Water, arguably, is our most precious resource. Our lives, and all life as we know it, depend upon it. Yet, how do we view it? The answer, obviously, is as a resource – as something we use to enhance our lives. There are many ways we use water to accomplish this. It plays important roles in every aspect of our lives, from mining the raw resources we use and growing the crops we depend upon to removing our waste from our homes and our cities.
But to see the full importance of water, we need to look beneath the surface. Water plays a pivotal role in creating this world which sustains us. It cuts and carves the landscapes of our planet as well as carries away many materials from them. When these materials are deposited, the result is everything from rich mineral deposits to fertile fields.
Left to themselves, these natural processes create a wide variety of ecosystems ranging from the familiar to the extreme. Some of these ecosystems are so extreme that they remain largely unexplored, while others are far more accessible while still being viewed by us as uninviting.
Over time, these ecosystems continue to change and evolve. Sometimes though, human activity plays a role in this evolution. Often, this activity is linked to water. This is due to the properties of water. The same properties that allow water to move natural materials also allow it to move our manufactured materials, resulting in unintended and undesired consequences. The same can be said when our activity changes the rate of a natural water process. This was the issue Britannia once faced. The impact of a natural process called acid rock drainage was made worse through mining.
After two decades of environmental degradation following the Mine’s closure, remediation of this impact began. The result is that the water now flowing from the old mine site into Howe Sound is cleaner than before mining began here. Britannia now represents how large industrial activities can occur while also leaving the land and the water able to sustain diverse ecosystems.
In mining, as in life, the lessons of the past have shaped our understandings and our standards of today. Yet, throughout the world, water is still put at risk of contamination at all scales. At an individual level, it might be what we flush down the sink or drop on the ground. At a larger scale, industrial activities have the potential to place entire water systems at risk.
A part of the issue lies in how we view water. So long as it is seen as a cheap and plentiful resource, we will think less of how we use it than if it was scarce. But the truth is we should view it as scarce. The amount of water on the planet has not varied by much over its life. What has changed, however, is the demand for clean water. Simply put, we need to do better with the supplies we have.
At the same time, we need to respect how water is important to every ecosystem on our planet. We need to manage this most precious of substances such that the planet and all of its inhabitants can thrive.
In the time of COVID-19, when our lives have been turned upside down, it can help to reflect on what has gone before, in order to find hope for what may come.