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Canada water subject to waste, pollution: experts

MONTREAL--In Canada, a country with vast reserves of freshwater, the precious resource should reasonably be expected to be pristine and practically free to consumers.

But the abundance, unfortunately, has led to overconsumption, waste and sometimes mediocre quality.

“People who come from abroad, particularly Europeans, are surprised to find that in most Canadian municipalities there are no water meters,” said Manuel Rodriguez, a water expert at Laval University in Quebec City.

The surprise is all the greater at the sight of the majestic St. Lawrence River, Niagara Falls and the countless other waterways that together make up seven percent of the world's freshwater.

In truth, Canada's tap water is not free. A small portion of municipal taxes goes toward paying for water treatment and the upkeep of water distribution systems.

But it is so small that most people think their water is free, and that they have no reason to marshal their consumption.

“We can't delude ourselves, there's a lot of water and ... the cost of producing potable water is not very high,” commented Patrick Drogui, a professor at INRS University in Quebec City.

However, as in many other countries, commercial livestock operations and other industries in Canada pollute the watershed.

Here and there, such as in the south of Canada's Quebec province, in rivers and lakes “the quality of the water is dubious,” Rodriguez says.

Still, it is treated and reused by municipalities.

In the coming years, these costs risk rising with new pollutants appearing such as endocrine disrupters or pharmaceutical residues that will require new standards and treatments to remove them from water sources, Drogui said.

“Very, very toxic” for humans, these pollutants, found in trace amounts in water, are already leading to “a feminization” in certain fish species, and pose a real threat to humans, he added.

Perverse Consequences

The abundance of water also has perverse consequences.

“Because you don't receive a water bill, you pay less attention to conservation and so this promotes waste,” said Drogui, who paints a picture of a Canadian who spends hours watering his lawn or uses gallon after gallon to wash his car.

Canadians consume on average 300 to 400 liters of water a day — one of the highest rates in the world.

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The Rainbow Bridge crosses from the United States, left, into Canada near Niagara Falls in New York on June 4, 2013. The falls, which combined have the highest flow rate of any waterfalls in the world, straddle the U.S.-Canada border on the the Niagara River, draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario.

(AFP)

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