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.