Water advocate says Chilliwack's aquifer needs protecting

Maude Barlow visits Chilliwack on Nov. 21 as part of the launch tour of her new book Boiling Point. - Council of Canadians
Maude Barlow visits Chilliwack on Nov. 21 as part of the launch tour of her new book Boiling Point.
— image credit: Council of Canadians

Blessed with some of the best water in the world, and seemingly a lot of it, Chilliwack still needs to be careful, according to renowned water activist Maude Barlow.

“Your aquifer, the Sardis-Vedder aquifer, it lies underneath a lot of industry, a lot of suburban development and a lot of farmland,” Barlow told the Times in a telephone interview from her home in Ottawa on Monday.

“I’m also very worried about the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.”

Then there is Nestlé, and Molson, and corporate agriculture, and the biggest threat to fresh water out there: “Our apathy.”

Barlow, who is chairperson of the Council of Canadians, is coming to Chilliwack on Nov. 21 for a discussion of what she calls Canada’s water crisis, and her new book Boiling Point.

The apathy comes, Barlow argues, because many of the water issues we see are much worse in other parts of the world. But we aren’t as rich as we think.

The “myth of abundance” as she calls it, is the notion that Canadians grew up being told we have 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water, which is only true if you drain every lake and river.

So it’s more like 6.5 per cent of the available fresh water.

“And even that is misleading because most of that flows in mighty rivers to the north,” she said. “We don’t really have the water yield we we were raised to believe we did.”

When it comes to groundwater such as the aquifer most Chilliwack residents rely upon, how sustainable is it? City engineers know it is pushed to its limit, but Barlow argues that a lack of protection and mapping of groundwater means few anywhere know anything about how much we have and if it is enough to sustain the increasing pressures.

“It’s getting our head around properly mapping and assessing our water use and our water capacity,” she said.

(Coincidentally, on Tuesday Chilliwack city council approved funds to hire an engineering company to do an update to the city's groundwater model for the Sardis Vedder Aquifer.)

Essentially, Canada may not be in a water crisis today but a huge number of jurisdictions around the world are, and they did not plan for it or see the signs. Barlow’s message is that complacency is dangerous, and it’s coming to our doorstep.

“We need to ask some hard questions,” Barlow said of big agriculture’s impact on water. “They didn’t ask those questions in California.”

As for the big picture, she says the United Nations said by 2030 the demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 per cent.

“We are at a really, really, really serious situation if that’s correct, and all the scientists say it is, then where are all those people going to live?”

• Barlow’s local book tour stop for Boiling Point  is Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. at G.W. Graham Middle Secondary School, 45955 Thomas Rd. She will be joined by Chawathil Elder Patricia John, WaterWealth’s Ian Stephen and indigenous lawyer Ardith Walkem.

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