March 22nd is World Water Day (WorldWaterDay.org).
The day has been around for 17 years, encouraging discussion of issues around the subject of water. You would think that as a spciey, we should know all we could about something as simple as water. We see it every day, it’s around us and in us and under our feet. But as we expand our powers over the planet, we’ve been forced to acknowledge the reality that it is more and more important to manage water effectively. This year (2009) the focus of World Water Day is Transboundary water: lakes and river basins that are used (and thus hopefully managed) by more than one country. Not only are there over two hundred lake and river basins that cross international lines (263 to be exact) but elusive groundwater is able to “flow” virtually anywhere.
Why is this important? Water is quite probably going to be one of the next primary resources about which the peoples of the world conflict, and these areas that are supposed to be shared will lead the way. Water is not like fossil fuels: although it is much more plentiful, it is far from evenly distributed over the earth’s surface. We all need it, and we’re not about to come up with a substitute for water through better technology.
I work at Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment now: and we have a web page dedicated to water (MOE, 2009) and water issues. Ontario borders 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, and has thousands of freshwater streams and smaller lakes within its jurisdiction, amounting to close to 6% of the worlds freshwater resources. Much of that water is shared. In the latter part of the last century, I remember Lake Erie being declared “dead”: because it is the shallowest and warmest of the lakes, it was the most susceptible to pollution (most of it agricultural runoff). International agreements have since been put in place that have brought it back to life. That was the beginning of transboundary agreements, and it was a success.
At the same time, we can all be more conscious of how we use water… and how we waste it. Most of those reading this will live in places, like Ontario, where tap water is safe and high in quality. It is an environmentally responsible choice over bottled water. We need to also be vigilant about protecting water in our homes from hazardous wastes: dumping oils or chemicals or pharmaceutical products down the drain is NOT an acceptable means of disposal. We all need to watch our water today, or it could dry up in the future.