Council of Canadian Academies: Canadian agriculture is faced with great opportunities, but also challenged by water-related risks and uncertainties.

Water and Agriculture in Canada: Towards Sustainable Management of Water Resources 

The agricultural sector is an important contributor to Canada’s prosperity and well-being and there are substantial opportunities for the sector in the coming decades. However, Canadian agriculture is also challenged by water-related risks and uncertainties. Growing competition for water, land, and other resources, in addition to the uncertain impact of climate change and variability, will place increased stress on agricultural production in Canada and throughout the world. To better understand this complex issue, the Council was asked by Agriculture and Agri-Food to conduct an evidence-based assessment to identify what additional science is needed to better guide sustainable management of water to meet the needs of agriculture.

To conduct the assessment, the Council convened a Panel of 15 Canadian and international experts from diverse fields. Dr. Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security, chaired the Expert Panel.

The Panel has developed an authoritative report that explores five key areas where additional science and action can contribute to better sustainable management of water in agriculture.

These five key areas are:

The risks and uncertainties of market conditions, competition for land and water resources, and climate change;

Improved monitoring and data interpretation that could be used to facilitate adaptive management techniques;

The interaction between land management and water resources – including the assessment of beneficial management practices (BMPs), conservation agriculture, and ecosystem services approaches;

Promising farm-scale technologies that could contribute to efficient water use, reduced environmental impacts, and sound investment decisions;

Governance structures, valuation techniques, economic incentives, and knowledge transfer strategies that would help to facilitate better management decisions and uptake of sustainable practices;


What additional science is needed to better guide sustainable management of water to meet the needs of agriculture?

Report and related products:

Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on Sustainable Management of Water in Agricultural Landscapes of Canada was chaired by Dr. Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security, Professor, School of Environment and Sustainability and Department of Civil and Geological Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Saskatchewan. For a complete list of panel members visit the Expert Panel on Sustainable Management of Water in Agricultural Landscapes of Canada page.

For further information, please contact:

Cate Meechan, Director of Communications at 613-567-5000 ext. 228 or


G&M: Psychiatric drugs in water make fish bolder, Swedish study finds

Via: Paul Taylor for the Globe & Mail , Feb. 14, 2013

For more than a decade, scientists have known that pharmaceutical medications are ending up in lakes and rivers all over the planet. The drugs pass through our bodies and are excreted in our waste. Even after being treated at sewage plants, the drugs can remain in the water that is dumped back into the environment.

A few earlier studies have raised concerns about birth-control hormones disrupting the delicate balance of aquatic wildlife. But little is known about the vast number of other medications that are accumulating in surface water.

Now, researchers in Sweden have demonstrated the effects on fish of another commonly used type of pharmaceutical: psychiatric medications.

In a laboratory, wild European perch were exposed to Oxazepam at the same level as the anti-anxiety drug exists in streams and rivers around populated areas of Sweden.

The drug dramatically changed the behaviour of the fish, according to the findings presented on Thursday in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and also published simultaneously in the journal Science.

“Normally, perch are shy and hunt in schools. This is a known strategy for survival and growth. But those who who swim in Oxazepam become considerably bolder,” Tomas Brodin, the lead researcher, said in a statement released along with the study.

The drug essentially made the fish braver and less social – even anti-social. “Perch that were exposed to Oxazepam lost interest in hanging out with the group, and some even strayed as far away from group as possible,” Brodin said.

The new-found independence allowed the perch to look for food on their own, a behaviour that can be risky, explained Brodin, an ecologist at Uppsala University. A fish that strays far from the group is more likely to be gobbled up by a predator.

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Economist Intelligence Unit: Waterless in 2030?

(via: Water Efficiency Journal)

A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (sponsored by Oracle) reveals that if water utilities plan on meeting water supply, large-scale infrastructure investments must be made—or else demand will outstrip supply by 2030.

The study, entitled “Water for All?”, compared the water resource management strategies of 10 countries—the US, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Spain, Brazil, Russia, India, and China—and surveyed 244 water utility managers and executives, including 20 “in-depth” interviews with water executives and independent experts. The participants’ answerers led researchers to conclude that while water providers are optimistic about their ability to meet future demand, that ability will be amplified or hampered by government action and consumer education. And all water purveyors will have to “think outside the box.”

“The leading overall response to water stress in the future is expected to be a sharp focus on demand management,” explains a statement released by Oracle in relation to the report. “This represents a shift in utilities’ traditional emphasis on continuing to supply increasing quantities of water in response to increasing demand.”

Meanwhile, developing countries have a tougher row to hoe. The study’s survey of water resource management strategies in the developing world reveals that climate change and erratic weather patters will increasingly influence the creation and maintenance of infrastructure in those countries.

“Utilities in the developing countries, in contrast, are more likely to focus on rolling out or expanding basic infrastructure,” states the report.

Other key findings:

* Increased water stress by 2030. Due to growing demand for water, caused by increasing populations, changing climate patterns, and wasteful consumer behavior, 39% of executives surveyed believe that the risk of national water demand outstripping supply by 2030 is “highly likely,” while 54% believe such a risk is moderately likely. Failure to address this could result in significant economic, social, and health implications.

* Barriers to conservation. Forty-five percent of utilities—especially in developed markets—see wasteful consumer behavior as their biggest barrier to progress, while another 33% believe tariffs are too low to stimulate greater investment. In developing countries, a lack of capital for investment tops the list (41%), while worries over climate change stand third overall (34%).

* Encouraging consumer engagement. Half of respondents (49%) believe pricing structures need to be changed to encourage conservation, while under four in 10 water utilities think water prices must be held down to ensure fair access to water for all (38%). With consumer behavior being the biggest barrier to conservation, it is critical for water utilities to engage with consumers to overcome this challenge.

* Increased investment. Almost all respondents stated that they are increasing investment to meet supply challenges (93%), with more than one in five (22%) increasing investment by 15% or more within the next three years.

* Innovative industry. Prompted by necessity, the water sector is becoming an increasingly prominent innovator, due to the implementation technologies such as smart meters and desalination solutions. For instance, one-fifth of water utilities in developed markets regularly evaluate new technologies, compared to one-third of developing countries. However, more water utilities must improve their ability to identify and implement such advances, with over one-third (36%) unaware of the innovation options available to them.

* Stumbling blocks. Drought and increased water pollution are seen by respondents as the biggest risks faced by water utilities, and are considered the most likely to occur. Similarly, half of respondents polled felt that that information and support from government bodies is lacking; while 43% recognize they must develop their management techniques to more precisely model future water availability or rainfall.


NDRC: Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at U.S. Vacation Beaches

via: Grist: Here’s just how dirty that beach water is

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has released its annual “Testing the Waters” report, an overview of the nation’s beaches.

You’ll want to read this before taking a dip.

Over the 22 years the NRDC has created the report, 2011 saw the third-highest levels of beach closings and advisory days. What does that mean? What, exactly, would you be swimming in?

Most beach closings are issued because beachwater monitoring detects unsafe levels of bacteria. These unsafe levels indicate the presence of pathogens — microscopic organisms from human and animal waste that pose a threat to human health. The key reported contributors of these contaminants are (1) stormwater runoff, (2) sewage overflows and inadequately treated sewage, (3) agricultural runoff, and (4) other sources, such as beachgoers themselves, wildlife, septic systems, and boating waste.

Oh, neat. Here’s how that pollution has varied as a cause of beach closures over the years:

Click to embiggen.

The organization also compiled a list of the worst-offending beaches, those that repeatedly had bad, polluted water. That data includes this caveat:

It is important to note that while a high percent exceedance rate is a clear indication of contaminated coastal recreational waters, it is not necessarily an indication that the state’s beachwater quality monitoring program is deficient or fails to protect public health when beachwater quality is poor.

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IPS: Water Conflicts Move Up on U.S. Security Agenda

Water Conflicts Move Up on U.S. Security Agenda – IPS

by Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2012 (IPS) – On Wednesday, the United States intelligence community unveiled a first-ever assessment of global water-security issues.

A declassified version of the document, which looks forward through 2040, suggests that “during the next 10 years, water problems will contribute to instability in states important to U.S. national security interests.”

According to one of the assessment’s lead authors, Major General Richard Engel, water-stressed countries, being forced to focus on pressing internal issues, are increasingly unable to support U.S. policies and strategic interests.

While the assessment does not foresee water being a main instigator of state-to-state violence or state failure in the next decade, beyond that “water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage.” In addition, “water shortages and pollution probably will harm the economic performance of important (U.S.) trading partners.”

The Global Water Security assessment is the result of a request made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011. Clinton has previously stated that water and sanitation constitute the two most basic of development priorities.

The end result of the intelligence community’s research is not a comprehensive global look at the issue. Rather, it focuses on seven river basins between the Nile and the Mekong for which there is a “clear intersection of risks of availability and U.S. strategic interests”, according to Casimir Yost, the director of the Strategic Futures Group at the National Intelligence Council, which authored the report.

At the public launch of the assessment, Engel admitted, “The intelligence community went into this project reluctantly. When we looked into it, however, we realised that this was a top-level national security issue.”

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EPA releases draft National Water Program 2012 Strategy

via @climateandwater Draft EPA “National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change” Released for Public Comment

EPA’s Draft 2012 Strategy adresses climate change impacts on water resources and EPA’s water programs. Climate change alters the water cycle and could affect the implementation of EPA’s programs. EPA and our state, tribal, local and federal partners must review and adapt the practices that have been developed over the past 40 years since passage of the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and other statutes. Ensuring that EPA’s programs continue to protect public health, and the environment that sustains our communities and the economy, requires immediate and continuous collaboration.

National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change—Public Comment Draft (PDF) (112pp, 3.6MB, About PDF)

How to Comment:

Comments must be received on or before May 17, 2012, 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.


RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study

Via: RBC Blue Water Project

TORONTO, March 22, 2012 — Canadians believe that maintaining our drinking water supply is one of the most important areas for government funding (behind hospitals and tied with schools). Yet, more than 80 per cent feel there is no need for major and immediate investment in their community’s drinking water/wastewater facilities, which they believe to be in good condition, and in need of only minor investment for upkeep. Ironically, more than a third of Canadians (37 per cent) who use municipal water are not very aware of the condition of the water and sewage infrastructure serving their own home.

“Canadians believe in the safety of their drinking water and assume that the infrastructure that provides it is efficient,” says Bob Sandford, Chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade. “This is a national ‘pipe dream’ because in many municipalities, water distribution and sewage pipes can be up to 80 years old and have already reached the end of their service life. In fact, reports have shown there is an $88-billion investment required to repair and build new water infrastructure in communities across Canada.”

According to the fifth annual RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, more than three-quarters of respondents (78 per cent) stated their main source of water comes from the municipal water supply. While the majority felt that their municipalities were doing a good job at maintaining current water and sewage systems to prevent breakages in the short term (68 per cent), they were less impressed with the municipalities’ work on upgrading these systems for the long term (61 per cent). However, only a quarter (22 per cent) would be willing to pay through a water bill or taxes into an infrastructure fund to upgrade drinking water/wastewater facilities in their community.

“Investments in water infrastructure maintenance are chronically underfunded and often deferred. This is causing a multitude of issues not immediately associated in the minds of Canadians with water quality and supply,” notes Sandford.

More than half of Canadians (54 per cent) have been inconvenienced by a water related issue in the past two years. A backed-up drain, boil-water warnings, water bans/use restrictions or closed beaches due to poor water quality tell a larger story of the disconnect between Canadians’ confidence in water quality and infrastructure, and the issues that they are actually facing.

“All of these inconveniences highlight the failing infrastructure in many Canadian municipalities. What may seem like minor issues in our own backyards represents a larger problem with regard to our country’s water,” says Sandford. “We have found that Canadians are confident in freshwater as a lasting resource but don’t understand the potential impact inconsistent infrastructure maintenance can have on the supply, quality and cost of water.”

Canadians’ level of confidence in the safety and quality of the country’s drinking water has increased significantly over the past four years to 88 per cent in 2012, up from 81 per cent in 2009. This confidence helps explain why almost half of Canadians (49 per cent) believe freshwater is the country’s most important natural resource, with the exception of Albertans who ranked oil first, followed by fresh water. Eighty-one per cent of the population feels confident that their regions have enough fresh water to meet long-term needs.

And, while respondents reported that they try to conserve water, they also take it for granted. Almost half leave the water running in the kitchen when washing and rinsing dishes (44 per cent), while 12 per cent hose down their driveways, and 14 per cent admit to flushing things down the toilet that should be disposed of in another manner.

Study results in water infograph

Chris Coulter, GlobeScan’s president, adds

“We have been polling on water issues for 25 years. This survey is a tale of romance between Canadians and their treasured water. But there’s a significant gap between romance and reality. We found a troubling lack of awareness not only about water conservation but also the very pressing need for investment in infrastructure. Mobilizing the political will to deal with these issues will be a challenge.”

2012 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study: Additional highlights 

Following are additional highlights from the 2012 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, which has tracked Canadians’ perceptions and attitudes towards water quality and conservation since 2008.

Water consumption behaviours

  • Two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent) always turn off the water while brushing their teeth (70 per cent female; 61 per cent male);
  • Almost half (48 per cent) avoid watering their lawns in the summer (55 per cent female; 40 per cent male);
  • Many Canadians have installed low-flow shower heads (47 per cent) and water-efficient toilets (42 per cent) in their homes;
  • Four-in-ten respondents regularly choose tap water over bottled water in restaurants;
  • Of the typical sources of drinking water at home, Canadians drink tap water (48 per cent), filtered tap water (27 per cent), water from a large jug/cooler (11 per cent) and individually-sized bottled water (nine per cent).

Top five things people do that upset Canadians the most about water usage

  1. Water their lawns when it has just rained, is raining or about to rain (48 per cent)
  2. Flush things down the toilet that should be disposed of in another manner (29 per cent)
  3. Hose down their driveway (24 per cent)
  4. Leave a faucet running in a public place (19 per cent)
  5. Use soap or shampoo to bathe in a lake (18 per cent)

Top five things Canadians admit they have knowingly done themselves

  1. Left water running in the kitchen when washing and rinsing dishes (44 per cent)
  2. Left water on while brushing teeth (42 per cent)
  3. Allowed soapy water to run down a storm drain (18 per cent)
  4. Flushed things down the toilet that should have been disposed of in another manner (14 per cent)
  5. Hosed down driveway (12 per cent)

About the RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study
These are some of the findings of a GlobeScan poll conducted between February 1-15, 2012, on behalf of RBC and sponsored by the UN Water for Life Decade. A sample of 2,428 adult Canadians from an online panel were interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The margin of error for a strict probability sample for a sample of this size would be ±2.0 percent, 19 times out of 20. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error and measurement error.

About the RBC Blue Water Project
The RBC Blue Water Project is an innovative, wide-ranging, 10-year global commitment to help protect the world’s most precious natural resource: fresh water. It includes a $50 million philanthropic commitment to organizations that protect watersheds and ensure access to clean drinking water. The RBC Blue Water Project also promotes responsible water use through awareness programs and supports programs that encourage businesses to develop and commercialize innovative solutions to the water issues facing the world. Since 2007, RBC has pledged over $32 million to more than 450 not-for-profit organizations worldwide that protect watersheds or ensure access to clean drinking water. For more information,

About Canadian Partnership Initiative of the United Nations Water for Life Decade
The United Nations Water for Life Decade is a globally proclaimed decade for action on water quality and availability issues. While each country in the world will be focusing on its own water quality and availability issues within the larger context of the global fresh water situation, the Canadian initiative has been defined by a nation-wide public and private sector partnership aimed at identifying and responding to regional and national water issues. The United Nations Water for Life initiative in Canada exists to put Canadian water issues into a global context. The Canadian United Nations Water for Life partnership initiative is housed, and has its research home in the Western Watersheds Climate Research Collaborative at the Biogeosciences Institute at the University of Calgary.

About GlobeScan
GlobeScan delivers evidence, insights, and ideas that build value for clients through stronger stakeholder relationships. Uniquely placed at the nexus of reputation, brand, and sustainability, GlobeScan combines rigorous research with creative and challenging thinking to instill trust, drive engagement, and inspire innovation within, around, and beyond our clients’ organizations. For more information, visit