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NAFTA: Water Down The Drain

An older man wearing a beaten up lumberjack jacket with a baseball cap perched on his head is standing staring out over a large excavation in a field out back of what we can only assume is his house. If we look over the edge of the big hole we can see that the bottom is covered with gasping fish, walking ducks, forlorn frogs, and confused snakes.

The only animal that looks remotely happy is the heron busily spearing as many fish as possible. Of course he hasn’t seen the state of his nest yet, which is laying in two pieces in an inch of mud surrounded by collapsed bull rushes.

The old man removes his baseball cap and mops his almost completely baldhead with a worn pocket-handkerchief, which he then stows in the breast pocket of his jacket. As he places the cap back on his head one can just barely discern the words Massey-Ferguson on the front, just above the bill.

The sound of a pick-up truck barrelling along the road breaks his reverie, and he turns his face away from the view of desolation, towards the source of the noise in time to see a late model Ford spewing dirt and gravel in its hurry, pulling into his lane. With a sigh he jams his hands deep into his pockets and starts to walk towards the new arrival.

But the truck seems intent on coming right up to meet him, so he changes direction in mid stride, turns around, and heads back to the lip of the hole. He flinches only slightly at the sound of the trunk spraying gravel as it comes to a stop behind him, and his sole reaction to the slamming of the door is to hunch himself a little deeper into his shoulders.

He’s known who it would be long before the trunk even made its presence known on the road; known he’d be out here as soon as he heard about the tanker trunk being seen in the neighbourhood. He sighs again as he hears the energy in the footsteps kicking the gravel behind him.

He wishes he could have the energy to get that heated up again, but in his years of farming he’s known so many ups and downs, that one more, no matter how unfair, doesn’t make much of a difference anymore. Jeff will learn that sooner or latter, but for now he needs to rail against the world.

His eldest son stalked by him without saying a word. He started to march around the perimeter, as if to convince himself that no matter what the angle the situation was the same. Halfway through his trip he stopped, staring ahead, then quickly spinning on his heal he turned back and retraced his steps.

He was a younger version of his father, from the dilapidated ball cap advertising farm machinery, the worn jacket, down to the broken toed work boots; but one that still believed he had to win every battle or he was less of a man. He still had a younger man’s lack of perspective.

Watching him approach his father had to concede that; at least in this case, he had more than enough justification for being angry. Still without looking he awaited his son’s presence at his shoulder. Not until he almost felt his breath in his ear, and could literally feel his gaze burning into the side of his head did he turn to face him.

“They said in town that that damned water tanker truck was out this way earlier, but I wouldn’t believe it ’till I saw it with my own eyes.” It was in his eyes that he wanted to scream out questions, rail against the injustice of it all. All that was holding him back was the realization that the old man beside him had no more control over the situation than anyone else.

So he waited. He knew that his father would tell him what he wanted to know if left alone. Pressing dad had never resulted in getting any answers, just pushed words deeper inside of him. He forced his breathing to slow down, and himself to stand still, while he waited for his father to surface from where ever he had sunk into to escape this latest setback.

“I was out in the barn checking on Mabel, she’s in calf and you know what a hard time she can have with that, when I heard Big Red start his usual barking, letting me know that strangers were on the property.” His voice was so quiet that his son needed to lean his head slightly towards him to catch all the words.

“So, I made my way out front here, and there were the truck and a big car pulled up in the yard. Red obviously made them nervous because no one had gotten out yet. I called Red off, and told him to get up by the house. Then these two men in suits, one carrying a sheaf of papers got out of the car. One of them came over to me, while the other walked back to the truck and called up the driver in the cab.”

“The one carrying the papers comes up to me and asks if I’m Mr. Young, and I says yes I am. He says all right than, and flips through the pile of papers until he finds one with my name across the top. He runs his finger down the side of the page as if making sure of what he needs to say, and then he looks up at me with one of those plastic smiles you see on insurance salesman and politicians.”

“Mr. Young, he began, I’m with the North American Free Trade Agreement Water Re-Distribution Board, South Central Eastern Ontario Division. He stopped as if expecting me to say something, so I sorta nodded. He took that as meaning he should continue, which he did.”

The elder Mr. Young paused there as if gathering his breath before attempting the final hurdle in what had been an exceptionally long steeple race. Although he had stumbled at most of the fences, he had somehow still made it around the track and was steeling himself to face that one last obstacle that stood between him and being able to collapse.

He reached into his pocket and brought out a much-creased piece of paper. He opened it with one hand, while the other vainly tried to smooth it out to make it more legible. Wordlessly he handed it over to his son, nodding his head to show that he should read it while he continued.

“Anyway he began to read from a sheet of paper, and I guess it was just to make it all official, because it was all down in that letter there that came those couple of months back.” He closed his eyes, and began to recite from memory: “Under the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1988 by the governments of Canada, The United States of America, and The Republic of Mexico, under the provisos restricting and controlling the sale and transport of fresh water from one country to the next, it is stated that once an initial sale or transaction of fresh water occurs, precedent is considered established to allow for any subsequent and future transactions to proceed without hindrance, interference, or infringement by any parties no matter what their association with said water.”

“Furthermore according to the distribution of Federal and Provincial powers as outlined in the Constitution of Canada, giving individual provinces control over any and all natural resources contained within their borders, the province of Ontario acting in accordance with said provisions of both the North American Free Trade Agreement and the distribution of powers accorded them by the Constitution of Canada, asserts that authority as pertains to the body of water known as the “Duck Pond” on the property of Mr. Ralph Young and claims it as a provincial resource to be disposed of in a manner deemed fit and suitable by the province.”

Jeff looked up from the creased piece of paper in his hands, than looked down at it again. Closing his eyes, he carefully folded the page into its four squares and handed it back to his father. Ralph Young looked at it sitting in his old, dirty, scarred hand as if wondering how this thing could have magically materialised there.

“Anyway, after he read all that he asked me if I understood. When I nodded, he held out a paper and a pen and told me to sign where the X was. During all this, the guy with the truck was backing up towards the pond, being smart enough not to get too close so his back wheels didn’t sink down in the bog. Once we had done with paper work, he climbed out of his cab and started reeling out a couple of the thickest hoses I’ve ever seen.”

“As soon as he had them in the water, he hit a switch, and these motors in the truck started going. I don’t know what kind a’ pump they had in there, but it was lot more powerful than any sump pump we might use in the basement. After five minutes I could see the water level had already dropped, another ten it was half empty, and in twenty minutes total they had filled all three of the tanks on that truck and emptied the pond.”

“That guy then hit a button and them hoses just started to coil themselves back up into the truck again. As he drove off I could hear the water swishing around in the tanks. The suit guy who had me sign the paper, came over and said something about your government appreciating your cooperation in this manner, gave me one more plastic smile and left.”

“I’ve been standing here waiting for you since”

The younger man looked over at his father and tried to decide if he had ever seen tears in his eyes before. Nope, not even when mom had died.
Under the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement, once Canadian companies begin to export fresh water to any other country, foreign investors are than allowed the same privilege. If the government moves to prevent them, those companies will than be allowed to sue for lost business.

In other words once it starts it won’t stop. Anybody form anywhere with the money and resources could come in and siphon off Canada’s supply of fresh water to be used anywhere for any purpose. No one knows what the environmental impact would be of diverting, let alone removing the thousands or millions of litres of water this could entail.

I live in South Eastern Ontario, in what is considered a temperate climate. Three bodies of water surround my city: Lake Ontario, The St. Lawrence Seaway, and the Cataroqui River. For the past four years draught conditions have come earlier and earlier in the in the summer, which have resulted in the depletion of the water table. People’s wells routinely run dry, the water levels in all local bodies of water drops at an alarming rate (and never recovers) and restrictions are placed on water usage.

Does it sound like we can spare any of our water?

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.