Lynn Patterson is director of corporate responsibility at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). The opinions expressed are her own.
When I hear the words "water scarcity", I tend to think of droughts: of dry, parched land in developing nations where women and girls must walk for hours to collect precious water for their families.
But due to climate change and pollution, water scarcity can also mean “lack of access to clean water.” And this can be an issue anywhere, even in "water rich" countries like Canada, my home, which boasts some 7 per cent of all the world’s freshwater and only 0.5 per cent of the world’s population.
Since 2007, the RBC Blue Water Project has been providing funding for charitable organizations worldwide through a 10-year, C$50 million ($49.2 million) grant program. In the first five years alone, we’ve received funding applications from thousands of watershed protection organizations, and pledged more than C$37 million to over 500 of them.
As a result, we’re now in the privileged position of having a birds-eye view of some of the most significant water challenges in North America—and the “lack of access to clean water” theme runs through many of them.
For example, we’ve funded:
- a water conservation demonstration site north of Toronto to teach residents and real estate developers about water conservation, waste water treatment and water reuse systems;
- programs for First Nations’ communities such as wastewater operator training, and initiatives to engage youth in protecting source water;
- an outreach campaign in Atlanta, Georgia to promote sustainable land use, water and energy efficiency;
- a program for groundwater management spanning 50 communities in Alberta to examine the impact of multiple wells in a watershed and the connection between groundwater and surface water;
- campaigns in various cities to educate people on harmful effects of discharging pharmaceuticals into waterways;
- oyster-planting projects in estuaries such as Chesapeake Bay and the New York Harbor to filter and absorb pollution;
- programs that provide technical assistance and financial incentives to rural farmers and landowners to protect ground and surface water quality, decommission unused wells and control soil erosion;
- programs encouraging homeowners to fix leaky toilets, use rain barrels and plant drought-tolerant gardens.
These are just a few examples from the literally thousands of proposals that we’ve seen at RBC. Add them all up, and the picture is clear: water scarcity, or the lack of access to clean water, isn’t just a concern in developing nations, or an emerging issue in North America. It’s here now.
This blog is part of AlertNet’s special report “Battle for Water”