Canadian Arctic Waters Threatened

The Colorado River (seen here passing through the Grand Canyon) is so depleted during its downstream journey, that it no longer reaches its mouth.

The Colorada River passing through the Grand Canyon

Huge "irrigation circles" increase fertility but are removing water from local aquifers faster than it can be replenished.


Burgeoning human population, if left unchecked, will inevitably place greater demands on existing North American ground and surface water sources, most of which are already experiencing depletion. 

Continuous downstream removal lessens river flows as urban development and industrialization increase. This has occurred to such a degree in the Colorado River that it no longer reaches its mouth at the Gulf of California. Huge rotating irrigators are giving rise to fertile “circles” adjacent to western rivers, allowing feed-crop growth in new areas, but withdrawing water that used to be available downstream and negatively affecting the local aquifers.

Tapping ground water sources for consumptive and irrigation purposes is lowering aquifer levels increasingly faster than natural precipitation can replace them. As Robert Glennon explains in his book Water Follies (Island Press, 2002), what killed the Santa Cruz River – and has devastated other rivers across the United States – was groundwater pumping.

Areas such as the Great Lakes – St Lawrence Basin will experience greater population growth and industrialization, owing to the presence of fresh, relatively clean water. This will in turn give rise to greater consumption and significant reduction in quality.

Global Warming is now generally accepted as fact. Unless serious counter measures are invoked immediately, this will result in accelerated evaporation from all fresh water basins, accompanied by greater consumption rates. As water volumes decrease in rivers and lakes, pollution factors will increase in inverse proportion, adversely affecting aquatic organisms.

The development of new cleansers and body lotions is giving rise to a “super clean” society with an increasingly unquenchable thirst per capita, which demands boundless supplies of fresh water. Much of this water is returned to ecosystems, while still bearing harmful chemical compounds such as hormones and pheromones.

All the above situations point inextricably to the fact that barring significant changes in human behaviour patterns, more fresh water will be needed to maintain flows and levels across North America. Many assume that the only remaining source to fulfill these needs is Canada’s Northern Slope to the Arctic – the last truly unspoiled ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere.

To allow this to happen would encourage the United States to continue on this path to eventual crisis. Diverting Canada’s Arctic fresh water to the U.S. would give rise to greater population and industrial growth – leading to ultimate catastrophe, when that source is finally tapped out. In the meantime, Canada will have sacrificed its greatest asset – the northern wilderness.