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Water Futures for the World We Want




Schuster Wallace, Corinne
Sandford, Robert William
Merrill, S

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University of Saskatchewan



Technical Report

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Executive Summary Achievement of Goal 6 is central to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Agenda The global water cycle literally floods the earth on a seasonal basis. Global warming and subsequent climate change is affecting this seasonal redistribution as well as the form in which water falls from the sky – as rain, snow, or ice. The world is aware that water can increasingly be loved or loathed: it is critical for existence of life and central to our quality of life, while also being responsible for poor health and death from waterborne diseases. Its absence causes droughts, and too much in too short a time causes floods. Water is a cornerstone of economic growth, essential for energy production, and equally as important for ecosystems. More frequent extreme weather events associated with too much or too little water have become threat-multipliers that are undermining social, economic, and political stability In many instances, water security and climate stability can be seen as two sides of the same coin. Many of the impacts of climate disruption are, and will continue to be, expressed through effects on water. Water, and the ways in which it is used, vary significantly between countries Even in areas where it is abundant, degradation of water quality can ultimately mean that water resources are insufficient. Groundwater resources are particularly important and vulnerable. In many places in the world accelerating hydro-climatic changes are putting greater pressure on already deteriorating water quantity and quality. Climate change is not the only stressor on our water resources. Population growth, urbanization, land use changes including deforestation and degradation, changing diets, and expanding societal wealth also impact the quality and quantity of surface and groundwater resources. Canada is not a water secure country This is evidenced through recent catastrophic experiences with floods, drought, fires, and toxic algae blooms. The cost of floods and droughts for families, towns and cities, the insurance sector, businesses, agriculture, and ultimately the Federal Government, are skyrocketing. Moreover, Canadian lakes and rivers support diverse plant and animal habitats, forests, tourism, recreation, agriculture, transportation, and essential ecosystem services such as water purification. However, these are not easily valued and therefore not valued enough. Canada’s water availability is disproportionately spread over a vast country spanning multiple ecozones, of which some, like the Canadian prairies, are semi-arid Most fresh water drains to the north, while most people live in the south. The Canadian economy remains highly dependent on resource extraction, processing and transportation of oil and gas, ore, and pulp and paper, as well as intensive agriculture for crop and livestock production. All of these sectors are both heavily reliant on water availability, and have costs to the natural environment and our water resources that are not always fully recognized or completely mitigated. Climate change is exacerbating water insecurity in Canada Temperature increases in Canada are among the highest in the world. This warming is already having a substantial impact on Canada’s cold-dominated hydrological cycle. Hydrologic shifts, especially between snowmelt- and rainfall-driven streams and rivers and subsequent changes in peak water flows have consequences for agricultural productivity, hydropower generation, and floods and droughts. Weather events are becoming more extreme, traditional animal territories are changing, and pathogen ranges are expanding. Jurisdictional fragmentation, territoriality, and inequities make it difficult to generate and implement a common water management vision in Canada Portfolios such as agriculture, health, water and wastewater treatment are shared between multiple agencies and levels of government, and water itself flows across municipal, provincial, territorial, and sometimes national boundaries. Inequities also exist with respect to who experiences the impacts of these challenges and who is most vulnerable to them. Indigenous communities, women and girls, and natural ecosystems are being left behind in pursuit of economic progress. In the absence of a coherent vision of itself at its future sustainable best, Canada as a nation remains mired in divisiveness on matters of energy policy, resource development, and action on climate change. There is considerable opportunity for Canada to coordinate the activities of its water sector Through the example of good and responsible management of its waters, based on strong science and evidence, Canada can improve its own water management and play a prominent leadership role in meeting water-related targets of the Sustainable Development Agenda. Opportunities exist through leadership, example, and knowledge mobilization. Canada possesses a modern water industry, world-leading water technologies, professionally managed water service provision, and world-class transformative water research. The strengths of our water sector, however, have not been optimally harnessed and fully orchestrated for future national interest. Water cooperation, in particular, is poised to become a major instrument that can be used to prevent conflict while at the same time strengthening international stability and promoting peace. Major gaps still exist if we are to meet the ambitious yet necessary Goals of the 2030 Agenda Based on an analysis of reports, syntheses, and activities to date, previous recommendations, the SDG targets, and the challenges associated with meeting and measuring the SDGs nationally and internationally from a variety of sources, we offer recommendations for action in research, practice, and leadership. This report is intended as a blueprint for more coordination between research, policy, and practice between Canadian water researchers, the Canadian government, and other initiatives around the world that will intentionally fill the gaps identified as necessary to achieve a water future for the world we want. There are huge opportunities for Canada on the national and global stage in these areas. Given the right business model and access to support and resources, there is significant capacity within the Canadian water sector to deliver water technology, management, capacity, and predictive tools to emerging markets, particularly in developing countries, to accelerate greatly needed sustainable water resources management. There is an urgent need to ensure the sustainability of natural bio-diversity-based Earth system function Presently, there is a huge and growing gap between our understanding of the problems and implementation and practice. These gaps can be bridged by recognition of the link between water, peace, security, and human and planetary health and the SDGs can be a catalyst whereby we organize our intentions and our actions to get there. This report synthesizes current undertakings, gaps, and opportunities through research, practice, and leadership to shape sustainability starting with our water future. There is huge opportunity for university research and leadership to contribute to this water future Research networks should continue to remind all of the risks and threats posed to future stability by poverty, inequality, injustice, failed governance, climate change, and the massive involuntary human migration that are already beginning to follow in their collective wake. Ideally, however, universities should go beyond just talking about the SDGs and their importance, as they are largely doing now. They are uniquely poised to be showing the country and the world what the SDGs mean and how to implement them. The challenges, as always, lie in generating transformative and sustainable change that is more than the sum of individual programs, projects, and activities, even when they have scientific value in and of themselves. As such, a commitment to leadership is essential to realize these actions and to leverage them to become greater than the sum of their parts.


Copyright University of Saskatchewan, 2019.


water, sustainable development goals, Canada


Schuster-Wallace C.J., Sandford, R., and Merrill, S. 2019. Water Futures for the World We Want University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada







Schuster-Wallace C.J., Sandford, R., and Merrill, S. 2019. Water Futures for the World We Want University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada

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