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Water World

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Newfoundland, which is looking into the possibility of selling freshwater from inland lakes in Labrador, to bolster an economy that had all but collapsed as a result of the demise of the cod fishery, supported the national moratorium on bulk water exports until further studies could be done.

It’s been over two years since it was first imposed, however, and Newfoundland is getting antsy. If the Liberal government doesn’t make a decision to either allow or outright ban the sale of fresh water, the Newfoundland government is threatening to take matters into its own hands.

In April, Rober Grimes, the new premier of Newfoundland, revived the plan to sell water from Gisborne Lake, a crystal clear body of water that is just 16 kilometres long and 10 km wide, 30 km inland from the Labrador coastal town of Grand Le Pierre.

Grand Le Pierre currently has about 40 per cent unemployment as a result of the collapse of the fishery. Gerry White, the entrepreneur who first proposed selling the Gisborne Lake water, envisions a system whereby the water can be piped to Grand Le Pierre, where it can be bottled or loaded onto tankers. The original plan had the pipeline extending to the U.S., where it would be distributed to so-called "water poor" regions. It would create jobs and bring money to a town that is at the end of its tether.

Although the plan was to siphon off 500,000 litres of fresh water a week – less than an inch of water that would be replenished every 10 hours – the real possibility that giving the Gisborne Lake project the go-ahead would set events into motion that could see Canada’s water come under corporate and foreign control is enough to make both government and opposition nervous.

On Aug. 6, sensing a weakness in the Liberals’ opposition to bulk water sales, NDP leader Alexa McDonough called on the government to take the next step and ban the exports of fresh water. Since waterways come under the jurisdiction of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, it would be well within the federal government’s jurisdiction to initiate this kind of legislation. Under NAFTA and GATT agreements, once one province allows bulk water exports, all of the provinces would have to do the same.

With the federal government under pressure and the provincial governments divided on the issue, the Liberals will likely be forced into making a decision by the time the year is out.

They have to proceed carefully, however. International companies are already trying to get a foothold in the water business in Canada, most recently bidding to build a $400 million water treatment facility for the Seymour watershed in North Vancouver. The Greater Vancouver Regional District, short of funds to build the facility itself, entertained four proposals from multinational water companies. In the end, under tremendous public pressure and clearly not willing to be the government agency that gave the green light to bulk water exports in Canada, the GVRD opted to build the facility itself.

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