Water quality is 'ticking time bomb': Forum will hear concerns about lack of policing of Ottawa's riversThe water source that most Ottawans -- and most Canadians -- rely upon is a public health ticking time bomb, but no one is paying any attention, three leading experts will tell a public forum in Ottawa today.
The water most Ottawans and most Canadians drink is safe, but the experts told the Citizen in an interview yesterday that our rivers are so polluted, there could be serious health problems in the future if governments don't take urgent steps to improve water quality.
Meredith Brown, executive director of Ottawa Riverkeeper, said the fundamental problem with the Ottawa River -- the main source of drinking water in the nation's capital -- is its high level of contamination. She said everything from sewage, contaminated substances from sewage plants, pesticides, waste from pulp mills and minute amounts of pharmaceuticals -- such as birth control pills -- end up in the river and in our homes.
Ms. Brown said studies elsewhere have revealed incidences of "intersex," where the sexes of aquatic life such as frogs and fish, are changing in a way that makes it impossible for them to reproduce. Because no one level of government has total responsibility for the Ottawa River, environmental rules are not enforced and no studies are done to identify potential problems now and in the future, Ms. Brown said.
"Nobody is responsible for how the river is kept healthy and we really have an information gap in terms of how it is doing," said Ms. Brown, whose group is dedicated to the river's protection.
"I don't want to scare people, but we have these emerging concerns and we don't know what the long-term implications are. Our aquatic species are changing and we have to ask how this is going to change us. There is very little scientific test in the Ottawa River to find out what is happening."
William Amos of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund acknowledges the problem and says it requires a pan-Canadian solution.
The fundamental problem is that Health Canada's drinking water quality standards are ignored by most provinces. He said a study by the defence fund last October found that only four of Canada's 10 provinces -- Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Quebec -- have met or exceeded federal standards. The rest haven't adopted them because they are non-binding.
"Walkerton and North Battleford, Sask., (which had major water contamination problems) aren't isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a system that isn't placing the safety of Canadians first," Mr. Amos said. "I am not trying to create a straw monster and invent problems where there are none. But it's more like there are a whole lot of ticking time bombs out there. The entire system of drinking water protection in Canada presents every community with a series of ticking time bombs."
Ms. Brown, Mr. Amos and Pollution Probe's director of water programs, Rick Findlay, will tell tonight's forum organized by Ottawa Centre federal Liberal candidate Penny Collenette that the federal government, in particular, must get its act together or Canadians could face problems in the future. Liberal leader Stephane Dion is expected to attend. Ms. Collenette said she organized the forum because of the rivers in and around Ottawa, and it is important to educate people about what that entails.
"We talk a lot about public transit in the City of Ottawa, but I think we should pay as much attention to our water," she said.
Mr. Findlay agrees.
"There is a growing number of issues and problems with our water, but in Canada, we've become very complacent about it," he said. "Water resources are going to be impacted by changing circumstances and it is time for a national approach to the issues."
Penny is a frequent public policy commentator on national television. During the 2011 federal election, Penny was a commentator for Global TV. Penny tweets @penottawa.
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