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Op-ed: Standing up for water

Op-ed posted in the Springwater News, January 30, 2014

The most critical threats to the world’s supply of fresh water are also writ large across the Township of Springwater. The community is facing a malignant development proposal – the Midhurst Secondary Plan – which will allow a handful of wealthy developers to profit at the expense of everyone else. This plan will see Midhurst expand from its current population of 3500 to almost 30,000- a growth rate that required a change in the law to accommodate it and which will do irreparable harm to the region’s fresh water resources.

There is no time to lose. The world is running out of accessible clean water. Modern humans are polluting, mismanaging and displacing our finite freshwater sources at an alarming rate around the world-not just in Midhurst. In my book, Blue Future, I call for a new water ethic that places water and its protection at the centre of all policy and practice if the planet and we are to survive.

This new water ethic should honour four principles.

The first is that water is a human right and must be more equitably shared. The United Nations has recognized that drinking water and sanitation are fundamental human rights and that governments have obligations not only to supply these services to their people but also to prevent harm to source water. The development plan for Midhurst will create a massive increase in the demand for fresh water and add far more pollution than the diminishing water sources can accommodate. Vast stretches of hard, paved and shingled surfaces will disrupt the replenishment of the local groundwater supply. 

The second principle is that water is a common heritage of humanity and of future generations and must be protected as a public trust in law and practice. Water must never be bought, hoarded, sold or traded as a commodity on the open market and governments must maintain the water commons for the public good, not private gain. Ignoring the real physical limitations to growth in Midhurst means short term profit for a few and the impoverishment of the following generations. 

The third principle is that water has rights too, outside its usefulness to humans. Water belongs to the earth and other species. Our belief in “unlimited growth” and our treatment of water as a tool for industrial development have put the earth’s watersheds in jeopardy. Water is not a resource for our convenience, pleasure and profit, but rather the essential element in a living ecosystem. We need to adapt our laws and practices to ensure the protection of water and the restoration of watersheds, a crucial antidote to global warming.

Finally, I deeply believe that water can teach us how to live together if only we will let it. There is enormous potential for water conflict in a world of rising demand and diminishing supply. But just as water can be a source of disputes, conflict and violence, water can bring people, communities and nations together in the shared search for solutions. Water survival will necessitate more collaborative and sustainable ways of growing food, producing energy and trading across borders, and will require robust democratic governance. It is my deepest hope that water can become nature’s gift to humanity and teach us how to live more lightly on the earth and in peace and respect with one another.

I applaud the tireless efforts of the Midhurst Ratepayers Association but now the whole community must work alongside them. Nobody else has more to lose, nobody else will care as deeply and nobody else has a greater responsibility to provide good stewardship of their commons than those who live there.

It is your “backyard” – you must defend it.