By Nathan Stevens
February 4, 2011
A recent Water Innovation Forum focused on the importance of water for agriculture and food. The people of Ontario are blessed with tremendous access to fresh water and this has instilled the belief that we live in an area of water abundance. The reality is that while there is a considerable amount of water available for use, wise stewardship of this resource is needed to ensure that we do not create a “Tragedy of the Commons” with our water resources.
Before delving into the issue of water, a brief explanation of the tragedy of the commons is in order. The commons is a situation where a resource is used freely by all. The tragedy is that this free access leads to overuse and degradation of the resource that was enjoyed by all. The common example is overgrazing of common ground by the herdsmen surrounding a rural town during the Middle Ages.
When we look at water as a possible tragedy of the commons we need to recognize that there are other competing interests for water in Ontario. Broadly speaking, industry, ranging from energy production to manufacturing of all types, is often water intensive. Our urban areas use a lot of water for various reasons. The natural areas of rural Ontario need fresh water for all types of flora and fauna to thrive.
The broad challenge moving ahead is ensuring that we are able to allocate our water resources in a way that meets the needs of 9 billion people around the world. The need to grow enough food is a key priority moving forward, and ensuring that agriculture’s importance is well known in the coming years is essential.
Furthermore, it needs to be stressed that the region surrounding the Great Lakes needs to be a key player. We live in a country that, by and large, does not have to deal with food scarcity. Food producers have become so competent at meeting our food security needs that it is easy to forget just how critical the business of producing food is today.
Moving forward, conscientious use of water is going to be critically important, even in areas of abundance like Ontario. Ensuring that all players in the game are aware of the need to be responsible in their water use is critical. Wise decision-making today can lead to long-term prosperity for many industries in Ontario, including agriculture.Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. It can be heard weekly on CKNX Wingham and CFCO Chatham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. The CFFO is supported by 4,200 farm families across Ontario