Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's Raining and Am I Grateful

People living in coastal British Columbia don't much care for this time of year. Some of us call the interval between October and May the "Rain Festival." It rains, a lot. Newcomers are particularly prone to finding the protracted cloudy, rainy conditions more than a bit depressing. Some pack up and leave - or claim they're going to.

The steadily changing global climate has changed the face of the rainy season. With so much of the world lacking water, it becomes much easier to appreciate by those who get plenty of the stuff. The Weather Channel outlook for my town calls for rain on twelve of the next fourteen days. Most of that will run off into the ocean this year as it has since time immemorial but, before long, we may have to divert that runoff into reservoirs in the local mountains to ensure supply during the dry season. The important part is that we can do just that if we need to. Most of the world isn't so lucky.

The World Water Forum has just wrapped up in Turkey. It didn't really achieve much except to infuriate environmentalists. From Deutsche Welle:

...campaigners representing the rural poor, the environment and organized labor attacked the forum as a vehicle for water privatization and called for it to be placed under the UN flag.

"We demand that the allocation of water be decided in an open, transparent and democratic forum rather than in a trade show for the world's large corporations," said Maude Barlow, senior advisor to the president of the UN General Assembly.

The World Water Forum is staged by the World Water Council, a French-based organization whose funding comes in large part from the water industry.

Water shortages are now spreading into North America, particularly the southern US. We're coming to understand the price that we'll have to pay for taking water pretty much for granted over the past century. In most of the world and large parts of North America we've been running a freshwater deficit, draining far more of it than nature can replenish. What we couldn't get from rivers and lakes we pumped out of acquifers heedless of the fact that we were developing a society dependent on water supplies that could not be maintained. We've been burning that candle at both ends and we're getting very close to the middle.

Global warming won't reduce precipitation. A warmer atmosphere will allow more water vapour to form (itself a greenhouse gas) hence more rain. The problem is that climate change alters precipitation patterns. It gives rise to feast or famine conditions, drought and floods often in the same place in the same year. California has been cycling through this for some time. One Californian recently described his state as having four seasons - flood, drought, fire and earthquakes.

Water is as fundamental to any society as the foundation is to your house. While it's intact, your house is fine. When it collapses, so does your house. Societies need a steady and reliable supply of fresh water for drinking, washing, sanitation, industry and, of course, agriculture. The rarely mentioned scourge of the Athabasca Tar Sands is the massive amount of water taken to extract and process bitumen and the resulting water contamination left behind. Remember Mikey, it's more than CO2.

There is water in abundance - in the oceans - but converting it to freshwater is expensive, uses a lot of fossil fuel and leaves some pretty nasty residue to be disposed of, usually back into the sea. And, of course, the further you have to transport it from the coast the greater the cost. It should be a last resort and in parts of the Middle East it's just that but one they're resorting to quite freely.

We really have to stop taking water for granted and we have to open our eyes to the predicament we're facing, even here in Canada. The Grand Old Man of Alberta, former premier Peter Lougheed knows that there's trouble on the horizon for his province and Saskatchewan. When we settled and developed them we thought we understood the environment there. Only recently have we discovered that the period since the arrival of Europeans has been unduly wet. What we thought of as normal wasn't. Science has now shown that the "normal" conditions for the prairie provinces include mega-droughts up to to 60-years duration. Not exactly ideal conditions for urban development.

For some reason we're compelled to treat the current bounty as the status quo. Yet the longer we let this go unmet, the more difficult becomes the challenge of adaptation when we finally must act.

Maude Barlow wants the water issue placed at the top of the pile for discussion and debate. She's right.


Oemissions said...

I always marvel at how well the plants and trees survive with all the RAIN on the WetCoast.
Today, while putting in more peas I had a feeling of summer, another long blue sky day, not necessarily hot but with no interspersions of rain, it gets a boring and the higher clearcut areas scare me because they are so dry.The traffic will be incessant past my place and one will have to get to the store before 8:00am to avoid the masses.
The golfcourse sprinklers will run through the night.My tomatoe plants get very thirsty.
At Democracy Now they have some upstanding women on video,including our own dear Maude.
The woman from India is extraordinary. Goes on and on about all those dams. Those Indians sure know how to make a ruckus.What's up with us?

The Mound of Sound said...

"What's up with us?" If you ever find out be sure to let me know - please?

Oemissions said...

Rafe Mair is definitely sounding off about the Campbell Libs selling off our water. See his blog and also saveour rivers.ca.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks OEM

LeDaro said...

Water shortage is much more complex than house foundation. At least you can rebuild house foundation. Replenish water is not going to be that easy. We are on a disastrous path. Our fresh water lakes are getting polluted fast and our ground water is getting there too.