

Scientists have estimated that more than 1% of the people in a community need to become ill with Cryptosporidium, for example, before we can expect to detect it.  For every “official” case of a reportable waterborne illness typically between 10-100 more cases occur, but they are either not detected or not linked to water.  Even during a recognized outbreak, such as North Battleford , Saskatchewan Health’s number of people affected was five times lower than Health Canada ’s highlighting the subjective nature of “official” cases.

In addition, pipelines bring their own set of problems.  The presence of opportunistic “pipeline pathogens” are not tested for in Saskatchewan pipelines, yet scientific books have been published about them.  For example, distinguished scientist Dr. Edwin Geldreich’s book “Microbial quality of water supply in distribution systems” provides good information for pipeline assessments.  The safety of Saskatchewan ’s piped water is in doubt even with re-chlorination stations in the community. 

A United Nations report released earlier this year claimed that 80% of all sickness in the developing world is water-related.  It would be appropriate for government agencies to ask the question:  “What percentage of rural illness is water-related“?  After all, the UN declared safe drinking water a human right last year.

The cost of rural water

The continued use of government funds, both federal and provincial, to promote pipelines across the province should be reviewed in a critical fashion and not by the government agencies who seem to be depending on pipeline construction to justify their existence.  Included among the issues that need to be reviewed is the delivery of infrastructure grants to communities.  Is there a fair playing field, or are communities that subscribe to the government's agenda more likely to get grants?  And, what about Sask Water and PFRA?  Are decisions being made in the best interest of rural residents, or are decisions purely political?

I had a dream after the Walkerton tragedy.  The dream was that Canada would get a civil service that use, rather than abuse, science at all levels. Engineers and scientists within government agencies are well advised to adhere to their Code of Ethics and make decisions and recommendations based on sound science, not politics.

Back to top

Water’s Legal Shadow – The Golden Rule


On October 17-18, 2002 , the Canadian Institute in Toronto held the following conference:  “Preventing a Municipal Water Crisis”.  It was billed as “A distinguished faculty of more than 20 leading North American environmental lawyers, senior government regulators, water engineers, microbiologists and toxicologists will provide critical information and practical strategies, including:

  • What Canadian municipalities can learn from the disasters in Walkerton and North Battleford

  • How to transition Canadian water utilities to a new level of preparedness

  • How Canadian municipalities can successfully manage their watersheds to protect their drinking water

  • New techniques for safer drinking water in smaller and rural communities

  • Sustainable asset management:  an innovative new technique that will manage and finance Canadian water systems"

This meeting was dominated by lawyers and indeed it was kicked off with the Commission counsels for the Walkerton and North Battleford inquiries.  It continued with engineers explaining how the Walkerton and North Battleford water situations were addressed.  The first day’s lunch presentation was by a Special Agent from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who presented on “Cyber-attacks and their potential impacts on water infrastructure availability”. 

The Team Leader for the Drinking Water Utilities Team of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was the next speaker.  During the second day the program was focused on how drinking water solutions could be implemented.  I gave the following presentation:  “How Canadians in smaller rural municipalities can ensure that their drinking water is safe:  tips, traps and techniques”.  The issues I addressed was described in the program as:

“Canadians who live in smaller communities face a much greater challenge in providing safe drinking water than those who reside in larger cities.  Short of moving to a large lake or river, which has been only marginally affected by human sewage and agricultural waste material, the solution is complex.  The challenge, in part, lies in having to treat water that requires more resources to treat – which rural users do not have to the extent that urban centers do.  What are the solutions for smaller municipalities?  Hear a leading Canadian water expert discuss the answers:

  • Finding solutions for rural and smaller municipalities through innovative research and development

  • Using “treatment units” to remove viruses, bacteria and protozoan parasites

  • How the United States effectively regulates rural drinking water through its Surface Water Treatment Rule and its Ground Water Treatment Rule

  • How to implement these rules in smaller Canadian communities

  • Treatment methods especially formulated for smaller rural municipalities

  • Dealing with organic carbon levels

  • The innovative treatment methods for arsenic, manganese, and iron in smaller communities’ water supply

  • What are the successful non-conventional treatment techniques?”

The legal arguments followed during this second day of the conference and after my presentation the lawyer chairing the meeting turned around to the participants and said: “Let me just explain a simple legal fact to you.  As you have heard from Dr. Peterson’s presentation there are a host of issues that are of health concern in drinking water despite they are not in any regulations.  Let me remind you that once you have heard of these issues you are obliged to consider them, and failure to do so in an event of water treatment failure will afford you no legal protection”.   Simply put, people that become ill from consuming distributed drinking water have the ability to sue the municipality whether it meets its Saskatchewan , or Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines.

People in government have known for years about chemicals and organisms that are not in any Saskatchewan or Canadian Guidelines, but that can make you sick.  The parasite in North Battleford’s water, Cryptosporidium, was not in the guidelines and the Mayor of North Battleford is obviously intent on not being caught again as he was one of a couple of people from Saskatchewan attending the conference.

The legal shadow following the Walkerton E. coli outbreak and North Battleford ’s Cryptosporidium outbreak has been dominated by the “Golden Rule.”  The one with the gold makes the rules.

Take Saskatchewan .  How many lawyers, engineers and technicians did the Province use to fight North Battleford ’s failure to comply with a non-existent guideline?  Now, good job this was a town of more than 10,000 people so at least they could afford one lawyer, what if the Province had decided to apply all our tax money to fight the community of Liberty with its 180 people instead? 

The Legal Counsel for North Battleford , James Russell, gave a prepared speech at the Toronto conference where North Battleford was vilified, but for good measure some crumbs of criticisms were tossed at the Province as well.  After his presentation I stood up and explained to the audience how the Saskatchewan Government had systematically avoided dealing with the drinking water problems in Saskatchewan ’s rural communities throughout the nineties.  I also suggested that if the roles were reversed and North Battleford were allowed to run the inquiry that the audience could substitute North Battleford with the Province of Saskatchewan throughout Mr. Russell’s presentation.

This would of course not happen because North Battleford does not have the luxury to tax a million people to fight its cause.  It would, however, put the blame where it belongs.  The Province has known since the late 1980’s that there were major problems in Saskatchewan ’s rural drinking water.  All they need to do is to look at some of the many volumes that Saskatchewan Research Council’s (SRC) Water Quality Section produced (Agriculture Development Fund reports, PFRA reports, scientific papers etc.).  To get an idea what the road ahead is going to look like you may consult a scientific paper I wrote that was published by the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association, which is posted on the Safe Drinking Water Foundation’s web site (  The title of it is “Rural Drinking Water and Waterborne Illness”. 

It is unfortunate that Saskatchewan government agencies never saw fit to work on drinking water solutions for rural Saskatchewan .  A proactive stance to solve the problems would have been far more fitting for a higher level of government than bullying small communities that are trying to deal with the formidable challenge of producing safe drinking water from some of the world’s most difficult to treat source waters.  It might even have earned politicians some respect in rural Saskatchewan .

Back to top

THE DIRTY DOZEN: Exploding the myths that hide the truth about NAFTA and our water
By Wendy Holm

MYTH 1: The Myth of the First Drop: Exporting one drop of water puts all of Canada's water at risk.

This arose from a misinterpretation of the statement by U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor (October 28, 1993):

"The current U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) and the NAFTA are silent on the issue of inter-basin transfers of water. Inter-basin transfers of water in which water is not traded as a good are not governed by either trade agreement. However, under the CFTA and the NAFTA, when water is traded as a good, all provisions of the agreements governing trade in goods apply, including National Treatment provisions (Article 301)."

Kantor's "when" (meaning "each and every time") was taken to mean "once" and the myth of the "trigger" was born:

"Once one drop of water is exported, all of Canada's water will automatically be considered a good of trade. . ."

"As long as we don't call water a good, it won't be one."

And "If exporting one drop puts all of Canada's water at risk, banning exports will save it."

Water is already a good of trade. B.C. sells bulk, non-Treaty water out of the Columbia River to the U.S. every year as part of a long-term contract entered into over a decade ago. The Washington State town of Point Roberts is supplied by Canadian water. Numerous private sector firms have their profit centres tied to the sale of bottled Canadian water, much of which is shipped south. Large industrial users such as the oil and gas industry (for water flooding, accountable for up to 60% of groundwater withdrawals in Alberta's oil patch), manufacturers (e.g., pulp mills) and ski hill operators (for snow-making) rely on licenses to use water (or operate ungoverned by provincial statute).

Under NAFTA, Americans have water access rights that Canadian farmers--and Canadian communities--can only dream about. The first water export is not a trigger--that trigger has already been pulled.

MYTH 2: Exports from one province will put all of Canada's at risk.

Exports from one province would make that province more vulnerable because, under NAFTA's investment chapter, U.S. companies have a right to best-in-province treatment. But this does not extend to best-in-nation.

MYTH 3: Canada can't ban exports because that would automatically make water a "good" under NAFTA, triggering compensation claims.

Canada can't ban exports because Canada has relinquished the right to impose quantitative restrictions on HCCS 22.01 (water) under NAFTA. Placing a temporary moratorium on exports until a NAFTA exemption for water is secured will minimize the number of compensation claims arising from firms engaged in water exports, but it will not mitigate claims from U.S.-owned, Canadian-based industrial water users such as the oil patch. Domestically, a federal ban on water exports raises constitutional issues with the provinces because, under the Canadian Constitution Act, the management of water, including for export, falls under provincial jurisdiction.

MYTH 4: The Farmers' Resolution is about banning exports.

No. It is about retaining the sovereign right to make decisions concerning Canada's water resource in the interests, first and foremost, of Canadians and Canadian communities. To do this, water must first be exempted from the goods, services and investment provisions of NAFTA (and the FTA). The decision to export water or not to export water falls to the democratic processes of individual provinces. But any foray by a province in the direction of water exports is policy suicide so long as water is included in NAFTA.

MYTH 5: There is nothing in NAFTA that could force Canada to start exporting water to the U.S. ("Americans can't turn on the tap.")

There are a number of "turn-on-the-tap" scenarios. Irrigation is a clear one. If Canada is contemplating a project that the Americans want to participate in, our choice may well be inclusion or compensation. Consider the example of an irrigation project being undertaken to bring the southern area of a Prairie province under irrigation. American farmers--armed with expert reports--would be perfectly within their rights to argue: "Water is a good managed by the province on behalf of Canada's farmers. American farmers have a right to National Treatment in the management of that resource. Here is the analysis that justifies a project capable of also meeting the needs of American farmers, here are the reports showing little environmental consequence, here is the money to pay for the upscaling; American farmers want to share in the irrigation benefits provided to Canadian farmers. The project cannot be undertaken solely for the benefit of Canadian farmers if American farmers wish also to participate."

And it's not as if the tap is not already open. There are several incidences of Canada's ongoing provision of water to the U.S. The border town Point Roberts is one example, as are large-scale, ongoing bulk water purchases from the Columbia River system above and beyond the U.S. entitlement under the Columbia Treaty.

Consider further the fact that water use--where it is regulated--is secured through the issuance of a license by the Crown conferring rights to withdraw a given volume of water from a given source. As water becomes an increasingly scarce commodity (and as society begins to adopt appropriate conservation technologies), profitability associated with water sales will drive demand for licenses and exports. Under NAFTA, any attempt by a province to restrict the use of a license to block benefits to American buyers would clearly violate National Treatment provisions. (National Treatment means the Crown cannot restrict the benefits of water licenses to Canadians. The difference between a license to put water on a field and a license to put water in a tanker is moot.) The choice? Capitulation or Compensation under a Chapter 11 challenge for lost profits.

Most importantly, policy concerns arising from water's inclusion in NAFTA are not limited to situations of water export; American firms doing business in Canada have NAFTA-based rights to water which are superior to the rights of Canadians operating alongside them, including farmers. (For example, water flooding: the use of water in the oil patch to extract the last 20% of oil and gas reserves.)

MYTH 6: There is nothing in NAFTA that could force a province to increase the volume of export beyond the level agreed.

It will be the profit expectations of the private sector that fuel water market development. The essence of NAFTA is that the State cannot intervene in the business of markets. The government does not "own" the water, Canadians do; provincial governments simply manage the resource in the interests of Canadians. The profit incentives of the private sector (water entrepreneurs) and the refusal to accept limits to growth (global demand) will bid up offerings. Water licenses will increase in value proportionate to profit opportunities.

MYTH 7: The concept of National Treatment applies to imports not to exports.

Once upon a time, but not any more. The FTA changed this back in 1987 when it substituted the word "trade" for "imports" when importing the GATT definition of National Treatment. The FTA still stands. Further, NAFTA imports [explicitly includes] Article 711 of FTA, which includes water as an agricultural good. All international statements to date (e.g., Kantor) acknowledge that National Treatment rights extend to water.

MYTH 8: Canada made explicit amendments to the NAFTA legislation prohibiting the bulk export of water.

In the days leading up to the 1988 election, Canada introduced amendments to our domestic enabling legislation to ban bulk water export. The trouble is, Canada's domestic enabling legislation does nothing to change the terms of the international agreement. After signing the FTA and NAFTA, each Party was obliged to go home and enact an omnibus bill that gives full force and effect to the terms and conditions agreed to at the international table. Neither side vets or approves these domestic bills. It is the FTA and NAFTA that prevail, not Canada's domestic enabling legislation.

MYTH 9: Recent changes Canada made to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act prohibit bulk exports of water.

The Act applies only to "boundary waters"--the Great Lakes, Lake of the Woods, and portions of the St. Lawrence, Upper St John and St. Croix rivers. It does not apply to waters west of the Ontario border, in Quebec, and much of the Maritimes. The amendments to the Act do not ban bulk removals of water from drainage basins, but rather restrict removals to licensed withdrawals at the pleasure of the Minister of DFAIT, who also gets to define what is meant by "drainage basins." (The last time the feds attempted this definition--in the failed Voluntary Provincial Accord--they stated that Canada has five drainage basins: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Arctic, James Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.)

MYTH 10: The leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico signed a joint declaration that water in free-flowing lakes and rivers is not subject to NAFTA.

Water in free-flowing lakes and rivers is not at issue. The joint statement signed by Chretien, Clinton and Salinas (below) was a) not binding on NAFTA, and b) expresses the same point made by Kantor: once water enters into commerce and becomes a good of trade, all provisions of the NAFTA apply:

Unless water, in any form, has entered into commerce and becomes a good or product, it is not covered by the provisions of any trade agreement, including NAFTA. And nothing in NAFTA would obligate any NAFTA Party to either exploit its water for commercial use, or to begin exporting water in any form. Water in its natural state, in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, aquifers, water basins and the like is not a good or product, is not traded, and therefore is not and never has been subject to the terms of any trade agreement.

Once there is human intervention in the flow of a river to provide water when and in the quantity needed, a "good" is created. And there is plenty in the way water licenses are issued that will prevent provinces from discriminating on potential water uses that will benefit Americans. It will be the market that will pressure private entrepreneurs to seek water export licenses.

MYTH 11: If Canada does decide at some point to allow the export of water, it must make sure that it has a binding legal agreement that allows it to reduce or cease the supply in the future.

The point is that NAFTA is the binding agreement, and NAFTA does not allow such flexibility.

MYTH 12: The Americans will never allow it (exempting water from NAFTA).

The problem to date has been to raise sufficient political will to get our politicians to stand up to the Americans and say "here is the rock, here is the hard place. It's an error and the people of Canada want it fixed."

The Americans do this all the time. Every contract has an "out" clause and the U.S. frequently threatens to walk if their interests are compromised. Well, in this case, Canada has the goodies on the table. We just need the political will to stand up and speak out.

With Canada's farmers stepping forward in leadership and Canada's consumers showing strong and visible support, the pressure to "go through the gate and get 'er done" will prevail.

Else we do not live in a democracy.

(Wendy Holm is a professional agrologist and author based in British Columbia. She has written extensively on water issues and policies.)

Taken from The CCPA Monitor, July/August 2003
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Back to top

Open Letter to Environment Canada

August 30, 2004

Sustainable Water Use Branch
Water Policy and Coordination Directorate
Environmental Conservation Service
Environment Canada
351 St. Joseph Blvd., 7-PVM
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H3

Hello, Environment Canada.  

I would be interested in seeing an updated  version of the facts given on your website regarding the 9% water usage by Agriculture.  It appears that the info relates to the 1996 figures.

Click here for more information.

I am sure that, with the expansion of the mega hog barn industry in this country since then, those figures would be totally different.  Especially  when one considers that, every year, a single 5000-sow hog operation uses 50 million gallons of our drinking water - there are hundreds of them across our beautiful country.  And, of course, as the number of operations increases, so too does the quantity of water used as well as the threat to our environment and our health.

Most of this drinking water goes to flushing manure off the barn floor into the collection pit below the animals before it is moved into the open cesspools the size of  2 or 3 football fields beside the barn.  About once a year, these cesspools are emptied by spreading the liquid manure, raw and untreated, onto our fields and pastures as so-called 'fertilizer'. Containing antibiotics, growth hormones, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and hundreds of other compounds, many of them carcinogenic, it is then free to contaminate our sources of surface water and underground aquifers, and on into our wells.

We are all part of the current 'risk assessment' and 'risk management' mode of making decisions which affect our environment and our health.  This out-dated process asks:  How many rivers and lakes can be contaminated, and how many people can become ill or die, before this government will be forced to get serious about protecting our precious drinking water?

Instead of asking what level of harm is acceptable, a precautionary approach asks: How much contamination can be avoided? What are the alternatives to this product or activity, and are they safer? Is this activity even necessary? The precautionary principle focuses on options and solutions rather than risk. It forces the initiator of an activity to address fundamental questions of how to behave in a more environmentally sensitive manner.

The Rio Declaration from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as Agenda 21, states:

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Click here for more information.

As it is, however, we continue to permit an ever-increasing number of pig factories, knowing that the irreversible contamination of our precious drinking water also continues.  We are creating an environmental and health 'ticking bomb' with the potential for enormous harm.

It doesn't have to be this way!

When will Environment Canada enact 'public good' governance, and put a stop to the industrial production of hogs in this country?

Respectfully submitted,

Elaine M. Hughes
Stop the Hogs Coalition
Member, Beyond Factory Farming
Box 23, Archerwill, SK  S0E 0B0

Back to top



August 7, 2004


Premier Lorne Calvert

Room 226,

2405 Legislative Drive, 

Regina, SK  S4S 0B3


Dear Premier Calvert:


This letter is in response to two recent government Press Releases:  July 27, 2004 “Protecting Our Water” and July 30, 2004 “Second Report on Drinking Water Released”.


We should be encouraged by the activity these press releases imply.  However, according to the August 4, 2004 report on Sask Environment’s website, there are 78 Precautionary Drinking Water Advisories and 21 Emergency Boil Water Orders currently in effect in Saskatchewan.  We also note that, of these 21 Emergency Boil Water Orders, 15 were issued because testing of the wells indicated the presence of E.coli bacteria.   


We, of course, lack the ways and means of tracing the sources of this contamination, but it does beg the question:  how many of these 15 wells have been contaminated by E.coli bacteria originating at any of the hundreds of mega hog operations across this province?  And, even more worrisome, how many more wells will be contaminated and how many innocent people will become ill in the future as a result of the existence and proliferation of these projects? 


The answer is:  we don’t know.  


There are no independent Environmental Impact Assessments done before the hog operations are given an operating permit, so we have no way of knowing what the long term effects of this pollution will be on the environment and on our health.  What we do know, however, is that hog manure is one of the most common potential carriers of, among many others, E.coli bacteria.  We also know that every time an operating permit is issued to yet another pig factory, our drinking water and our health are being increasingly threatened.  What is it going to take for this government to understand that these two entities cannot co-exist? 


We continue to educate the public about the enormous environmental and health risks posed by industrial hog production across our beautiful province.  Through our ongoing discussions with others, we encourage and support local family farmers who raise animals for food in sustainable, environmentally safe methods, and we encourage consumers to seek them out.


Society cannot continue to expect the natural systems to be able to cleanse our water from the enormous amount of manure produced by these confined animals.  We continue to ask the Saskatchewan government:  when is it going to use wisdom and precaution to protect our precious drinking water and our health by imposing a moratorium on the expansion of pig factories in Saskatchewan?  


Respectfully yours,



Elaine Hughes

Stop the Hogs Coalition

Member, Beyond Factory Farming

Box 23, Archerwill, SK  S0E 0B0


Cc:  NDP Caucus
       Sask Party Caucus


Back to top