News / Victoria

Study: Water resources in B.C. reaching a 'crisis point'

According to a new study out of the University of Victoria, the province's thirst for natural gas may be threatening our water supply.

The report, a collaboration between UVic's POLIS Project on Ecological Governance and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,was released today.

“BC’s water and water-derived energy resources are vital assets, but population growth, climate change, and increased water-intensive industrial activity are pushing the limits of secured access to water and energy across the province,” wrote author Ben Parfitt in an accompanying press release. “Our report is sounding an alarm for policy-makers that we need much better governance and integrated management of these public resources.”

Jesse Baltutis, a POLIS researcher and co-author of the study, says the province is not doing enough to track how water is being used. For example, of the 31 water licences held by pulp and paper companies, only one requires metering.

"There needs to be a better measuring regime in the province to be able to tell the story of how much water is being used and where it's being used," Baltutis said.

One of the largest industrial consumers of water in B.C. is the natural gas industry. Using a process known as fracking, mining companies inject massive amounts of water into rock veins in order to release natural gas.

According to the POLIS report, a single fracking operation can consume 1.5 million cubic metres — about 600 Olympic swimming pools worth — of water.

"The problem is that once this water is taken out of the natural environment, it's effectively removed from the hydrological cycle. It's very contaminated and can't be released back into the environment without significant treatment," said Baltutis.

The effects of fracking are already being seen in communities like Fort Nelson, Baltutis says, where ground water is becoming contaminated and local water levels are dropping.

With the provincial government encouraging eight new mines and three natural gas processing plants in B.C. by the end of the decade, Baltutis says the demand for water could soon outstrip the supply.

"We're using water at a rate that's not sustainable or responsible," he says.

The report claims a reduction in the water supply could limit B.C.'s ability to generate hydroelectric power and force the province to purchase more electricity from America — a process which may already be happening.

According to Baltutis, between 2001 and 2011, there were five years when B.C. was a net importer of electricity. In the two decades prior to 2001, he says that only happened once.

"We're starting to approach the boundaries of our potential for electricity generation," he said.

In addition to better reporting and monitoring efforts, POLIS and the CCPA are recommending the government raise the price of water, thereby creating an incentive for companies to reduce or reuse the resource.

An Olympic swimming pool's worth of water costs $2.75 in B.C. compared to $175 in Quebec, says the report.

"We've got this myth of abundance in B.C., and it's just not true," said Baltutis.

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