Blue Gold Making Us Rich

Commentary, Environment, Brian Giesbrecht

“Water is more valuable than oil”- President George W. Bush

Canada currently exports huge quantities of water to the United States and all over the world. As the world’s fifth largest exporter of agricultural products – which are composed mainly of water – huge amounts of Canadian water leave the country every day. Whole lakes are shipped in every direction by means of our vast and efficient agricultural system. And the world is a better place because of it. International customers get quality food to feed hungry populations. Canadian farmers prosper – and so does the rest of the country. Early explorers were simply astounded at the endless plains, fertile soil and the relatively predictable rainfall we are blessed with. Improved farming techniques and farming science have meant that each year there is more crop available for export. New crops come on – like canola and soybeans – and this means even more business for our agricultural export business. The more crop there is for export, the more water goes overseas, or down south.

Nobody has ever complained about this natural and profitable process, and nobody ever will. Canada owes its success in large part to its agricultural sector, and no matter how much new technology comes on the scene, people will always need good food. The fact that so much water leaves our country every year in our agricultural exports troubles no one, nor should it. It is part of a natural cycle. Eventually that water comes back. Water leaves our country every day in thousands of other products as well.

So, if a politician announced a sale to a foreign nation of a trillion gallons of water locked in agricultural products he would be praised. But just let that politician propose that a trillion gallons of bulk water be sold to a foreign country – especially to the United States – and he would have to run for cover. It would be the end of his or her political career. The fact is that most Canadians are perfectly happy to sell Canadian water to the highest bidder when that water is contained in agricultural products, or the thousands of other export products that contain water, but we have some kind of visceral reaction when anyone dares to suggest that we should sell water that is not contained in something else. Over the years many schemes have been proposed for the large-scale sale of water. Massive diversions, dams, container ship transport. Almost all of these plans are shot down.

Why is this so? What is going on here? The world is getting hotter, drier and thirstier. Demands for fresh water are growing louder all the time. In fact, wars have even been fought over water. To our south, the American Southwest is getting drier by the day. The Ogallala aquifer, from which the Southwest takes so much of its water, is drawing water at a rate eight times faster than it is being replenished. Anyone travelling to the Southwest and looking over at Glen Canyon Dam water level knows how far down that poor, overused Columbia River sinks every year. They need water, and we have it.

Canadians should begin to look at water as a commodity- the “blue gold” that it is. It goes without saying that the ecological and environmental impediments to any water export plan must be dealt with intelligently. In some cases those plans will turn out to make no sense.

But, in some cases they will. I suggest that much of our national aversion to any suggestion that water be sold to the American Southwest is just thinly disguised anti-Americanism. We should put such trivial emotions behind us and look at the big picture. Our water could help those incredibly productive places like Silicon Valley keep boosting our standard of living. Our water could turn that Southwest desert into a garden that can grow food for the world.

And our water – our “blue gold” – can make us rich.