Tiffany Kirk: Water we being charged for in B.C.?

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      By Tiffany Kirk

      There is no debating that water is a necessity of life. Or that B.C. has an abundant supply of it. It would only seem reasonable for B.C. to safeguard the province’s water from countries, such as the U.S., which are thirsty for Canadian water because of their own water shortages. In fact, B.C. law does not allow water to be exported out of the province. Seemingly B.C. water is protected from outside water seekers for the province’s own use and benefit. But this does not explain why the average Vancouverite is charged between 10 and 35 cents for a cup of ice water on a daily outing. Has water stopped being a basic human right and a B.C. resident’s privilege, and become a chance for companies to make an extra buck in a stagnant economy?

      As someone who has studied consumption theory and environmental resources for the past five years at UBC, it is my clear understanding that the price of any good will rise when that good is scarce. However, B.C.’s water is not scarce but rather plentiful; so why then are we being charged for a cup of water or overcharged for a bottle of water on a daily basis?

      In British Columbia, water is vested in the Crown as stated in the B.C. Water Act. The act declares that British Columbia’s water cannot leave the province. This means that Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the owners of Dasani and Aquafina water, respectively, and any British Columbian businesses can only purify and sell water to British Columbians from B.C. aquifers. Consequently, this has created a conflict between water users and suppliers, in which large corporations can extract provincial water and then sell it back to British Columbians at an exponentially high price.

      Take your local coffee shop for instance. Odds are one in three will charge for a cup of water. You will ask for a cup of water and the polite person taking your order will say, “Sorry, 35 cents please.” Poppy cock! That is not how it works—water is free and plentiful. Unfortunately, water is seen as a commodity to the till person and the company that they work for. In fact, if you ask what you are paying for, they will reply “You are paying for the water” or more generally “We charge for the cup”. The cup is understandable; however, charging for water is pitiful. It goes against the basic principles of economics and human rights.

      Coffee shops are only the beginning of British Columbians becoming increasingly ripped off to use their own water. The next place is the movie theatre. The average bottle of water at any given movie theatre is $3.50. If you forget to bring your own bottle of water and refuse to pay the obscene amount that the movie theatre charges, then you will receive a mini-Styrofoam cup equating to one or two gulps to satisfy and hydrate you for a two-hour-long movie. This seems rather absurd when the human body is composed of 60 percent water and needs to be hydrated regularly, according to Health Canada. However, large corporations do not mind denying the average consumer their right to an adequate supply of water because it only entices people to buy the cheaper alternative of a soft drink to quench their thirst. The corporation still makes a profit, while the consumer is left to take the unhealthy option.

      It is completely unfair that corporations have the ability to charge British Columbians exponentially high prices to consume water; especially considering that the water they are selling comes from British Columbia in the first place. However, the situation gets worse. The most expensive bottle of water in Vancouver is perhaps found at Rogers Arena during a Canucks game. No outside water or liquids are allowed into the arena and a small bottle of water costs $4.50! Then again, Rogers Arena attempts to compensate for its high price for water with the luxury of having Robert Luongo’s face and number on the side of the bottle.

      Clearly, water is becoming another item of consumption that businesses, large or small, can make a quick buck off of. Whether at a local coffee shop, a leisurely movie, or hockey game, British Columbians are being increasingly overcharged for their own supply of water. Perhaps it is time for the B.C. Water Act to be revised in a way that does not allow local businesses to set monopolistic prices on water. British Columbia is one of greatest places to live but is also one of the most costly. Unfortunately, water is becoming a part of the high cost of living in the province and less of a basic human right, which is unarguably pitiful.

      Tiffany Kirk is a fourth-year student at the University of British Columbia. She is currently studying environment and sustainability with a focus on managing natural resources. She is primarily interested in water and how it is distributed amongst municipalities in Canada.




      Mar 19, 2012 at 11:40am

      As a fourth year UBC student, you should have realized by now that water comes from a thing called a" tap" for free. Also, and this may shock you, but Rogers Arena has things called "Drinking Fountains"--and they're free.
      I agree with you that water in cafes, etc. should be free--unless of course you insist on Corporate Bottled Water where you're paying for the bottle not the water.


      Mar 19, 2012 at 1:39pm

      Like most products and services provided by the government you have the misguided ijmpression that they are supplied for free. Many businesses in fact, have metered water and pay a fee based on the amount of water that they actually use. How do you think the infrastructure and operations of the water system are paid for? In either case, it's not "free".


      Mar 20, 2012 at 9:37pm

      It both my experience & understanding that Water bottling plants in BC have have and/or are Exporting Bottled Water mostly to the US & Asia (China) in very large in fact Bulk type Volumes since the 1990's!

      Cash envelope aka "Ly'in <--- Brian" & the Neo-Cons sold out Canada to the Big Corporations long ago via NAFTA which supersedes Provincial/State + Federal Laws by the Law of Profit for Multi-National Corporations.

      Source...The Council's of Canadians Statement on Water...

      Here are five reasons to oppose bulk water exports:

      Canada does not have a surplus of water. Contrary to popular belief, Canada holds 6.5 per cent of the world’s renewable water resources (as compared to the incorrect figure of 20 per cent being touted by corporate leaders). More than one quarter of municipalities have faced shortages in recent years, and only 1 per cent of water in the Great Lakes is renewable.

      Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Water is a finite resource. Bulk water exports permanently remove water from the ecosystem at a time when climate change is already drying up traditional surface water sources like the Great Lakes.

      Trade agreements could open the floodgates. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) defines water as a “service” and an “investment,” leaving Canadian water vulnerable to thirsty foreign investors. Once Canada allows water to be diverted outside our borders for large scale industrial purposes, foreign investors must be given the same “national treatment” as Canadian companies.

      Canada has no ban on bulk exports. There is a voluntary provincial ban on bulk exports, but any province could break it any time, and would it not withstand a NAFTA challenge. In recent years, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland have all considered licensing schemes for bulk water exports.

      The Security and Prosperity Partnership means water is on the table. The SPP was agreed to in 2005 by the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico with no debate by Parliament or the public. In March 2006, a major Washington-based think tank funded by the U.S. government launched the North American Future 2025 Project, “to help guide the ongoing Security and Prosperity Partnership,” according the Ottawa Citizen. Leaked documents obtained by the Council of Canadians indicate that bulk water exports have been a subject of discussion among corporate leaders and government officials at the Project’s behind-closed door meetings.

      Now Canadian Politicians it so happens to be the Neo-Cons (again) are negotiating another even more powerful "Treaty" under the guise of Security will give virtually unlimited Free reign on Canada's Natural Resources + over Canadians themselves.

      We Canadian's have a choice Vote, Recall + pressure Politicians of all stripes & Colors to follow the will of the people putting Canadians / Peoples Human Rights Before Profit or continue to be Sheep.

      Well said Sheeple!

      Mar 22, 2012 at 9:16pm

      My thoughts exactly, Sheeple.

      Everything we have of value is being given away, by the very people that were hired to protect the country. Are they not traitors? This must be corrected, fast.

      I will add: The water in my area of the lower mainland tastes gross, and absolutely reeks of chlorine!

      Many buildings (not mine) now add LYE to the water, which coats the pipes to keep them from corroding early. (I wonder what that does to our bodies).

      I've read somewhere that water from mining run-off is extremely acidic; so having lovely SOFT WATER is not always a good thing.


      Mar 22, 2012 at 9:32pm

      I can see charging a quarter to wash and deliver a glass of water or mug of hot water, but that's tops. A plastic bottle isn't worth a dollar or whatever they'll charge. Water is a human right, and no one should be stopped from having their own. It should NEVER be sent outside Canada for industrial use.