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NEWS: Former CIBC chief economist promotes bulk water exports

Former Jeff Rubin, former chief economist at CIBC World Markets, writes in the Globe and Mail today that, “Canada is home to nearly nine per cent of the world’s supply of fresh water. But with a population of less than one per cent of the world’s total, Canada has a lot of room for water exports.”

He basically argues:

“In time, those exports might be more valuable than the 170 billion barrels of oil that are trapped in the country’s oil sands. …The price of water is rising steadily, making Canada’s freshwater bounty more valuable every day. As with tar sands oil, the natural market for Canadian water is the United States. …Increasingly, states like California and Florida are turning to desalination to meet their freshwater needs. At around 65 cents per cubic meter, the going rate of desalinated water in the US provides a very attractive pricing point for potential Canadian water exports. …Americans are increasingly paying their northern neighbor to fill their gas tanks. In time, they may pay them even more to fill their taps.”


“Of course, pricing water, let alone exporting it, remains anathema to the majority of Canadians. But, at the same time, the enormous water usage involved in the country’s largest energy project, the Alberta oil sands, has made it painfully clear that a free-water policy is a recipe for waste and environmental degradation. Would 250,000-plus-barrels-a-day producers like Suncor and Syncrude be so eager to pollute four barrels of fresh water in the production a single barrel of oil if they had to pay the same price that many Americans already pay for desalinated water? My guess is that if oil sand producers had to absorb those kinds of water costs, it wouldn’t take long before shareholders got management focused on finding ways to use a whole lot less water.”

This past June, the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute released a report by Diane Katz that says Canada has an abundance of water and that the country needs to “move beyond fear mongering and protectionism” and look instead at the “benefits and opportunities presented by bulk water exports.”

Council of Canadians national water campaigner Meera Karunananthan responded at that time by saying, “This is not coming from a desire to address the human need for water, or a desire to replenish the environment where there are water shortages. This is trying to make huge profits from a very basic need. This assumption that we have so much water we should be shipping it outside the country is false. We frankly don’t know what our groundwater resources are at the moment. We fail to acknowledge the amount of water actually exploited. We don’t even have enough information on how much bottled water we’re exporting from Canada. (A ban on water exports is) about protecting the environment and protecting an important an environment resource from commercialization. We see water as a public resource and a human right that is not to be commodified.”

For a summary of recent bulk water proposals, please go to http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3096. The Council of Canadians is also tracking the proposed C-26, an Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act, which was introduced this past May. More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3593.

Jeff Rubin’s argument can be read in full at http://theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/commentary/jeff-rubins-smaller-world/water-canadas-most-valuable-resource/article1698190/?.