Caring for our Water
February 2007
During the last UPA conference, ministers Vallières and Béchard announced an end to disputes between agriculture and the environment. It’s about time! While the whole world is concerned at the swift decline of the environment, it would be wise to bring into line the concerns and interests of each and every one so as to find better ways of doing, and if possible, of doing it better together. Because Quebec has much to protect.

Let’s consider water, for example. We are quite lucky to be living here in La Belle Province. We often hear that water is one of our greatest natural resources. Water is so plentiful that city dwellers make a habit of hosing down their asphalted driveways. Here, we feel protected from any kind of water scarcity. However, we need to remember that Walkerton and blue algae did not occur in far-away countries. Last summer and according to the most recent data compiled by the ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs, 78 Quebec lakes were tainted with cyanobacteria. This represents an increase of more than 40% compared with the previous year. At least this time, no one is blaming agriculture. Apparently, riverfront property owners would also share some of the blame, people who cut down treed areas to better enjoy the lakefront view and whose sceptic installations are often below standard. In short, we’re all going upstream, might as well row together.

Quality water procurement is now a planetary concern and intelligent management of this precious resource is critical, for us as well as for the rest of the world. In a recent report produced by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a specific sentence caught my eye. It stated the following: “Farmers don’t always pay for the damages they cause to the environment…” I thought to myself, okay, blame farmers again. But I was wrong. The sentence went on with: “… or are not paid for the environmental advantages they produce.” Hmmm, finally, one short sentence confirming the crucial role played by farmers in sustaining and maintaining the land. A role that is called upon, I should think, to become more involved and elaborate should agriculture decide to take advantage of the business opportunity being presented to them.

The disturbing degradation of the environment opens new fields of activity and prompts an expansion of agriculture’s role in our societies. In addition to feeding the planet, agriculture will also oversee land maintenance, preserve biodiversity, water quality, convert garbage into green energy… Farmers will be needed to perform all of these new services since they are in a better position to take action. If they are ready to assume this expanded role, then farmers could become true-blue trustees of our environment. Obviously, they’ll have to be paid accordingly.

Several Latin American countries have implemented systems to compensate farmers for environmental services provided to the community. There have been a few experiments conducted in the United States, particularly in New York state. As for Europe, proposals regarding the Common Agricultural Policy clearly bring to mind a new accord or, as it is explained, society must agree and accept to pay for essential environmental services. We must gain our inspiration from this. The truth is, compensating farmers for this type of service would facilitate agriculture’s adjustment to environmental standards that will, evidently, be increasingly stringent. This is a situation where everybody would come out a winner.

Farmers have the potential to become vital partners in the sustainable development of communities. Once there was “My land concerns us all”, why not “Water concerns us all”? Each of us must do its share. As for me, I’ve decided. Next summer, I’ll place a container under my eavestrough. On the north side of the house. That way, I will have fresh water with which to water my compost, my garden and the few flowers that survive my neglect. Such will be my effort to save aqueduct water, water that is processed and treated at great cost. What else? I don’t have an asphalted driveway nor do I have a swimming pool. Oh, I almost forgot: I will install water flow restrictors on my faucets. That much I can do. As for the rest, we’ll need professionals. Another noble task we can entrust to farmers.

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Fax: (514) 858-2025


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