Climate Change, Pollution and Urbanization Threaten Water in Canada
A women fills a water bottle with a filter from an alpine lake in the mountains around Pemberton, British Columbia, Canada. Canada is on the front lines of rapid climate changes that affect the water cycle. Ben Girardi / Aurora Photos / Getty Images
By Corinne Schuster-Wallace, Robert Sandford and Stephanie Merrill
In recent years, the daily news has been flooded with stories of water woes from coast to coast to coast.
There are melting glaciers and ice sheets in northern and western Canada and lead in drinking water in the older neighborhoods of many cities in Canada. We see toxic blue green algae threatening pets, livestock and drinking water as well as catastrophic floods, droughts and fires.
In 2018, parts of British Columbia experienced devastating floods, followed by wildfires a couple of months later.
Our water resources are under threat from contamination, land use, urbanization and climate change. If we're not careful, it may not be clean enough or available when we need it.
An Opportunity to Lead
The public supports environmental — and water — leadership in Canada. Many political pundits have suggested the federal election result of October 2019 was a clear call for climate action.
And yet Canada is on the front lines of rapid climate changes that affect the water cycle. Where, when, and how much rain, snow or freezing rain falls is changing across Canada.
This is the water that we depend upon to replenish our groundwater, rivers and lakes, which continue to have a significant and increasing impact on water availability and quality in Canada and around the world.
However, Canadians remain divided on energy policy and resource development, and on appropriate solutions that balance environmental, economic and social needs. As Canadians, we must move beyond this and implement changes to better manage our water resources sustainably.
Water Front and Center
We must manage our water sustainably because water is central to environmental, social and economic sustainability and therefore sustainable societies. This is the focus of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals identify targets that must be achieved for livelihoods, health, education, environment, cities, oceans, equity and partnership.
It's important to understand that these goals are not isolated, but interrelated. This is why, even though there is a goal for water (SDG 6), there are 40 targets in the other 16 goals that relate directly to water.
For example, we cannot have good health if we do not have clean and accessible water, and children cannot go to school or adults to work, if they are not healthy. With water often at the heart of many social and economic inequities, it is critical to address water quantity, quality and access issues in order to meet all of the goals and to achieve the global sustainable development vision.
The recipe for managing Canada's water resources in a sustainable and equitable manner requires all of us to urgently recognize our changing climate and water resources, including drinking water, and act appropriately.
It requires federal co-ordination and leadership on water to overcome challenges of fragmented jurisdiction, such as following through with their commitment to create a Canada Water Agency, develop a national flood forecasting system and ensure universal access to adequate drinking water supplies.
Research institutions must also step up to advance our knowledge, develop and assess decision support tools and solutions, and communicate their findings to communities, governments and economic sectors.
Finally, it requires reconciliation through shared nations' governance of water resources and recognition of the long history of successful, sustainable management of natural resources through indigenous knowledge and historical local knowledge.
Getting Our Own House in Order
Canada could support the world in achieving water sustainability, but it must first get its own house in order and achieve the UN's water goals nationally.
Canada's water opportunities and challenges. Global Water Futures
Canada still has not reached universal access to reliable, potable water supplies for everyone, especially First Nations communities. Lead pipes, disinfection byproducts and aging infrastructure are interrupting drinking water service and negatively affecting human health.
The Bottom Line
Canada already has the expertise, technologies, industries and research capacity to make good on a commitment to water sustainability and universal achievement of the UN's water goals for all Canadians. But it needs leadership to advance research and practice to expand our existing strengths, and export these internationally.
Canadian research institutions have a role to play in bringing the country together by showing Canada and the world the solutions and benefits of achieving these goals.
There are significant long-term benefits at stake, including the enhanced health and well-being of current and future generations, as well as expanded economic opportunity. But, to achieve these, political leadership needs to transcend partisan lines in order to do what is right.
Ultimately, we have an opportunity to make where we live a better place and to get our own watersheds in order. This will help us create a better, more just, equitable and sustainable world for all. The alternative is, quite simply, unthinkable.
Corinne Schuster-Wallace is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Saskatchewan.
Robert Sandford is the Chair in Water and Climate Security at United Nations University.
Stephanie Merrill is a research scientist in knowledge mobilization at the Global Institute for Water Security, Global Water Futures Program, University of Saskatchewan.
Disclosure statement: Corinne Schuster-Wallace receives funding from Global Water Futures and the Canadian Tri-Agency. She is co-chair of the Working Group on Climate Change for the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research.
Robert Sandford receives partial funding from the Global Water Futures program at the University of Saskatchewan.
Stephanie Merrill is a volunteer board member of the Saskatchewan branch and National board of the Canadian Water Resources Association and the Nashwaak Watershed Association.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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