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David Suzuki: World Water Day Reminds Us Not to Take Clean Water for Granted

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David Suzuki: World Water Day Reminds Us Not to Take Clean Water for Granted

Earth’s oceans, lakes, rivers and streams are its circulatory system, providing life’s essentials for people, animals and ecosystems. Canada has one-fifth of the world’s freshwater, a quarter of its remaining wetlands and its longest coastline. With this abundance, it’s easy to take water for granted. Many of our daily rituals require its life-giving force. Yet do we recognize our good fortune in having clean, safe water at the turn of a tap?

Not everyone in Canada is so lucky. On any given day, more than 1,000 boil-water advisories are in place across the country. Imagine having to walk to your local church every morning to fill plastic jugs with clean drinking water for your family. Or having to drive to your town’s fire station or community center to collect bottled water. Imagine having to boil water for everything you do at home—cooking, cleaning, washing. This is the sad reality for people who live in communities with boil-water advisories, some for decades at a time.

Water problems are dangerous. In May 2000, bacteria in Walkerton, Ontario’s water supply caused seven deaths and more than 2,300 illnesses. A public inquiry blamed the crisis on flaws in the province’s approval and inspection programs, a “lack of training and expertise” among water-supply operators and government budget cuts.

In 2001, nearly half of North Battleford, Saskatchewan’s 14,000 residents became ill from contaminated water. An inquiry concluded provincial oversight was inadequate and ineffective.

Indigenous communities continue to face a widespread drinking water crisis, with people on First Nations reserves 90 times more likely than other Canadians to lack access to clean water.

Health Canada reports that 131 drinking-water advisories were in effect in 87 Indigenous communities at the end of 2015, not including British Columbia. Places like Shoal Lake 40, Grassy Narrows and Neskantaga have been under boil-water advisories for decades. In British Columbia, the First Nations Health Authority reports that 28 drinking-water advisories were in effect in 25 Indigenous communities as of Jan. 31.

How can this continue in a water-rich country like Canada?

Canada recognized the right to water at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. Yet our government has failed to live up to its commitment. As a 2015 UN report points out, “The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

We are the only G8 country and one of just two Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, without legally enforceable national drinking-water-quality standards. Federal water policy is more than 25 years old and in dire need of revision. We have no national strategy to address urgent water issues and no federal leadership to conserve and protect water. Instead, we rely on a patchwork of provincial water policies, some enshrined in law and some not. Meanwhile, highly intensive industrial activities, agribusiness and pollution are putting water supplies at risk.

The federal government will deliver its first budget on March 22—World Water Day. The David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot movement is also taking a stand on World Water Day, helping communities across Canada call on the federal government to make good on our human right to clean water by enacting a federal environmental bill of rights.

Canada’s environment and climate change minister has a mandate to “treat our freshwater as a precious resource that deserves protection and careful stewardship.” The government could take a big step toward accomplishing this by recognizing our right to a healthy environment, including our right to clean water.

The government should also implement legally binding national standards for drinking water quality equal to or better than the highest standards in other industrialized nations and set long-term targets and timelines to reduce water pollution. And it should fulfil our right to water by addressing the drinking water crisis in Indigenous communities and establishing a Canada Water Fund to foster the clean-water tech industry and create a robust national water quality and quantity monitoring system.

Committing to these actions would help ensure all Canadians have access to clean, safe water for generations to come. On World Water Day, help protect the people and places you love by joining the Blue Dot movement.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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