by Don Malcolm
Not so long ago, would anyone have thought that water would become a commodity, to be bought and sold on world markets?
For those of us who have crossed and re-crossed the oceans of the world, it may seem to many that our world carries a staggering load of water. There is a lot of water, but only three per cent of the world’s water is fresh and available to quench the thirst of the Earth’s peoples, and wild creatures, and irrigate the crops and plants that sustain all of Earth’s peoples and creatures.
In my childhood, water was never scarce. There were many springs where water gushed free and clear from the earth, becoming streams and lakes that contributed to the Madawaska River, in its relentless incline to the Ottawa River and, eventually, the Atlantic Ocean.
My favourite home stream was Henderson Creek where it pursued its destiny down through the pastures and marshlands to the forest edge, beyond which we were warned not to go, because of the risk of encounters with bears in the forest. Along with my cousin Verne, when school was closed for summer holiday, we spent most of our time on the banks of Henderson Creek, fishing for brook trout that hid in the shallows there, carefully measuring each catch to determine who had caught the largest trout.
Our fishing gear was a fresh cut, slender, alder sapling, about four feet of fine fish-line, depending on the depth of the water, a lead or metal sinker, a small fish-hook and a can of earthworms for bait, along with Verne’s clever adaptation of a means of keeping caught fish fresh, while we continued with our fishing – a one gallon can with a bail for carrying and a dependable lid with holes drilled to let water in, dipped in the creek from time to time, an early back woods invention.
From time to time strangers passed through on the wagon road that served our community, walking, carrying back-packs. Some were “timber-cruisers,’’ employed by “logger barons,” seeking the best stands of softwood forests that covered the hills and lowlands of our home territory, where my father was born and raised, and knew the forest very well. Some who passed through were just living off the land, and, it seemed, enjoying it. They all stopped to smoke a pipe with my father and get advice as to the best route to take, or whether or not there was a boat or a raft at the Madawaska for crossing.
Tied to the back-pack was a folded light tarpaulin for shelter from rain, and a blackened half-gallon honey pail with a wire bail, in which they steeped their tea. They also carried a small axe, a small frying pan, and possibly, a pistol. China cups were not practical for cross-country travelling on foot, so the men passing through carried tin cups attached to their packs. Later, as children, fishing the trout streams, we sometimes found the cups, where those men passing through, had discarded or forgotten them. Proud was the ten year old boy who found a cup and carried it home to his mother, a souvenir of a time that was past, as the world and its populations were entering a period of dramatic change. The long and terrible World War Two ended, and was followed by the war in Korea.
It was a new world order, and a loss of innocence. Soon the automobile would begin to raise the dust on our backwoods country roads, and the automobile and large new homes became humanity’s next obsession..
Strict rationing had been imposed during the war years, and populations were tired of the restrictions. It seemed that factories sprang up almost overnight, most established on rivers, producing things that had not been available during the war years, and the rivers bore the burden of whatever chemicals were washed into them. Some rivers and streams were posted with drinking water restrictions.
In North America, along with many other jurisdictions throughout the world, we have not treated water with the respect that it deserves. We have over-watered our crops in the hope of a more abundant monetary harvest. Without thought, we have polluted our rivers and lakes. Now we face the outrage of insensitive politicians selling our precious life-supporting water off-shore.
In the United States, the great Colorado River no longer reaches the Pacific Ocean. It seeps away into the ground near Long Beach, California, exhausted from over-watering of cash crops. Without careful thought, we could become involved in a serious global fresh water shortage, where huge tankers carry fresh water throughout the oceans of the world, to where populations struggle daily to obtain enough clean water to promote a healthy life.
Here in British Columbia, we are faced with the threat of the BC Liberal government turning water into a commodity under the new Water Act, to be bought and sold, offshore or in BC.
Surely, many must be wondering where we are going?