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On Day 3 of the FCM, CUPE Researcher Carol Proulx attended a workshop entitled Water: A Soft Path. Carol’s report highlights the innovative approach being undertaken by the municipality of Cochrane . Canada has an abundance of natural resources including most of the freshwater on the planet. With such abundance it becomes very easy for us to take this ecological gift for granted. We are among the highest consumers of water, ranking second in the world.

And our usage is on the increase.

Contrary to popular belief, Canada’s water supply is decreasing. Communities across Canada already face water supply shortages because of climate chaos, growing demands from consumers and industry, and pollution of existing supplies.

Traditionally, municipal governments have considered water from the supply side, forecasting demand and creating infrastructure to secure a steady water resource. Bigger pipes and larger water plants, diverting water to meet population and corporate needs. As demand increases so do costs. Local governments are no longer able to support the bottomless needs of their communities and economic considerations force a new strategy. Thus began the shift toward water conservation, through decreasing demand. There are a few ways this can be done: small scale technical solutions (such as low-flow toilets); infrastructure efficiencies (such a better pipe systems); and leak reduction. Also key are community education and awareness.

Many municipalities are now taking action to safeguard their vulnerable water resources in such a way that protects the long-term sustainability of their supply all while maintaining an environmental priority. ‘Soft Path’ challenges our patterns of water consumption. It allows us to change our water habits, technologies and priorities working within ecological limits, and promoting public participation. www.polisproject.org

The Town of Cochrane, Alberta has one such ecological project. Danielle Droitsch, the executive director of the Bow Riverkeeper, presented ‘Soft Path’ to local government officials and politicians during FCM. Bow Riverkeeper is a not-for-profit regional citizen organization working to protect and restore the vast, 25,000 square kilometre Bow River watershed. Their organization is unique in that they approach water as a finite resource rather than a limitless commodity. First and foremost, water service is studied for its ecological impact, beginning with the question: “Where do we want the Bow River watershed to be in 5, 10, 50 years from now?” Rather than forecasting water supply and demand for the community, they ‘backcast’ from their ecological goals and design their water program around this environmental outcome – plan for the future back to the present. www.bowriverkeeper.org

Perhaps with more projects like this one, we can shift Canada’s water future. If we begin to ask ourselves the questions: “What are we willing to risk, environmentally?” and “What are the legitimate uses for fresh water?” we may arrive at innovative and sustainable solutions for our natural resources, our communities, and ultimately for the planet.