Straight to the source: Great Lakes water use by Canada


Linda Campbell, associate professor of biology at Queen's University

A quote attributed to Queen’s University (Ontario) biologist Linda Campbell in a March 22 Whig Standard story confused me:

“People hear that the Great Lakes have 20 percent of the world’s fresh water and they think, ‘We’ve got that much water around, so what’s the problem?’

Campbell said most of the fresh water used by people comes from rainfall or runoff and the usable amount of water is actually a little under 3 percent, or a little more than 10 percent of the commonly assumed figure.

“We are living off the interest, not the capital,” she said.

It was that line “usable amount of water.” Did that mean that the other 17 percent or so of Great Lakes water was, well, unusable?

Not quite. Campbell, who has studied how pollution, humans and invasive species affect the Great Lakes, clarified through e-mail:

“I was saying that most of our drinking and potable water for household use come from groundwater (wells), large rivers and runoff. Most of Canada’s large rivers run north, not south, so our access to that water actually decreases to 3 percent,” she said.

“We do indeed have access to the water. It’s just that if both Canadians and Americans start increasing our direct withdrawals of the Great Lakes water, we’d be taking away from our capital rather than living off the interest, so to speak.  If we ‘liquidate’ our capital (excuse me!), then we will run out of spending money sooner than later.”

Thanks for the clarification, Linda. It’s appropriate that the Whig Standard story ran on the same day that people world wide were pinching pennies, so to speak.

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