Canada has a stake in California droughts

It's a long shot but maybe Canada should revisit the concept of exporting water to parched areas of the USA.

It’s a long shot but maybe Canada should revisit the concept of exporting water to parched areas of the USA. With California again in the grips of a severe drought one would expect that they are exploring every idea to long-term relief. Droughts are nothing new to the area, but they have been mitigated over the last 100 years by ever expanding water pipelines and canals extending out hundreds of miles – even into neighbouring states. That approach over the years has more or less, satisfied the needs of cities and the massive agriculture industry. However the sources of much of that water have always been some somewhat precarious that being the mountain snowpack of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Colorado River system and ground water. The snowpack is the most critical; even a small reduction affects the entire state and is made worse by any reduced rainfall. But that also works the other way – a good snowpack results in full reservoirs and the usual human tendency to forget about past droughts. The latter particularly makes expensive long-term unique solutions difficult to pursue – water from Canada being one of them.

One would be short-sighted to presume that Canada has nothing at stake with California droughts, being moving and selling water to the area may just be a pipe dream – so to speak. However, if you eat fresh vegetables eight months of the year, it’s likely those vegetables came from California and contain scarce California water. In a curious sense Canada actually imports water from California. Such a reality is not lost on Americans who look at the big picture. If the California droughts continue to get worse, and if you believe climate change panickers it will get worse, than American consumers and their governments may be taking a more severe look at agriculture production in California and what needs to be done. Here’s why.

From an urban California citizen’s perspective there is no water shortage – more than enough water is moved around to satisfy the urban consumers’ needs even during the worse droughts. That’s because 80% of water in California is used by agriculture – the argument is that if agricultural use is cut back then there is more available to cities, it’s just a matter of allocation. To some extent that is already happening and being there are more city voters than irrigation farmers that trend will continue as the drought and water shortage continues. It is all aggravated by the usual urban perspective that food magically appears every day at grocery stores. Its unlikely most consumers connect that store food to water use by agriculture. But by accident or design – California vegetables will become expensive and have repercussions for Canada. It may not happen for many years but if it becomes too expensive – then declining California vegetable production may well see the Americans restricting exports to Canada. If you think that won’t happen just look to oil – the US long ago put regulations in place that prevents the export of their oil – they want their oil for their citizens. That would be easy to apply to their food production.

It’s long-term but if Canada wants to secure some guaranteed flow of vegetables from California, we need to supply them with one of the most critical components of vegetable production – water. The most likely sources are BC rivers like the Fraser, the Stikine and numerous others that now deposit billions of litres of fresh water into the ocean where it turns into unusable salt water. There is no doubt that engineering solutions exist that could capture some of that fresh water and divert it to tankers and pipelines where it could be transhipped to California vegetable fields. There is even a side benefit to such water translocation – it will help reduce (albeit small) the perceived rise in ocean levels that threaten to drown Vancouver.  How could even the most strident anti-development BC residents be opposed to not only saving their coastline, but providing a guaranteed supply of vegetables (even organic free-range) to Canadians. Even breaks and leakage would be no problem with a water pipeline or water carrying tankers.

The politically correct counter argument has always been irrational – that being Canada should never export its precious water. That makes no sense at our coastlines being our precious water is wasted and lost when it flows into salt water oceans. Water exports will be a long shot but I expect it will come when it’s driven by food scarcity.