Water — or the lack of it — will become the big issue of the future, predicts Brad Stelfox.
The Calgary landscape ecologist and consultant spoke in Red Deer about how climate change, combined with the over-allocation of our rivers, will cause a crisis in years to come if people don’t combine their efforts now to change the way water resources are treated.
“Water is finite. There’s only so much water” said Stelfox, at a Rally for the River event. It was co-hosted Friday by the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance and Alberta Ecotrust Foundation as a strategizing session for various stakeholders — including government, First Nations and agency representatives.
Stelfox said demand for water keeps growing from agricultural, industrial and municipal uses. Society is treating rivers as if they are an endless stream, when they are not. In fact, climate change is leading to more droughts, evaporation, and less snow pack — all factors that reduce water supply.
“We should be treating it as a precious resource and using it more efficiently,” said Stelfox.
A study by the World Wildlife Fund identified the Red Deer River as one of Canada’s at-risk waterways. Although it’s generally healthy, water quality declines the further the river flows from the mountains and the basin is becoming stressed due to human and natural factors. Threats to the local watershed are very high, including pollution, habitat fragmentation and overuse of water.
Although conservation is a complex issue, and could eventually require government guidelines or policies, Stelfox believes “there’s no wrong place to begin” — including individuals changing their own water usage.
People can take shorter showers, buy water-saving appliances, preserve the shoreline vegetation that keeps much pollution out of rivers and lakes, and not build on flood plains.
Friday’s session led to discussions about how to build on “action pathways” — such as changing perceptions about water through effective messaging, promoting “next-generation” municipal planning, championing the efforts of indigenous communities, and encouraging water re-use, preservation of landscape features, water sharing agreements and other innovations.
Delburne Mayor Ray Reckseidler said water is factoring into many more municipal discussions since leaders realized “you cannot manage land before you manage water.”