Ottawa cuts water surveillance amidst warnings to heed climate change

OTTAWA — Environment Canada is cutting the scope of its water surveillance, internal documents show, even as Ottawa is being publicly warned to mind the serious effects of climate change.

OTTAWA — Environment Canada is cutting the scope of its water surveillance, internal documents show, even as Ottawa is being publicly warned to mind the serious effects of climate change.

A new report from the soon-to-be-defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy warns that both business and government are dragging their feet in preparing for the inevitable effects of global warming.

At the same time, an internal memo from Environment Canada shows that budget cuts will require the department to scale back its monitoring of water — the very element that climate change most influences.

“The Sustainable Water Management Division is the most impacted,” John Moffet, director general of legislative and regulatory affairs at Environment Canada, says in a note to his colleagues explaining how some of the budget cuts will work. The note has been widely circulated among environmental activists.

“The work related to water use efficiency and conservation, including the Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey, will end; the work on surface water modeling will end.”

Other parts of the water monitoring operation will be split up and folded in to other areas of the department, says the memo.

The cuts to water and elsewhere on the environment file, along with new measures to streamline environmental assessment and to audit charities, amount to a giant blow, says John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

“They are systematically dismantling the federal government’s ability to monitor the environment,” he said. “They would just like everybody to get out of the environment business.”

A spokesman for Environment Minister Peter Kent says the cuts in the area of sustainable water management will save $1.5 million, and no harm will come of it.

That’s because the programs in question duplicate services in water quantity — not quality — performed at other levels of government, spokesman Adam Sweet said.

“Duplication” is the same reason Kent has given for eliminating the National Round Table. Its $5-million budget will be cancelled at the end of this fiscal year because its services are available elsewhere from universities and think tanks, Kent has said.

The round table president — hand-picked by the Conservative government — refutes that rationale.

David McLaughlin heads the advisory panel that has produced a string of hard-hitting reports that model the effects of climate change on the economy, and devised a solid carbon-pricing scheme to mitigate the effects.

“This is new and original information that we’re putting out,” he said. “Maybe the government in some cases” produces some of the analysis that the round table is working on. “But that work isn’t always public,” McLaughlin adds.

The occasional think tank has done some similar work, too, but not in a systematic way or with the sophisticated modelling that has led to the round table breaking ground on detailing the probable effects of climate change, he said.

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