Water exports: debunking the myths

August 5, 2009

Several contributors to

Policy Options

(July-August 2009) dismiss concerns about bulk water exports as largely unfounded.

Harry Swain calls fears of US appropriation of Canadian water “largely illusory if only because both we and the Americans price water so cheaply that it cannot bear the cost of shipping or pumping.”

Frédéric Lasserre maintains that large-scale water export “proposals are not a real cause for concern because of the evolution of the demand and the poor return on investment they offer.”

Ralph Pentland likewise explains that enthusiasm for bulk water exports rests on several myths, including the myth that the United States is running out of water. This is not supported by current conservation trends there, or by the increased use of water markets to transfer water from lower-valued to higher-valued uses. Lower-cost alternatives to bulk imports from Canada always exist much closer to home.

Pentland debunks the myth that Canadian entrepreneurs could make “bucket-loads of money” from bulk exports: “As a generality, it is safe to assume that most large-scale long-distance export schemes would return about a nickel or a dime for every dollar invested. Those kinds of projects simply could not happen without massive taxpayer subsidies.”

Nonetheless, a recent Nanos Research poll found that 17.2 percent of those polled identified bulk water exports as their greatest concern regarding fresh water in Canada, and 20.2 percent said that forbidding bulk water export should be the top government priority for addressing Canada’s fresh water challenges.

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