Canada & Water: An unhealthy relationship

Happy Canada Day Canadians!

I hope everyone has had a fantastic holiday. This month we are taking about something that comes to mind when people think of Canada: Water. 

Traditionally humans have used water for food production, transportation, energy, leisure, and of course we need to drink it to survive! From ancient Egyptians along the Nile, to the London-ers on the Thames, humans have built cities and civilizations along the water to enjoy all of water’s benefits.

In Canada we are surrounded on three sides by oceans, and have lots of lakes and rivers. We use the word hydro instead of power (ex. hydro bill, hydro lines) because so much of our power comes from dams. Canadians have the perception that we have an abundance of freshwater, and we do not need to conserve it. This is called the “Myth of Abundance”, because although we have 6.5% of the world’s total freshwater supply, only 2.5% is actually available to southern Canada, where most of the population lives. About 60% of our water flows north to the arctic and subarctic regions. Even in cities such as the one I live in, where we get water from a lake, we can only sustainably take as much water as the rainfall we receive in the region. Otherwise we are depleting our water supply, the lake level will go down which will have many other negative impacts in the region, such as on tourism, and eventually the lake would dry up. When you look at water usage per capita, Canadians use around twice as much water as the people in Europe and almost three times as much as those in the Middle East.

Because of the Myth of Abundance, Canadians take water for granted and don’t feel the pressure to conserve. Of course, another reason that Canadians use so much water may be the amount that we pay for water. In Germany, they pay more than six times the amount per litre that we pay.

In Canada, we undervalue this precious resource and therefore, we find ourselves overusing it. Increasing the sustainability of our water supply is becoming even more important because of climate change. In Ontario, climate change is already happening. Average temperatures have already risen by 1.4°C since 1948. The changing climate will have a major impact on our water supply, and in Ontario, we will likely see these impacts in the following ways:

  • A strain on existing stormwater infrastructure: An increase in extreme summer storms as well as melting snow will cause an increase in flooding.
  • Decreased quantity of drinking water: Higher temperatures and increased evaporation may lead to lower lake levels.
  • Decreased quality of drinking water: Flooding, runoff and changing temperatures will decrease drinking water quality.

As our climate changes and our population grows, we will be forced to stop taking advantage of our natural resources. The fact that Canadians already view water and natural ecosystems as a part of our identity could be an advantage to social marketers, however we will need to shift from the perception of endless water supplies, to valuing our water properly. So this Canada Day, I hope you can realize how important water has always been to humans, and how Canadians can improve our relationship with water. And stay tuned this month to see more about how social marketing can and has changed the way people behave around water.


Alison Carlyle is a #forever student with an environmental focus. In the fall she will be headed to the University of Brighton to continue her education in social marketing in the MSc (Social Marketing) programme. Follow her on Twitter or LinkIn with her.

Photo Credit: Lima Pix


Environment Canada (2015). Wise Water Use. Retrieved from Government of Ontario. Ministry of the Environment.Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan. PIBS 8292e. 2014. Retrieved from

John B. Sprague “Great Wet North? Canada’s Myth of Water Abundance”, and Dan Shrubsole and Diane Draper “On Guard for Thee? Water (Ab)uses and Management in Canada” in Eau Canada, Ed. Karen Bakker, UBC Press: 2007.


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