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Time is fast running out for Canada to head off a lawsuit by a U.S. company that could cost Canadians millions of dollars and lead to our losing control of the countrys fresh water, says an alliance of national organizations. More than 20 groups met today to discuss the threats posed to Canadian fresh water by commercial trade and privatization.

The alliance, which includes the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the West Coast Environmental Law Association, has sent a letter to Prime Minister Chrt0069en outlining their concerns and urging government action on a lawsuit launched last December by California-based Sun Belt Inc. Sun Belt is suing Canada for lost profits under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because of an earlier British Columbia decision preventing the company from exporting billions of litres of fresh water from the province to California. Under NAFTA, Canada has 90 days in which to resolve the Sun Belt challenge or risk losing the suit; sixty of those days have already elapsed.

Time is running out, said the groups in their letter. Nothing is more essential to public health, security and well-being than water. Yet, in recent months, our governments have remained silent while there has been a proliferation of schemes for the bulk export of water for private profit. We call upon you to act in the public interest and ban the bulk export of water.

It is wrong environmentally, economically and morally to engage in the large-scale trade of water, said Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians. Water is a public trust; it belongs to the people. No one has the right to profit from it at someone elses expense.

This is a very clear issue of the public interest versus private profit, said Judy Darcy, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. We must protect water from being privatized and ensure that control of it remains in the public sector. That is the only way to ensure Canadians continue to have clean, affordable and sustainable supplies of fresh water.

Companies like Sun Belt see water as the oil of the next century, said Sarah Miller of the Canadian Environmental Law Association. Allowing water to be traded away is certain to harm the environment since it will inevitably place growing numbers of lakes and rivers beyond the reach of governments and the rule of law. Canada must act now.

For more information: Jamie Dunn, 233-4487 ext. 239