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NEWS: Council of Canadians calls for legislation protecting water

Mike DeSouza of Postmedia News reports today:

Governments must create a new set of laws protecting natural ecosystems to effectively enshrine a binding right to water that was recently adopted by the United Nations, says a newly-released policy paper by the Council of Canadians.

The recommendations, authored by Maude Barlow, the national chair of the citizens advocacy group, noted that there is no substitute for water and that it must be protected in law and in practice.

“Freshwater is central to our very existence and must be protected by public trust law for the common good, not for individual profit,” said the report, titled Our Right to Water.

“Of course there is an economic dimension to water, but under the public trust, governments are obliged to protect water sources in order to sustain them for the long-term use of the entire population, not just the privileged few.”

The report said the next step consists of laws that assign new rights to protect natural ecosystems that have started to emerge in some communities in North America, as well as in countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador.

“In the eyes of most Western law, most of the community of life on Earth remains mere ‘property,’ and water is increasingly seen as another commodity to be exploited,” said the report. “We need to develop laws and practices to protect water, outside its usefulness to humans, and to restore and permanently protect watersheds and water sources.”

In an interview, Barlow said it would place new obligations on businesses to act responsibly.

“What would it look like if the Gulf could sue BP? Or if the ocean off Japan could sue the nuclear reactor or the government of Japan for allowing the deterioration of that facility?” she asked.

She said the laws should be balanced to allow development that doesn’t damage the natural resources which sustain growth.

“That doesn’t mean that you can’t fish anymore, but it does mean that you can’t fish to extinction,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean you couldn’t have industry on a body of water, but industry couldn’t destroy that body of water.”

She added that Canada must also respond to billions of dollars in infrastructure funding required to maintain water systems to protect the existing services and access across the country. She said the universal right to water, as adopted by the UN, should also force the government to substantially improve and fix inadequate water services in many First Nations communities.