In Calgary? Let the yellow mellow

In this week’s newsletter, Calgary-based reporter Drew Anderson makes a confession: his toilet is a bit stinky, thanks to the city’s ongoing water crisis. But it’s not the end of the world, when he looks around for solutions
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Now, onto this week’s news from Alberta, where things are less than ideal …
A person fills blue water jugs from a truck marked "emergency water supply" in Calgary

In Calgary, the locusts have not descended, the soil remains in place, looting hasn’t started and cannibalism has been, so far, kept at bay. That said, the toilet is a bit stinky and I do miss longer showers. 

For the past two weeks, the city I call home has had to cut back significantly on the water it consumes due to a break in a massive water main. Why does the toilet stink, you ask? City officials are openly asking residents to let the yellow mellow (in their own words, complete with graphics!), but also to hold off on washing dishes until there’s a full load and to think about all the small ways we can help reduce demand. 

Mandatory restrictions on outdoor use, including watering our lawns or washing our cars, are in place. 

In short, Calgary’s temporary water shortage is a bit annoying, but it’s not the end of the world. In some ways, it’s even been positive. 

I’ve been thinking about all the ways I use too much water, and working to come up with solutions: turning off the shower while I soap up, using less water to rinse plates and constructing an embarrassingly haphazard rainwater collection device. (I’m a writer, not an engineer, thank you very much!)

A blue tarp is stretched out over some chairs, directing rainwater into a cooler below
Calgary’s water crisis drags on — and its future looks dry. Can cities across the globe point to solutions?

What the city is facing is serious — we are cut off from 60 per cent of our water supply — but it’s temporary and manageable. The water is there, we just can’t access it for a while. 

That’s in stark contrast to other areas of the world or the countless First Nations across Canada that continuously struggle to access clean water. Author Tanya Talaga (who’s also chair of The Narwhal’s board of directors) recently pointed out in her Globe and Mail column that residents of Tsuut’ina First Nation, just west of Calgary, have dealt with brown, fetid water coming out of their taps for years.

It’s a good reminder of our privilege, but also of the fact that we can do better to reduce our water use — in Canada, our households use more water per capita than many other parts of the western world — and to prepare for a future that is certainly going to be drier and more challenging. 

How exactly can we do that? That’s something I dug into this week

To answer, I looked to other parts of the world, including Mexico City and Bogotá, both of which are facing more chronic water crises brought on by things like drought and failing infrastructure. I also looked into the kind of long-term planning experts say needs to remain front of mind, even when this current crisis eases — from protecting forest watersheds to recycling wastewater to charging for excessive water use. 

I heard it time and time again: these are the things we need to be seriously considering if Calgary, and the rest of the country, are to avoid crises that go beyond annoying to totally catastrophic

Calgary — and Calgarians — have shown they can rise to the current challenge, at least temporarily. But the jury is still out on what that means for the future.

Take care and let the yellow mellow,

Drew Anderson
Prairies reporter
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Illustration of a billboard with text: natural, clean, energy, biodegradable, environmentally friendly, climate neutral

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404 Error: path to net zero not found

Up until last week, there was a Canadian website featuring the aspirational plans of six large oil and gas companies to reach net-zero emissions. But if you go to that page today, you’ll only find a three-paragraph letter, in both French and English, that has taken over all its digital real estate.

The website in question? It belongs to Pathways Alliance, a coalition of those companies and the advertiser behind commercials about how oilsands operations can supposedly meet ambitious environmental targets.

Enter The Narwhal’s climate investigations reporter, Carl Meyer, who has been doggedly reporting on the group — including complaints of greenwashing, when companies make their products or practices appear more environmentally friendly than they really are.

One group of researchers determined Pathways Alliance was complicit in greenwashing, and a complaint submitted to the Competition Bureau of Canada cited Carl’s coverage. The bureau is now investigating those allegations. 

In a surprising development, the group scraped everything from its website and social media accounts in response to a new federal law that further restricts misleading advertising, which could lead to new penalties.

While we don’t know all the ins and outs of how this law will take effect, we can tell you that these oilsands companies, for now, are no longer claiming they have a path to net zero.

We think Carl’s reporting played a significant role in clearing up the hot air — and apparently so does the Canadian Association of Journalists, which gave him an award for the best online journalism of 2023.

Check out Carl’s coverage on the Pathways Alliance over here.

Mike De Souza, managing editor

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This week in The Narwhal

An industrial dump truck in the foreground of a sprawling landfill, where a bright green truck empties its load
This waste management company says it’s ‘Green For Life’ — its neighbours disagree
By Wency Leung
Ontario-based GFL projects a green image. But a history of fires, water contamination, regulatory violations and neighbour complaints from North Carolina to Hamilton tell another story.

Aerial view over a tundra landscape, cut through with a winding river valley
In the Arctic, a massive new Inuvialuit-led conservation area protects Porcupine caribou grounds
By Ainslie Cruickshank
Composite illustration: A man in a suit and tie over a blue-hued background that includes images of the RBC logo, a police officer and a pipeline
Royal Bank of Canada on the defensive over criticism of fossil fuel financing
By Carl Meyer
A sprawling, flat landscape cut through by two roads that intersect at a T
Three things you need to know about B.C.’s newest pipeline for the LNG export industry
By Matt Simmons
Composite illustration of Ken Sim over a park scene: some parts are bright green, others are brown and faded
The Vancouver park board is endangered. Should it be saved?
By Harrison Mooney
Several mid-rise apartment buildings above a green, treed valley
Toronto homes can’t go carbon-neutral unless developers get on board
By Dhriti Gupta

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What we’re reading

How soon will New Zealanders abandon their homes to rising seas? Check out this analysis by Monica Evans (with a neat infographic) in Hakai Magazine, based on research that forecasts when properties are likely to become uninsurable.

If bugs don’t make you squeamish, you might like these Time magazine photos of the rare cicada emergence, captured in stunning detail by Alana Paterson.

Looking for some climate fiction? Grist has you covered with its annual Imagine contest, and here’s the top pick from all the submissions, written by Jamie Liu — about a beekeeper who finds a new sense of purpose and community after helping to develop a warning system for floods.

POV: Drew, all soaped up with the shower turned off, thinking about how his next contraption will save more rainwater. Tell your friends to sign up for our free, weekly newsletter — so they don’t miss out on his genius inventions.
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