Pipelines, robocalls and economic angst seem to be dominating headlines these days. Yet, there’s an important topic that’s missing from the limelight—water.

Everyone knows that water is essential to our survival and our way of life. What would our national sport be without the ice? But how often do we make the connection between healthy ecosystems and a strong economy?

Not often enough. As economic development in western Canada continues to ramp up, it’s critical that we’re as mindful (if not more) of our water and the broader environment as we are our economic prospects.

Across western Canada, water is integral to a wide range of economic activity including fisheries, shale gas development, irrigated agriculture, oil sands development, and potash and uranium mining.

Yet, there’s a sleeping water policy giant that will be waking up in due course. Climate change, extreme weather, increasing demand for energy, food, commodities, decreasing water quality (often due to effluent discharge and agricultural run-off), depleted sources, mindless water consumption, aging infrastructure, and the drainage of wetlands are all placing immense pressure on our water supplies. If we don’t start mitigating these strains, we’ll have some real trouble on our hands.

If western Canada is going to continue to be a great place to live, we need to constantly be thinking one step ahead. Our economic activity in the natural resource sectors (energy, potash, uranium, agriculture and aquaculture) is projected to grow in the coming decades. This is great news for our economy, but only if we become even better stewards of our water. The time is now for water to take priority on the policy agenda, up alongside energy, health and education policy—before we get to a breaking point.

Water allocation (of which addressing Aboriginal water rights will be key) will be one of the most challenging policy issues in the years ahead and there’s no beating around the bush—it will have to be addressed because water is a necessary component of the western Canadian economy. Canadian author Marq de Villiers once said that “the trouble with water is that they aren’t making any more of it.” We’ve got to protect what we have, not only to keep our ecosystems healthy, but to sustain our economy as well. We have a finite supply of water so it makes sense to find ways to maximize how it’s used so it can meet the increased demand with the same amount of water. This is something we should all care about because our livelihoods depend on it.

– By Larissa Sommerfeld, policy analyst