The Myth of Abundance.

May 14th, 2010

The Myth of Abundance: Why Canada Doesn’t Have As Much Water As It Thinks

Dr. Romila Verma is a Research Associate with the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy ( and teaches Water Resource Management in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto.

People rarely associate Canada with water shortages. And why would they? Our country is fortunate to have much of the earth’s freshwater in the form of numerous lakes, rivers, glaciers and groundwater.  But is it time for a reality check? The water supply for the city of Toronto, drawn from the seemingly vast Lake Ontario, is hardly typical of the water situation across Canada. For example, when one considers the imminent water shortages faced by smaller communities in Southern Alberta, it becomes clear that there may be broader challenges on the horizon for Canada.

A recent study conducted for the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy analyzed the impact of daily rainfall and temperature on daily water demand in Toronto between the months of May and August.  The study found that regardless of changes in temperature and precipitation, daily water consumption never fell below 500 megalitres.  However, for every degree the temperature increased, an additional 13.79 megalitres of water were consumed every day.

Considered alongside rapid population growth and urbanization, aging infrastructure, and now climate change, this finding highlights the potential for substantial pressure on municipal water supplies in years to come.  While extensive research has been conducted on water pollution, wastewater treatment and aging infrastructure, less has been done to determine the impact of climate change on urban water availability and demand.  This is especially concerning given that an ever growing percentage of the Canadian population now live in urban areas.

Back in 1989, John E. Lewis authored an article for the Canadian Water Resources Association that examined the potential impacts of climate change on Canada’s water supply.  Lewis predicted that rising temperatures would lead to increased water loss via evaporation and transpiration.  The small projected increase in rainfall expected under some climate change models is unlikely to compensate for this water loss.   In Southern Ontario, there is evidence that Lewis’ predictions may be coming true, considering that summer lawn watering restrictions are now a fact of life here.  In Southern Alberta, there is already little doubt that municipal water supplies are shrinking. Share the Water, A 2009 report published by Ecojustice and WaterMatters, notes that some communities in the region may face substantial water shortages within a decade or less.

We need to begin thinking seriously about developing a comprehensive national water policy and governance model, while at the same time committing new funds toward enhancing public awareness, spearheading conservation initiatives and integrating water education into our schools. Most importantly, Canadians need to realize that while our water is envied by much of the world, it is ultimately a finite resource. Both professional management and a personal commitment to conservation will be necessary for it to last us into the future.

Phase 2 of Ontario’s WEEE Program Plan Announced.

April 27th, 2010

Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, Hon. John Gerretsen, announced Phase 2 of Ontario’s ambitious program for dealing with waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) on March 30th at the City of Toronto Reuse Centre. This comes after Phase 1’s first full year of operation. On top of computers, computer peripherals, TVs, printers, and monitors that can already be recycled under Phase 1, Phase 2 is set to include cell phones, telephones, scanners, copiers, typewriters, modems, and almost any audio visual equipment, such as cameras and stereos. Since WEEE is a rapidly growing and highly toxic waste stream, this is a step in the right direction for Ontario’s sustainability and for the province to become a North American leader for handling WEEE in a responsible manner. This program reflects Ontario’s broader goal of implementing a waste management strategy based around extended producer responsibility (EPR), which transfers responsibility for dealing with a product’s end-of-life from municipalities to the companies that design them. Currently, companies in the electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) industry fund an organization responsible for collecting and recycling, refurbishing, or disposing of WEEE, Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES), through the fees it charges on EEE sold in Ontario.

So, how well has Phase 1 of the WEEE Program Plan worked after its first full year of implementation? The results look to have been mediocre at best. When the Program Plan was released on March 10, 2008, it was estimated that 42,000 tonnes of WEEE would be collected after the first year of the program. That number was reduced to 33,200 tonnes in the Revised Program Plan released 16 months later. And in a technical memo released in December of 2009, after the program had been operating for 9 months, the amount of WEEE expected to be collected was just 23,200 tonnes. OES estimated that there was approximately 64,000 tonnes of Phase 1 WEEE available for collection last year, and so over a third of designated WEEE was diverted from landfills. However, this is 55% less than what was initially projected. The reason stated for the missed target was that “OES is actively competing for WEEE with a group of companies that have chosen not to participate in the OES program.” However, OES requires that any producer that chooses not to participate has to submit its own program plan, so these effects should have been taken into consideration when the projections were made. The technical memo neglects to state how much WEEE is being diverted through these non-participating collection organizations, so it is difficult to judge the overall effectiveness of the program.

There may be other reasons why the target has been missed. A key driver for the success of this program is consumer participation through an effective promotion and education initiative. This initiative has been lacking. Anecdotally, few people I’ve spoken to have heard of this program. A few newspaper articles discussed its announcement a year ago, but there has been little or no media exposure since. I also decided to investigate how the collection sites were promoting this program, so I went down to my local drop-off point, the Salvation Army on Parliament Street in Toronto’s East End. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was an absence of any signage. When I inquired about this, the cashier explained to me that they did not have a van to transport the WEEE to a central collection point, and, on top of that, they had no more available storage space. So they aren’t collecting WEEE anymore. Despite this, that Salvation Army is still listed on the OES website,, where consumers can find their nearest collection point.

There are, of course, bound to be some kinks in any new program of this nature and the WEEE Program definitely attempts to address problems with WEEE that have been shirked in the past. I look forward to hearing what action the government or OES plans to take so future targets can be met.

Jake Gregory, CIELAP Volunteer

CIELAP and MyCityLives

April 12th, 2010

Earlier this year, CIELAP got a chance to sit down with to discuss who we are    and what we do. You can see that here.

And while you’re there, you should definitely check out the rest of the site. There’s amazing content, and a really unique way to look at our city.

Canadian NGO Aspirations for the upcoming UN Commission for Sustainable Development

April 7th, 2010

In preparation for the upcoming UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), a number of Canadian NGOs have collaborated on a report which lists their aspirations for Canada during the upcoming CSD 18-19. The full report can be accessed here:

Have a suggestion for or commentary on the report? Leave us a comment!

Greenbelt Protection for the Humber and Don River Valleys

March 22nd, 2010

“Proposed Greenbelt Expansion to Include Don and Humber River Valleys

26 February 2010

Ontario Government News”

“Don, Humber River Valleys to get Greenbelt Protection

27 February 2010

Toronto Star”

Ontario recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its Greenbelt. To mark the occasion, the City of Toronto has applied for two of its major rivers, the Don and the Humber (including their valleys), to be added to the lands protected under the Greenbelt Plan. The Don and Humber river valleys are crucial to Ontario’s ecological integrity, as they comprise a watershed that connects the Greenbelt to the Great Lakes and the Oak Ridges Moraine. Toronto is applying for protection of the Don and Humber river valleys under a set of criteria established by the province in 2008, which are used to asses requests from municipalities to add unprotected lands to the Greenbelt Plan. Currently, only the Rouge River Valley is within the Greenbelt Plan boundary. Adding the Don and Humber would result in the incorporation of all of Toronto’s river systems into the Greenbelt Plan. The Don and Humber could be incorporated into the Greenbelt as early as the end of 2010.

As part of the Greenbelt, the river valleys would be protected from pollution and habitat loss caused by urban sprawl. Inclusion in the Greenbelt would also prevent municipal governments from reducing the level of environmental protection in the river valleys and create regulatory stability in the affected regions.

CIELAP has extensively researched Ontario’s Greenbelt, as well as similar regional conservation plans in other jurisdictions, in collaboration with the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. This month, CIELAP released an update of its 2008 Ontario’s Greenbelt in an International Context report, which argued that Ontario’s Greenbelt is currently the world’s strongest and most effective.  Greenbelts in general can provide multiple benefits, not only curbing sprawl, land degradation and pollution, but also encouraging agriculture, community-building and environmentally safe recreational activities. Greenbelts can benefit the economy of a region, as well as its environment. We applaud the success of the Greenbelt Plan, but also stress that urban natural features should be given similar protections, as they are vital to the environmental health and resilience of cities.

Article 1 link:

Article 2 link:–don-humber-river-valleys-to-get-greenbelt-protection

CIELAP report link:

“E-Waste and the Olympics”

February 24th, 2010

Winter Olympic Medals Made From Recycled E-Waste

Scientific American

February 12, 2010

For the first time, Olympic medals for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games contain components of recycled electronic waste. Manufactured by Teck Resources of Vancouver, the medals contain up to 1.5 per cent metals sourced from computer parts, circuit boards, and other electronics. While the medals are still almost completely made of materials from mined mineral deposits, the inclusion of e-waste symbolizes a shift towards not only recycling electronic products, but also the incorporation of this recycling and reuse into important social and cultural applications, thus reducing the environmental impact of this waste.

This is crucial, as increasing use of personal technology and other electronics generates increasing amounts of waste, which poses a significant environmental and human health challenge when disposed of in landfills, as is done throughout the developing world. When toxic components of e-waste, such as lead and cadmium, are not removed prior to disposal, they leach into the soil and eventually contaminate groundwater. In some cases, such as that of an e-waste processing facility in Guiyu, China, groundwater may become so contaminated that authorities will have to ship drinking water from other locations, dozens of kilometers away. Additionally, workers processing e-waste are exposed to toxins though inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption, and these toxins may be carried home on their clothing and skin, thus contaminating children and other family members.

Despite the grave and well documented environmental and human health impacts, the global trade of e-waste continues. Where e-waste disposal regulations are strict in developed countries, recyclers may chose to simply export the waste rather than paying the high costs of recycling it domestically. Additionally, the e-waste industry continues to be a significant employer in developing countries, with up to 25,000 people employed in this sector in Delhi alone. Even though the 1000 Olympic and Paralympic medals do not significantly reduce the amount of e-waste entering Canadian and international landfills, they do illustrate progress, and may generate discussion and awareness of the issue.  This in turn could lead to greater domestic reuse and safer disposal of electronic materials, as well as eventual strengthening of e-waste policy.

CIELAP has previously researched the topic of e-waste recycling and the trade in waste electrical and electronic equipment. In our July 2009 Discussion Paper on the Sustainable International Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, we identified shortcomings of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and noted how industrialized countries take advantage of a loophole that permits trade in e-waste for the purpose of reuse. The report also discussed the ongoing illicit transporting and dumping of hazardous wastes, and the environmental and human health effects of this practice. Finally, CIELAP presented recommendations for extended producer responsibility in managing waste electrical and electronic equipment.

- N. Antonowicz, CIELAP Intern

News article link:

CIELAP report link:

Joint Statement on Ontario’s ‘From Waste to Worth

February 4th, 2010

This document represents a joint statement issued by CIELAP in conjunction with a number of groups which lists the principles we support as a Response to the
Government of Ontario’s Consultation on Waste Diversion – Waste to Worth

New CIELAP Research

January 27th, 2010

CIELAP Policy Researcher Matt Binstock authored this report as a summary of the learning outcomes from his Water Policy Fellowship with the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. The report provides an overview of water management policies and practices in the city of Guelph, Ontario, within the broader context of growth pressures on water resources in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region of Ontario, recent research on water demand management, soft path planning and public opinion polling on water issues.

You can access the full report here:


January 20th, 2010

2010 signals a new direction for CIELAP. We have adopted a new strategic plan, and with that comes a new vision and mission, that of governance for sustainability, while enhancing our ability to publish cogent, objective environmental policy research.

We’re also adopting new means of both disseminating the information that we publish, and also incorporating more diverse perspectives into our research and planning process. We are still finalizing our strategies in this area, but one of these is the revitalization of this blog, with a regular publishing schedule of various articles.

In the interim,feel free to follow us on Twitter at , and you can always find copies of our past publications on our website,


Praan for the CIELAP team

CIELAP’s Draft Strategic Directions – Seeking Your Input

September 24th, 2009

CIELAP’s Board of Directors has approved new draft strategic directions aimed at strengthening our public policy voice and enhancing our financial sustainability.  We’re now inviting you to give your input.  Please read more below, download and review our draft Strategic Plan and give your insights by October 16.

As a taste, here are some of our proposed new directions:

CIELAP will build on its proven research expertise by continuing to research emerging and neglected issues.  Our fields of research will be refined to:

  • Climate Change Adaptation in water and agriculture
  • Food Sustainability
  • Water Conservation
  • Sustainable Land Use
  • EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility)
  • Governance for Sustainability
  • Sustainability Strategies (Agenda 21s and Local Agenda 21s)

CIELAP is also going to develop three new Signature Programmes:

  1. University Clubs, piloted at York University and the University of Toronto
  2. an annual Research Report Card (i.e. population growth and connexions to unsustainability)
  3. piloting an annual Sustainability Solutions Forum building on CIELAP’s successful series of “Partnering for Sustainability” conferences

CIELAP will continue to engage a diversity of voices in its research and policy development.  This will include actively solidifying and expanding our research partnerships to better include: academics, corporations, youth, health NGOs, national and regional ENGOs, faith groups, unions / labour groups, indigenous communities, social justice groups, and international partners.

We also plan to experiment with more participatory approaches to research and policy development, which are increasingly seen as essential tools toward achieving more sustainable societies. And one of the first places we will use this new participatory approach is right here with you….

How you can engage:

!) Understand the context. It is becoming increasingly clear that environmental solutions are directly inter-linked to social and economic considerations.  We encourage you to apply Systems Thinking and consider that the natural environment works quite well on its own.  This suggests that environmental concerns may be better addressed if we actively identify those places where the natural environment intersects with the mix of human social and economic concerns.  Ideally, society will create public policies that pro-actively address these places of environmental / social / economic intersection rather than reacting once environmental challenges emerge.

2) Read our new Draft Strategic Plan for 2009 to 2012.

3) Take a day or two to reflect on the ideas.

4) Provide your thoughtful review, critique, analysis, observations and/or comments on the draft Plan in the comments section below OR send them to  Please send your feedback by Friday October 16th.

We will review everything that you submit and we will use your insights to re-craft and re-define our final Strategic Plan for 2009-2012.  The final Plan will be posted online at

Thanks for your ongoing support for our efforts to provide objective, thorough, and evidence-based research that informs public policy and policy decision-makers.


Thomas Esakin, CIELAP Executive Director

Considerations for your participation.

  • Provide macro- (higher- / big-picture-) level critiques / analysis rather than micro- (lower- / small-picture-) level comments.  Please give us your insights about how CIELAP can strengthen its public policy role and move in a direction where we can see the strongest positive impacts in Canada and around the world.
  • Reference what sections and subsections of the draft Strategic Plan you are referring to.
  • Please provide your name and affiliation if you are comfortable doing so.
  • We reserve the right to remove any comments that are considered offensive.