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Water Today Title July 7, 2022

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Update 2017/3/23
World Water Day 2017


By Ronan O'Doherty

World Water Day presents an excellent opportunity to reflect on the state of water today, be grateful for what we have and take action to achieve what we want.

It has been 24 years since the United Nations asked us to celebrate the first World Water Day and the issues raised then are just as important.

We spoke with Richard Paisley, Director for the Global Transboundary International Waters Governance Initiative - a UN funded project that looks at the governance of international waters around the world - to get his take on the day.

Paisley referenced the Royal Bank of Canada Water Attitudes Study that was just completed for the 10th year.

Results from it show that the majority of Canadians still view water as our most valuable resource and they think it is integral to our national identity. However, contradictorily many aren't as worried about water issues as they should be and believe it to be an unlimited resource unlikely to be affected by climate change.

Paisley said, "It's unfortunate that something as important as water isn't retaining its currency," adding, "It's not because we're doing a better job (at managing it) but other things like the economy are supplanting their concern."

The adage, "The wars of the future will be fought over water," was brought up and although this may seem far off to many readers, the truth isn't.

Like wars of the past, Paisley believes this war needs a figurehead to rally behind.

"We live in a world where unless you have a famous person championing your issue, it's not going to gain prominence," Paisley said, "And we need to locate those champions."

As evidence for his claim, Paisley referenced the 2016 Best Actor winner at last year's Oscars," Leonardo DiCaprio has more influence on environmental issues than all the papers I've written in my life," he said.

If there is going to be a war, Paisley would probably be a leading diplomat, as he's been integral in dealing with water issues that concern a number of major water bodies including the Nile, the Mekong and the Columbia that are shared by two or more countries.

The project he's currently working on concerns the Columbia River in Western North America. Straddling the border between Canada and the United States, the river stirs up issues that are," Very controversial and highly politically volatile on both sides of the border."

The Columbia River treaty, signed in the early 1960s is being revisited. Since 2014 either Canada or the US has only to give 10 years notice to cancel the treaty and re-evaluate it.

It's a complicated treaty for many reasons, among them, "The First Nations got nothing out of the original treaty and weren't consulted so they're anxious to be involved in the governing from here on out," Paisley said, "What I'm trying to do is share my experiences in the rest of the world with the people here to build better governance of the Columbia River."

One of the big issues is flood control. In 2024 the current flood control agreement that governs flood control on both sides of the border is going to expire, which will leave a great deal of uncertainty around a critical component that needs cooperation from both countries.

Another major issue is fish. Since the Grand Coulee dam was built on the Columbia in the 1920s, salmon have been blocked from getting into the country.

Paisley is also working with First Nations and Tribes on both sides of the border who are lobbying to get salmon swimming in the Columbia back into Canada.

For Canada's domestic issues, he believes the solution is to meet in the middle. Problems must be dealt with from the top down as well as the bottom up.

"There's a real niche and opportunity for the feds to be involved in setting water policy and acting as one of the champions,"

Paisley said, "We need to work on identifying the types of forward thinking politicians from all parties who would really do that."

The responsibility shouldn't just rest with politicians however, as water issues can take a lot longer to solve that a typical political term of four to five years.

"As Canadians we wait for the government to do everything. That has its costs and benefits but it behoves us to take on more responsibility for our own environmental actions." Paisley said, "Don't wait for the government to do things; work with NGOs and academics. Don't wait for the government to become enlightened and do the work for you."

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