Canadian activists, who see themselves as stewards of the country´s abundant water resources, have been concerned since NAFTA was signed, fearing that it threatens our water. So it came as no surprise that, when early corporate schemes arose to allow the large-scale export of water from the Great Lakes and Newfoundland’s Lake Gismore, the Council of Canadians and other activist groups mounted campaigns which led provincial governments to ban the export of bulk water.
Pressure from activists also led to the completion of a federally-sponsored scientific study which showed that the Great Lakes could not tolerate removal of bulk water, especially with global warming playing into the equation.
Unfortunately, these provincial bans were full of loopholes, as was the subsequent Great Lakes Compact, which would allow limited diversions outside the Great Lakes watershed area. Worse, it became clear that even these partial restrictions were superseded by NAFTA, which essentially eliminated local governments’ efforts to limit trade. There was a growing fear that Canada was just one NAFTA challenge away from having its national taps turned on.
As Miguel Picard, economist, researcher, co-founder of CIEPAC, and analyst with the IRC Americas Program has noted: "Under NAFTA...and the dismantling of borders, it would be difficult or impossible for Canada to prevent the transfer of water or other natural resources through trade transactions with the United States."
Even more disconcerting was the move toward deeper continental integration embodied in the Security and Prosperity Partnership for North America (SPP) signed March 31, 2005, by the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The “leaked” minutes of a 2004 meeting of the Task Force on the Future of North America which led to the SPP spelled it out clearly: "No item--not Canadian water, not Mexican oil, not American anti-dumping laws--is ‘off the table;’ rather, contentious or intractable issues will simply require more time to ripen politically."
It also stated that "Mexican oil and Canadian water are invested with greater emotion than are those same natural resources in other countries... Consequently, policy recommendations on these issues are best considered long-term goals."
It was clear from that time that the idea of large-scale water exports was on the back burner, waiting for Canadian attitudes to be transformed.
Two key observations suggest that water has now been moved to the front burner. First, the rhetoric to sell Canadian water is being raised in the mainstream media by SPP proponents, journalists, business strategists, and investors seeking profits in this potentially lucrative market.
Headlines from mainstream magazines proclaim: America is thirsty: Let’s sell it before they take it; and Water Warning: Get Ready for Floods, Dams, and Selling our Water to the U.S.
Paul Michael Whidbey of the Global Water and Energy Strategy Team, speaking at the Global Business Forum in Banff last year, intoned: "Bulk water exports will take place from Canada—from Manitoba, Newfoundland, Quebec, and British Columbia--in two to five years."
Second, massive NAFTA Super-Corridors are in the works which will serve the purpose of trucking goods from Europe and the Far East through super-ports in Mexico, Los Angeles, British Columbia and Halifax--and they will have water pipelines running alongside them. The first of these super-corridors being planned is the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), a proposed multi-use, state-wide network of transportation routes in Texas. As envisioned, each route will include six separate lanes for passenger vehicles and six for large trucks, freight railway lanes, high-speed commuter railway lanes, and infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband and other telecommunications services.
The writing is on the wall. But campaigns are mounting to stop not only the bulk transport of our water, but also the Super-Corridors and the SPP itself. As Tony Clark of the Polaris Institute puts it: "Canadians would do well to take a closer look at the forces moving behind the scenes to turn on the taps for massive water exports to the United States."
(Janet M Eaton, PhD, of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, is an activist, academic, and independent researcher who works locally and globally to create awareness of the failures of the globalized corporate industrial economic growth model and to educate and advocate for principle-centred participatory sustainable alternatives. She is the Sierra Club of Canada’s international liaison to the Sierra Club’s Corporate Accountability Committee and Water Privatization Task Force.)