In its report card on Canada’s environmental performance, the Conference Board of Canada assigns a “C” for water withdrawals, ranking the country 15 out of 16 in the developed world.
In How Canada Performs – Environment, the Conference Board explains the low mark as follows: “Canada’s water withdrawals are nearly double the 16-country average. Canada uses more than nine times the amount of water per capita than Denmark, the top performer in this indicator. Only the U.S. ranks behind Canada.”
In urging Canada to use its freshwater resources more wisely, the Conference Board ties high water withdrawals to “low river flows, water shortages, salinization of freshwater bodies in coastal areas, human health problems, loss of wetlands, desertification, and reduced food production.”
The Conference Board attributes the country’s excessive water withdrawals in part to “water pricing that does not promote efficiency.”
For households without water meters, water bills don’t reflect water use and therefore provide no incentives to save water. In 2009, 28 percent of Canadian households were unmetered. Unsurprisingly, they used an average of 376 litres of water per person per day – 64 percent more than the 229 litres per person per day used by metered households.
Households aren’t alone in paying prices that don’t cover the costs of supplying water or create incentives to conserve. The Conference Board cites Environment Canada’s findings that “irrigation water charges recover only about 10 per cent of the development cost of the resource.” It is no coincidence that “water use in agriculture is particularly inefficient.”
The solution is straightforward. “Increasing the cost of water is one of the best incentives for conservation,” the Conference Board advises. “Canadians must start paying more for water and embrace water conservation measures or risk the depletion of one of Canada’s most valuable resources.”