Worries about water in the City of Lakes

by Mary Katherine Keown, originally published on March 20, 2016


The most pressing water issue for Ron Tough is its absence as a potable drinking source in more than 100 First Nations communities in Canada. It is an affront to social justice and to human rights, he said Sunday.

“Water is part of our social justice initiative. Water’s a human right,” he said, while standing in the shadow of the David Street water treatment plant. “Access to clean water, being a human right, it should be accessible to everybody. We hear there are 120 First Nations communities with no access to clean drinking water – and there’s water all around them, but it’s contaminated.”

The lack of potable water on those reserves defies common sense.

“They don’t have clean water or access to good sanitation, or pure water,” Tough said.

Tough was part of a water rally, sponsored by the Sudbury chapter of the Council of Canadians, that took place at the David Street plant a couple of days before the United Nations World Water Day (www.unwater.org).

March 22 is World Water Day and is “an important day for our City of Lakes,” the council says in a press release. “An important day, too, for Canadians all across the country who are alarmed about the disappearance of long-standing safeguards for our water sources.”

“We’re concerned there aren’t enough regulations to prevent environmental disasters, and in case there is a disaster, how readily can it be cleaned up,” Tough added. “There aren’t enough precautions taken when doing environmental assessments. If development was accompanied by good environmental assessments and regulations were put into place to prevent the water from being contaminated, then we’d be happy with that.”

As Tough said, 99 per cent of Canada’s water sources are no longer covered by protective legislation.

“That’s a huge piece of work – that’s all the water in Canada,” he said. “We’re mostly water in Canada. So we’re concerned that water, as a human right, is also a public good.”

He said the Council of Canadians is also concerned about the privatization of water.

“Municipalities should maintain control over their water. We don’t mind paying for our water, but we don’t want to be paying for it through bottled water,” Tough said. “Our biggest thing is access to clean drinking water for everybody.”

Penny Earley, a member of the Sudbury chapter of the Council of Canadians, added citizens need to lobby their governments to ban bottled water, at least on all municipal sites.

“There’s no reason we can’t do that here,” she said. “The other part of lobbying at the local level is to keep our water resources and treatment in the public domain. That’s something you can do right away – go home and write a letter to your city councillor and to the mayor.”

Finally, Earley said Canadians need to call on the national government to fund scientific research into water and to create a ministry of water.

“It was promised by Stephane Dion when he was the Liberal leader, but of course it never happened,” she said. “It should be back on the agenda, now that the Liberals are once again in power. … We need to recognize the human right to water and sanitation, that should be recognized through policy and funding at the federal level.”

David Robinson also attended Sunday’s rally. The Laurentian University economics professor ran in the last federal election as a Green Party candidate, primarily because of his own concerns over climate change. He said Sunday that Sudbury is in a unique position, with 330 lakes within the city borders.

“We’re probably one of the most privileged communities in the world because of our water,” he said. “The city started calling itself the City of Lakes, but right now that name is just an ad for tourists – you can imagine seeing it on a sign as you’re coming into the city, but you don’t see it on the mayor’s desk. You don’t see it on engineers’ desks or over the door at city hall. The city planners haven’t been told to make it part of our city plan. In other words, it’s kind of like an abused elephant that someone’s leading around to get credit for, but not taking care of.”

Robinson also raised doubts about the Maley Drive extension project, which would cut through wetlands and the Junction Creek corridor.

“That’s actually clearly a contradiction with any notion of the City of Lakes,” Robinson said. “When they planned the route, they actually didn’t know the headwaters were there. When they revised their environmental assessment, they discovered two more tributaries of Junction Creek. The city has not taken into account this wonderful opportunity and heritage that makes this city so special.”

Robinson suggested that each classroom be named for a local lake or that Mayor Brian Bigger declare a “lake of the day.”

“With a little bit of fiddling with the definition, a little bit of fiddling with a couple of swamps, we could have a lake every day of the year,” he said.

Bob Rogers said Sudbury should be known as the city of water, not lakes. It makes a stronger point, he said.

“Without water, there is death – of the trees, the plants, dogs, for you and me,” he said. “I think we should be called the city of water to take in a much larger group of people.”

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