Canada is awash with the world’s most precious commodity, and it’s not oil, gold, potash or uranium. It’s fresh water — an essential element for life on earth — and a Quebec think-tank says the province should look at shipping it out for big profits.
The controversial debate over bulk-exporting water was revived yesterday by the report, which found Quebec could boost its gross annual income by $65-billion by taking advantage of water shortages in other parts of the world. The report by the Montreal Economic Institute, titled Freshwater exports for the development of Quebec’s blue gold, said this could be achieved by exporting 10% of its one trillion cubic metres of annual supply at a price of 65¢ per cubic metre — a price equal to the cost of desalinating water.
“Fresh water is a product whose relative economic value has risen substantially and will keep rising in the coming years,” the report said. “It has become a growing source of wealth and an increasingly worthwhile investment opportunity.”
The report estimates Quebec holds about 3% of the world’s renewable water. It said Canada as a whole has about 100,000 cubic metres of renewable water per person, compared with less than 10,000 cubic metres per person in the United States.
“Markets for water and thus its export, handled with transparency, flexibility and solid regulation, could improve substantially the way water is managed and used in Quebec,” it said. “This could create strong incentives for conserving water and would allow for the fair and efficient reallocation of available water to meet our needs.”
Despite this abundance, fears about the sustainability of the country’s fresh water supply are rising amid the impacts of global warming.
Environment Canada says the country’s water supply is declining and predicts water shortages would dent economic growth and cause tension between provinces, an internal report obtained by the Canadian Press found. It estimates that a drop of between 0.08 and 1.18 metres in the water levels of the Great Lakes would cost the hydro-electric industry between $240-million and $350-million each year.
“We can no longer take our extensive water supplies for granted,” the report said. It suggested the federal government take greater control of the country’s water management.
Less than 1% of the world’s water exists in the form of accessible fresh water. Of that, Canada has 20% of the total supply. However, Environment Canada estimates just 7% of the country’s fresh water is renewable.