Western Canada's Freshwater Supply in the 21st Century

Contrary to long term beliefs, Canada does not have an unusually large supply of sustainable freshwater compared to other countries.

Canada’s western prairie provinces, a large semi-arid area in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains, are at particular risk, as are southern parts of the interior of British Columbia. Average annual precipitation in the 20th century generally averaged 300-500 mm, and these areas have rapidly growing human demand for freshwater.

On the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, runoff from the glaciers and snowpacks has been a vital supplement to maintain river flows, instream flow needs, and human development. Recent climate warming has caused glaciers and snowpacks to dwindle. As a result, river flows in summer have already decreased by 30 to 85 per cent, lake levels have declined, and wetlands have disappeared.

Other evidence suggests that the 20th century may have been unusually wet compared to earlier periods, and recurrent droughts in pre-historic times often lasted for decades. Rapid growth in human populations, agriculture and industry are increasing nutrient supplies to many waters of the prairie provinces, and this plus lowered renewal of water is causing declining water quality.

The combination of natural drought, climate warming, damage to natural drainage patterns and human demands for water will combine to cause severe water shortages in the prairies and southern British Columbia in the years ahead.

Date: Thursday, March 22, 2007
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Rotary Centre for the Arts

About Dr. David W. Schindler, O.C., F.R.S., F.R.S.C.

Dr. Schindler holds the Killam Memorial Chair and is Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. From 1968 to 1989, he founded and directed the Experimental Lakes Project near Kenora, Ontario, conducting experiments on whole ecosystems to directly test the effects of nutrient inputs, acid rain, climate change and other human insults. His work on eutrophication and acid rain has been widely used in formulating ecological management policy in Canada, the U.S. and in Europe.

Dr. Schindler received his doctorate from Oxford University, where he studied under Charles Elton as a Rhodes Scholar. He has served as President of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, and as a Canadian National Representative to the International Limnological Society. He is the author of over 275 scientific publications.

Dr. Schindler has received numerous national and international research awards, including the 1985 G.E. Hutchinson Medal of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, the 1988 Naumann-Thienemann Medal of the International Limnological Society, the first (1991) Stockholm Water Prize, the Volvo International Environment Prize (1998), the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (2003) the 2003 Killam Prize for Natural Sciences (2003) and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2006).

In 2001 he was awarded Canada’s highest scientific honor, the NSERC Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Society of London (UK), the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, and a member of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences. He has received ten honorary doctorates from Canadian and U.S. universities. In January 2004 he was appointed an Officer in the Order of Canada.

Last reviewed shim12/6/2010 5:33:32 PM

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