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Opinion: Sask. gov’t only muddies the waters

During World Water Week Aug. 23 to Sept. 1, Stockholm, Sweden, hosted an international conference around the belief that “understanding, valuing and caring for water in all its forms will be essential for humankind’s survival.”

Meanwhile, in Stockholm, Sask., and elsewhere in the province, people were getting different messages from our provincial government: stand your ground and keep a sharp eye out for “federal agents” who might be sneaking onto private land to test water for nitrates.

While other governments and Indigenous water protectors take steps to defend the element that makes life possible, the Saskatchewan government issues an emergency amendment to its trespass law to make it harder for federal water samplers to do their job. For the Saskatchewan Party, it was a perfect one-two punch, appealing to both separatist rhetoric and castle-doctrine property defenders.

With this latest change to the trespass law, this government has demonstrated that it puts private property rights ahead of human rights, public interest, health and scientific necessity.

Despite persistent efforts to enclose and privatize it, water is still something that we try to govern by balancing private rights and the public interest. It is part of what is sometimes called “the commons,” the shared cultural and natural resources on which all members of society, and all economic activities, ultimately depend.

If we are to retain even a modicum of respect for our common heritage, Saskatchewan will need effective water governance and wetlands policy that will keep farmland and waterways healthy and diverse. And the federal government will need to continue its responsibilities to protect water quality across the country.

Lacking both good water governance and policy to protect its wetlands, our provincial government seems now to be questioning the very value of scientific water monitoring, and lawful rights of access to conduct it—vital tools for striking that balance between private and public interest.

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