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1 August 2008 Water, Weather and the Mountain West
Charles W. (Chuck) Howe
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Water, Weather and the Mountain West by Robert William Sandford. Nanoose Bay, British Columbia: Rocky Mountain Books, 2007. 208 pp. US$ 17.95. ISBN 978-1-894765-93-0.

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Robert (Bob) Sandford has had extensive experience in leading environmental initiatives. He was Chair of the UN International Year of the Mountains in Canada in 2002, and also chaired the UN International Year of Fresh Water and Wonder of Water Initiative in Canada in 2003–2004. He is currently Chair of the UN International Decade “Water for Life” Partnership in Canada that advances long-term water issues in response to climate change.

The focus of this book is on Canadian concerns and values. However, these issues are relevant around the globe, so the expressions of concern for the Canadian Rockies and exhortations to action in the face of climate change voiced here warrant wider attention. The book is inspirational in content rather than providing an analytical path to specific adaptations—in fact, it is essentially a primer on valued natural systems and likely impacts of climate change. It is also a personal expression of concern for shaping the future of Canada from what has been inherited from the past.

The book begins with an Invocation that evokes the awe and beauty of the Canadian Rockies, while acknowledging that the great river flows and waterfalls that we see today are partly the result of human-induced global warming. This is followed by 5 sections with somewhat nebulous titles: “Water, Weather and the West”; “The Drinking Water Supply in Canada”; “What We Can Learn from Others”; “Reframing the Climate Change Debate”; and “Future Landscapes in the Mountain West.”

The book opens by noting the geographical mismatch of water availability and population: while water is most available in the north, population centers are in the south. Water waste and poor water quality in the heavily populated areas are growing issues, partly because the institutional framework for dealing with them is so fractured among agencies and jurisdictions—a situation found in watersheds around the world. Sustainable solutions will require greatly enhanced collaboration and historical agreements among agencies and provinces will have to be changed.

The dominance of agricultural water use and the importance of forest watersheds are pointed out, along with the likely impacts of climate change on these systems. This raises serious issues of water allocation and reallocation as well as land management policies that protect the important forest watersheds—problems that are common to all of North America. Canada has already taken significant steps to protect its mountain areas. The Canadian Rockies World Heritage Site attracts and inspires millions annually. Sandford states, “If the myth of limitless abundance of Canadian resources is to be dispelled, that process will likely begin in Canada's western mountains” (p ix).

While historical precedents hamper water management at appropriate scales in most countries, few such obstacles are said to exist in Canada. Alberta's “Water for Life” initiative for integrated watershed management has the potential to overcome historical obstacles and to become a model for all of western Canada. Efforts are being made to advance research and regulatory activities to further protect threatened water resources. Sandford recommends a portfolio of adaptations, including water conservation in all sectors, conjunctive management of surface and ground waters, and increased vigilance in protecting upstream riparian areas.

In spite of listing these accomplishments and noting the potential for innovative policies in Canada, specific solutions are seldom identified in the book. Nowhere in the discussions of the need for more integrated, adaptive water management are the modern tools of water management described—eg real time monitoring, systems modeling, adaptive management, and innovative programs of urban conservation. The use of appropriate pricing that reflects the real scarcity value of raw water is mentioned in the urban context, but the potential for water markets to allow reallocation within agriculture and between agriculture and urban users is not mentioned. In fact, markets are characterized as leading away from sustainable practices: “We get what the marketplace decrees…but don't always get real solutions. It is up to government to sell real solutions such as population control and environmental restraint, but this is not what the marketplace wants” (p 118). While correctly emphasizing the vital roles of government in setting goals, the potential utility of markets in achieving those goals, operating within an appropriate social supervisory framework, is not recognized.

Nonetheless, Alberta's system of protected areas has succeeded in saving much of the original heritage of the mountain west. Now, more spatially integrated policies are needed to protect this vast domain in the face of climate change and pressures from population and energy development.

Charles W. (Chuck) Howe "Water, Weather and the Mountain West," Mountain Research and Development 28(3), 336-337, (1 August 2008). https://doi.org/10.1659/mrd.mm041
Published: 1 August 2008
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