BANFF - Canada must resist pressure to sell or share its water with the United States if it wants to avoid an environmental catastrophe, said environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
"Water is going to become the oil of the 21st century," said Kennedy, in Banff today to help the Waterkeeper Alliance raise funds to fight water pollution.
"Canada is going to find tremendous pressure from the U.S. to sell or share water as a commodity. But sharing water would lead to an environmental catastrophe in Canada."
Kennedy is hosting the Fairmont Banff Springs and Sunshine Village Celebrity Sports Invitational, which last year raised more than $1 million for Waterkeepers.
Some of the stars supporting the event include Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon and partner Tim Robbins, Christie Brinkley, Daryl Hannah, Kelsey Grammer, Jason Priestly and Justin Trudeau.
"The U.S. southwest is already experiencing a water crisis, with lots of people moving there and development increasing exponentially," said Kennedy. "They have already run out of water.
"If you talk to government officials, everybody says they are looking for Canada to bail them out."
Water from the Colorado River is being routed for development to such places as Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
"This is in the short-term interest of a few developers," said Kennedy, who has a master's degree in environmental law.
"It's not a sustainable practice. The Colorado now dies in the Sonoran Desert. It was once a river that fed a great estuary full of fish and migratory birds."
Kennedy, the nephew of the late U.S. president John F. Kennedy and son of the late senator Robert F. Kennedy, is one of 11 children whose childhood was filled with outdoor adventures.
He remembers making a trip down the Colorado River with his father in 1964. "Some of the native fish there have disappeared from the planet," he said.
"Canada must give kids in future the chance to enjoy the good health this generation has had," he said.
Giant commodity transfers of water are not in Canadian interests, he said. And if some suggest there might be exceptions, they should be opposed. "Those kinds of ventures are risky and fraught with economic and environmental risks," he said.
"In Russia and elsewhere, they have suffered the economic injury that results from big water transfers. Some of the largest freshwater bodies on Earth are now desert. Fishing fleets and communities have been destroyed."
Kennedy also said it is not a good idea for Canada to sell bottled water. The U.S. must become self-sustainable.
Meanwhile, the environmentalist said the Waterkeeper Alliance in Canada is showing "explosive growth."
Edmonton's Karen Percy-Lowe and husband, Kevin, the Oilers' general manager, are Waterkeeper Alliance trustees in Western Canada.
"Everyone has the right to fresh water," said Percy-Lowe, who became involved with Waterkeepers after attending a San Francisco conference in 2006.
But some Canadians, especially in the West, can be a bit naive about water clarity and cleanliness, and assume the water is good because we live in a pretty clean country, she said.
The Waterkeeper model began in New York in the 1960s when commercial and recreational fishermen, concerned about depleted fish stocks and industrial pollution, decided to organize and restore the health of the Hudson River.
Later, Kennedy was among those who breathed life into laws that protected environmental rights and helped clean up the Hudson. They formed the Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999, the year the first chapter appeared in Canada. There are now 171 Waterkeeper chapters on six continents.
"We've just launched the Fraser Riverkeeper, kick-started by a rare private prosecution over untreated human waste going into some of the best salmon waters in Canada," said Percy-Lowe. "We will build on this. People are asking questions. As soon as they find out what's happening, they want to become involved."
Toronto lawyer Mark Mattson, Canadian representative to the Waterkeeper Alliance board of directors, said nine Waterkeeper chapters in Canada stretch from coast to coast.
"As we speak, we are in court in Sarnia with a coal-firing plant," he said. "We are challenging them for the discharge of water with mercury content into the St. Clair River."
The federal Fisheries Act is the most protective and enforceable piece of environmental legislation used to investigate problems at sewage treatment plants, hazardous waste sites and industrial facilities, Mattson said.
The plan is to make sure every discharge into Canada's waterways is safe.
"The Fisheries Act is up for reform and we are trying to protect important areas and make others more relevant," Mattson added.
Waterkeepers come from every walk of life and are concerned about the deterioration of waterways in their neighbourhood, he said.
The Banff fundraiser will help Canadians and others around the world fight legal battles to protect their communities, and through legal precedent, everyone else.
© The Edmonton Journal 2008