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Water Today Title December 11, 2017

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NAFTA and Water

The North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada the US and Mexico has brought to the forefront several transnational and transborder water issues between the three countries.

Bulk water is not included in the NAFTA agreement unless it is traded as a good or commodified. Canadian environmentalists and legal experts believe that, in fact, bulk water is not protected under NAFTA and that it's only a matter of time before it is treated as a commodity.

As water resources become scarcer and further decrease with global warning, transborder watersheds and aquifers are increasingly vulnerable to binational conflicts.

While transborder water issues between the US and Mexico are longstanding and intensifying around the Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers, Canada/US water disputes are expected to grow around the Great Lakes and prairie watershed areas.

Furthermore, NAFTA's "Chapter 11" provisions have been used by American businesses to attack environmental and health policies both in Mexico and Canada.

Canada is fortunate to have 20% of the world's freshwater, 7% of which is renewable. Several areas of the US, such as the south-west, are running out of water. Massive bulk water removals and diversions increasingly threaten Canada's ecological and environmental integrity.

Mexico is land of stark contrasts in water supply and use. With the exception of the south of the country which is tropical, the rest is arid and semiarid with large concentrations of urban, industrial and irrigation activities.

When negotiating NAFTA, U.S. and Mexican government officials argued that increased trade and investment would generate wealth needed to clean up the environment. Ten years later, it is clear that NAFTA-related business activity has increased air and water pollution and instead of industrial development becoming more dispersed throughout the country, it intensified along the border, inflicting still more environmental degradation on already heavily-polluted areas.

Latest developments concerning bulk water diversions. Is our water still at risk?

Update 12/2/13 - by Matt Armstrong

In light of the many pressures on the world's water resources, global warming, drought, over use, and war, one of the biggest threats to Canadian water is from foreign commercial interest for bulk water exports and an ever so present danger of the commodification of water. After the Liberal's Canada Water Preservation Act, Bill C-267, was finally defeated in March of 2012, Conservative Larry Miller introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-383, the Transboundary Waters Protection Act. However, several concerns exist as to how effective Bill C-383 really is at protecting Canadian water sovereignty and that the legislation leaves a startling large loophole for bulk water exports.

In his remarks to the standing committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the House of Commons on Oct. 25th 2012, J. Owen Saunders of the Canadian Institute of Resource Law, University of Calgary said: "Bill C-383 accomplishes the task of truly precluding the use of transboundary rivers as a vehicle for carrying out the export of water." However, the Canadian Water Issues Council recognized that while Bill C-383 was a great step forward in protecting Canada's transboundary rivers from water exports it came up short with respects to marine tanker exports from coastal lakes and rivers. He also mentions that the Transboundary Waters Protection Act allows for the "export of manufactured products containing water." Essentially, Bill C-383 allows for the export of bottled water in amounts up to 50,000 litres per day.

In an article entitled "A missed opportunity to protect Canada's Water Sovereignty" by Francis Scarpaleggia Oct. 11th 2012, the liberal critic for water policy explains that Bill C-383 is merely a means to protect the federal government from any criticism that it is not protecting Canada's water. Bill C-267 would have effectively protected Canadian water sovereignty from not only inter-basin water transfers and transboundary water transfers but most importantly would have prevented any province from lifting their own internal ban on water exports. This fightening loophole left by Bill C-383 is an oversight that can put the other provinces at risk of a NAFTA challenge as NAFTA provisions will consider any internal prohibition on bulk water exports to be trade limiting should a provincial ban be lifted.

Another shortcoming of the Transboundary Waters Protection Act according to Scarpaleggia is that it is an amendment to the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and the International River Improvement Act. Bill C-383's strongest stand is with respect to water diversions of "boundary or non-boundary waters to an international river for the purpose of increasing annual flow" (J. Saunders). However, this outdated belief that the primary threat to our water sovereignty comes from water diversions leave us open to marine exports via tanker ship, tanker truck, and possibly pipeline exports, a point mentioned by the Canadian Water Issues Council.

If Bill C-383 cannot prevent a province from lifting a bulk water export ban and cannot protect against bulk water removals of non-boundary waters then how safe is our water from bulk export?

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