Montreal, May 15, 2004  /  No 142  
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Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario. He can be reached at
by Harry Valentine
          Throughout its known history, the earth has undergone several alternate cycles of cooling and warming. In this regard, recent changes in local weather conditions have reduced summer time precipitation and availability of water in several regions across Canada, some of which have experienced up to a decade of consecutive summer drought conditions. State ownership and control over waterways, rivers and streams has done little to alleviate water shortages to various regions across Canada, during periods of drought. Several provincial governments have created conservation authorities to oversee various waterways, mainly to protect wildlife. Except that these same rivers and streams were also the only sources of water for residents of several rural towns and villages.
          During previous drought periods, private suppliers and local merchants provided drought-stricken residents with alternative sources of clean water. Bottled spring water and mineral water is sold to the Canadian public at most supermarkets. For several drought-stricken regions, this was often the only supply of clean drinking and cooking water. Some rural home owners located in perennial drought-stricken regions have even installed low-flush and non-flushing composting toilets on their property, to reduce water consumption. Several drought-stricken rural towns which were actually located next to railway lines, could have had water transported in from distant locations, in railway tanker cars. But bureaucrats who were in charge of rivers and rural water supplies took no initiative in this regard, other than to tell affected people to conserve water. 
          The precedent of water being successfully provided to rural residents by private providers during periods of summer drought is one that will need to be expanded to include larger communities and regions across Canada in the future, if summer drought conditions persist. Despite the close proximity to the St. Lawrence River, residents living in areas around Montreal were asked to reduce water consumption during last summer's drought. Summer time water flow rates and water levels in this river have steadily declined over a period of several years, reducing the summer time supply of municipal water. Future water shortages could be averted by allowing an unregulated free-market pricing structure to prevail for water, that is, one based on supply and demand. 
          Market pricing for water and recurring summer droughts could result in large industries to either relocate elsewhere to a more plentiful water supply, or economize by staying put and recycling water (privately). Private water-recycling businesses could emerge in industrial areas, providing water purification services to large companies as well as to groups of smaller companies. Privately-owned underground water piping systems could separate industrial water from clean drinking water. Water may also be transported in and out by either road or rail. Recurring droughts and market water pricing could see developers, building new high-rise office towers and new high-rise apartment buildings, put the toilet water system on its own plumbing system. Existing high-rise buildings may also have their plumbing systems similarly converted. Private water treatment and recycling businesses may offer services to groups of high-rise commercial and residential buildings, collecting waste water for treatment and reuse as toilet water.  
     “For a private water market to succeed while operating free from economic regulation, private water companies will need to be able to acquire ownership of sections of rivers and streams, as well as the adjacent lands on which they could build dams or water storage facilities.”
          During prolonged periods of drought, the health of occupants of tall buildings could be assured, since the toilets could still be flushed on recycled water. Private water treatment systems recycling industrial waste water could limit the amount of toxic material that would end up in the environment. Newer and improved water treatment technologies that operate at lower cost would likely evolve and ensure that recycled industrial water would be fit for reuse in industry. The industrial material extracted from the waste water could be incinerated. A market-driven private water regime operating under drought conditions would be able ensure high environmental standards, even in an absence of environmental rules regarding water. 
Creating a private water market 
          For a private water market to succeed while operating free from economic regulation, private water companies will need to be able to acquire ownership of sections of rivers and streams, as well as the adjacent lands on which they could build dams or water storage facilities. This would enable them to acquire a fresh water supply from distant locations, and then transport the water to customers. When summer drought prevails in Southern Quebec, Northern Quebec which is on a different weather system has summer rainfall. Some of this northern rainfall flows south into the Gulf of St. Lawrence as well as into the St. Lawrence River east of Quebec City. Prior to this water reaching the river or the gulf, it may be diverted into storage then pumped into tanker ships, for transportation inland toward Montreal. From here, the water may be transferred from ship to road or rail tankers, for transport to customers in Southern Quebec and Eastern Ontario. 
          If recurring summer drought conditions persist over the long term, a city like Montreal could function in a private, market driven water regime supply. Coastal cities such as Halifax and Vancouver could also reduce their summer time water demand, by allowing initiatives such as separate toilet water plumbing systems to operate in large buildings, even using ocean water. If the British Columbia government allowed for more private hydro-electric power production, more privately-owned dams could be built and more fresh water could become available for summer time human consumption. Water that usually empties into the Pacific could be diverted into tanker ships and sent south to Vancouver during summer. Despite an abundance of winter time precipitation, Vancouver has also experienced prolonged summer droughts. 
          Free-market water recycling initiatives, combined with privately transporting water from distant locations, could bring some relief to the drought-stricken regions of western Canada. Railway lines that pass through these regions also connect to points where water is available. Certain rivers in southern Manitoba and in British Columbia experience severe annual seasonal springtime floods. In an unregulated private water regime, this excess springtime water supply from Manitoba and British Columbia could be pumped into railway tanker cars, and then transported in long unit trains to the normally drought-stricken regions of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Upon arrival at these destinations by road, rail or pipeline, the water could be pumped into (covered) private dams or storage tanks located on private property.  
          During every previous period of Canadian drought, large volumes of fresh water continued to flow from Canada into the Altantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Technology does exist that can divert much of this water to where it is needed most. The water that flows out of Quebec's James Bay hydro-electric power stations could be piped to railway tanker cars at Moosonee in Northern Ontario. The water may be transported south by rail, then by road or rail to markets in either Quebec or Ontario. Despite ongoing summer drought conditions in various parts of Canada, future water shortages could be avoided in a free-market water regime. 
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