Opinion Column

Parched U.S. farmers need B.C. water 0

Daniel Fontaine

By Daniel Fontaine, Dialogue with a Difference

A pool of water is pictured on the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir near San Jose, California. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency, and the dry year of 2013 has left fresh water reservoirs with a fraction of their normal water reserves. 
(REUTERS)

A pool of water is pictured on the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir near San Jose, California. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency, and the dry year of 2013 has left fresh water reservoirs with a fraction of their normal water reserves. (REUTERS)

California is going through what is being described as its worst drought in more than 500 years. Known for endless sunshine, mild temperatures and easygoing lifestyle, California is facing a water crisis that could eventually have serious ramifications for everyone living in Metro Vancouver.

For most urban dwellers, we take for granted that fresh fruit and vegetables stream across the border from California. But the reality is that may soon all be in jeopardy.

The day of reckoning for California and its 38 million inhabitants has finally arrived. Late last month the governor was forced to declare a drought emergency which will allow the state to seek federal aid. Farmers are being hit particularly hard as they struggle to find the water necessary to stay in business.

It is hard for British Columbians living on the “wet” coast to fathom the dire situation California is facing. We live in a part of the world where water literally pours over us for nine months of the year.

The rain warnings this week only further serve to lull us into believing that a severe drought in the southwestern United States will have no impact on us. But think again.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Canada is the top destination for the state’s produce. Just check out the small print at your local grocer that reads “grown in California” on the strawberries, grapes, lettuce, and a wide assortment of other food items they export, such as walnuts, each year.

If this drought continues, it won’t only be Canadians feeling the impact. According to the CDFA, “the state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. Across the nation, U.S. consumers regularly purchase several crops produced solely in California.”

Given how much of the Golden State’s produce is consumed by Canadians, it is only a matter of time before they look north for help. After all, our nation has less than 0.5% of the world’s population, but we lay claim to over 7% of the Earth’s renewable fresh water — a startling statistic that isn’t lost on our parched American cousins.

While the debates making headlines today are all about oil pipelines heading to our coastal ports, considering the gravity of California’s drought, the talk may soon shift to another precious commodity.

Exporting water in bulk amounts from Canada has always been controversial. So much so that it was even excluded from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

However, something tells me a 500-year drought may soon re-open a debate that few of us appear willing to undertake.

Daniel Fontaine is a local political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @Fontaine_D

Poll

Should British Columbia consider exporting water to help drought-stricken California farmers?

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