Ground water and immigration on the agenda at Action Canada's public dialogues in Vancouver

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      Climate change is already having an impact on the availability of water in B.C.

      Any lingering doubts were erased by this summer's drought, which resulted in draconian water restrictions across the Lower Mainland.

      "We really have a 'new normal' of less water around," University of Victoria professor Deborah Curran tells the Straight by phone. "We have to be more responsible about the way we make choices about its use."

      Curran, the Hakai professor in environmental law and sustainability, adds that this issue is even more urgent because B.C. has not adequately addressed aboriginal rights to water.

      Increasingly, she says, First Nations are opposing new water uses that interfere with traditional activities, such as fishing when stream levels fall too low.

      "This is a big issue that is outstanding," she said. "The province really needs to deal with it in a robust way by accounting for aboriginal water rights in any water balance in each watershed."

      Panel will discuss with ground water

      On Friday (November 6), Curran will appear at a Vancouver panel discussion on the future of ground water in the 21st century. The other speakers are Abbotsford councillor Patricia Ross and journalist Nathanael Johnson, who's covered the California water shortages. 

      Action Canada, which offers fellowships to emerging young leaders, is sponsoring the free event at UBC's Robson Square theatre at 9:30 a.m. (Go here to register.)

      Taylor Martin, an Action Canada fellow, tells the Straight by phone that the group focused on ground water because it's under threat in many areas from climate change, urbanization, and population growth.

      "While people have this perception that Canada is extremely water rich, that's not necessarily true," Martin says. "We don't have a great understanding of the quantities, the availability, and the renewal of ground-water resources."

      He notes that this can create problems for municipalities in planning regional growth strategies.

      Ground water is a huge problem in other countries

      This summer,National Geographicreported that images from satellites show that water supplies are diminishing in Northern India, the North China Plain, and the Middle East.

      In California, water tables have fallen by more than 50 feet in some areas, according to a New York Times report.

      "With less underground water to buoy it, the land surface is sinking as much as a foot a year in spots, causing roads to buckle and bridges to crack," wrote reporter Matt Richtel earlier this year. "Shallow wells have run dry, depriving several poor communities of water."

      It's also having a devastating impact on the production of some agricultural crops.

      UVic's Curran says that California has a new ground-water sustainability act. But she quickly adds that it's hard for the state to claw back existing water licences.

      She praises the B.C. government for its new Water Sustainability Act, which includes a 30-year review process.

      This enables the province to amend water licences as precipitation patterns and hydrology change.

      "We have an adaptive mechanism in the new act that very few water laws have around the world," Curran says.

      Immigration forum comes next

      After the ground-water discussion, Action Canada will host a seminar at 11 a.m. on immigration. 

      One of the organizers, Action Canada fellow Grace Pastine, tells the Straight by phone that Canada's overall success relies, in part, on the contributions of immigrants because they form a significant part of the population.

      Pastine, who's also litigation director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, says that it's "really important" that Canadians consider how the country can do a better job in meeting the needs of newcomers.

      "It's certainly one thing to commit to bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada—something I think we would applaud," Pastine says. "But the next question is: how do we help settle refugees so that they can build meaningful and productive lives here in Canada?"

      Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs, Toronto journalist and activist Desmond Cole, and Katelin Mitchell of Kelowna Community Resources will be on the panel.