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.

Forum Deals with Issues Facing Canada 's Water
The Times-Herald (Moose Jaw)
October 4, 2003

Byline: Suzanne Boyer

Water is often taken for granted in Canada , but an eye-opening forum held by the Council of Canadians Friday shed some light on the myriad of issues around the conservation and supply of our water.

Sara Ehrhardt , an engineer and National Water Campaigner for the Council of Canadians, was the first speaker. Ehrhardt, who has worked on an international scale with Engineers Without Borders, spoke of the global issues surrounding our water supply, such as control, co-modification and stewardship.

"There's a fight for control of our water, there's a fight to keep our water public, and there's a fight to keep our water from becoming a good," said Ehrhardt.

Ehrhardt told the group that Canada has the largest remaining fresh water resources in the world.

"With that comes a great responsibility to be good stewards of that water," she said. "And I don't think that, in Canada , we have done a very good job of that."

She warned that it's important for the public to keep an eye on their water sources and fight the inclination of provinces and municipalities to privatize or become bulk water suppliers, effectively selling the water out from under them.

She used the example of a village in northern Chile where she had once worked. The villagers eventually abandoned the site because they had no access to clean drinking water.

"There was good clean water in that area," explained Ehrhardt. "But it wasn't owned by the people who lived in the area, so they couldn't drink that water."

The second speaker, Cathy Holtslander , explored the effects of factory farming on the water supply.

Holtslander, the Council of Canadians National Organizer on Factory Farms, is based in Saskatoon . She used the example of hog barns in Saskatchewan to illustrate the concerns with the large-scale operations.

"We're looking at water supply issues with factory farms and water contamination issues with factory farms," said Holtslander.

She noted that the connection between surface water and ground water is not one that people automatically make, meaning things like manure drainage on a hog farm aren't always perceived as threats to drinking water.

"Water really connects things, and anything that threatens water is a big threat," said Holtslander.

She explained that the hog manure is filled with nitrogens and phosphorous as well as antibiotics, hormones and heavy metals that end up in surface water and can sometimes seep from sewage lagoons.

Holtslander said a large problem with the industry is the loose restrictions placed by regulating bodies.

"There is very little regulation in the intensive livestock industry in Saskatchewan," she said, explaining that development of these factory farms is approved by Saskatchewan Agriculture, Saskatchewan Environ-ment, SaskWater, and other government departments only serve an advisory role in the applications.

Holtslander said there's a push toward self-regulation by the corporations, which takes the results of any environmental monitoring out of the reach of the public.

She also said that Sask Agriculture has a high stake in promoting these industries in the province, which leads to less vigilance.

"There's a desire to make a profit on these enterprises, so there's a severe conflict of interest when it comes to regulating these hog barns." An example she provided was of a Big Valley Hog Barn that moved into the RM of Rama . The barn development was approved without an identified water supply. A deal was eventually struck to buy the town's reservoir, causing the town to apply for government grants to build an $800,000 pipeline to supply their citizens with water.

Chris Robart, the assistant engineer for the city of Moose Jaw , shifted the focus to local infrastructure and water supply. Robart told the group the city of Moose Jaw purchases its water from the Buffalo Pound water treatment plant, which is considered "state of the art in water treatment." In 2002 the city purchased a total of 1.3 billion gallons from the facility.

Where Robart really comes into the equation is looking after the extensive infrastructure that delivers that water to the city residents.

"The city has endeavoured to ensure that the water that is delivered is as clean as it was when it left the plant," he said.

His responsibilities include ensuring there is adequate supply to the city and that the water is delivered at an acceptable pressure.

Robart said while the city has surpassed provincial requirements in certifying its operators at the treatment plant, there are long-range plans he'd like to implement.

"I'd like to see a second pipeline flow from the plant," said Robart, saying it would ensure an uninterrupted service should anything go wrong with the aging pipeline that exists.

He said the city also wants to adopt a water quality control insurance policy and provide local access to its water testing data on a forum like a Web page. He said the city will also conclude a water distribution assessment in the new year.

"I think it's important, as the purveyors of water, that we consider all components of the system and how they work together," he said. "As well, I think it's important that the public realize the hard work and the hard dollars that are necessary to keep a water system sustainable and safe."

Vern Corbett, the program head for the civil department at SIAST Palliser, explained the different water-related programs that are available at the school.

The water and wastewater technology certificate is available through distance education since 2001. The certification is the one required for water treatment plant operators under new provincial regulations.

"The intent (of the course) is to prepare the operator to meet the certification requirements," said Corbett.

SIAST also offers diplomas in Water Resources Engineering Technology and Environmental Engineering Technology.

The evening concluded with a question and answer period, mostly centered on issues of accountability for and monitoring of water resources.