Publisher’s Letter: World Water Day – Our fresh water heritage

By Lisa Bland, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief –

The nature of water is flow, and it knows no boundaries. The cycle of water, or hydrological cycle, describes the continuous movement of water above, on, and under the surface of the Earth. Water is a universal solvent and described by scientists as a weird and wonderfully magical molecule with many mind-bending properties.

Photo: michaeljung ShutterStock photo ID: 204546046

Water carries particles with it and within it, and often amplifies their effects downstream or into the atmosphere via natural seasonal weather patterns, climate induced change, or changes due to human industrial activity and urbanization. Water can teach us a lot about living wisely on the landscape with an awareness of impermanence. Ideas of boundaries, territorial borders, and even protected areas don’t make much sense when you study the path of water over time. With powerful, unrelenting force, water carves into earth and solid rock, creating new geographical forms. As many people living in coastal and rivershed areas know, the constant reshaping of land through erosion and sedimentation, alters our concept of permanence. Houses can be carried down rivers, mudslides can bury valley bottoms, and huge swaths of land can be swallowed up overnight due to flooding, storms, or tidal action.

The water cycle is essential for the maintenance of life and ecosystems on the planet and its importance to living systems can’t be understated. According to the United Nations (UN), 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water, with direct consequences on health, education, and livelihood. The UN’s sustainable development goals include protecting the natural environment and reducing pollution to maintain water quality as well as ensuring people worldwide have access to safe water by 2030.

On March 22,World Water Day, UN-Water releases a World Water Development Report focusing on a different theme each year. The report’s goal is to assist decision-makers in implementing sustainable use of water resources. The theme of World Water Day 2018 is exploring nature-based solutions to reduce floods, drought, and water pollution. Learn more about World Water Day and ways to get inspired and take action. www.worldwaterday.org.

Canada has one-fifth of the world’s freshwater with thousands of interconnected rivers and lakes. Overall findings in a comprehensive national watershed assessment of Canada’s 25 main watersheds completed in 2017 by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), show Canada does not have an adequate national system for reporting the health of and threats to its freshwater resources.

WWF’s easy-to-use and informative website (www.watershedreports.wwf.ca) presents, via interactive maps and engaging visual symbols, data about the health and threats facing watersheds and sub-watersheds. Threat categories are defined by map and region with high and low values for individual threats including pollution, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, overuse, invasive species, climate change, and alteration of flows. The health of each watershed is defined in terms of overall health, water quality, water flow, fish, and benthic invertebrates.

WWF’s national watershed assessment found a surprising lack of available and accessible data, even in some highly developed urban areas, such as the Great Lakes Basin. Where data was available, only three of Canada’s 25 watersheds came out with a top rating for health.

The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Blue Water Project, launched in 2007, is dedicated to helping protect watersheds and improve access to clean drinking water in towns and cities in Canada through grants, conferences, economic reports, and events that focus on water awareness.

In the spring of 2017, RBC released its 10th annual “Canadian Water Attitudes Study” about how Canadians think, feel, and act towards our fresh water resources. Results showed many contradictions between attitudes and actual actions. Canadians claim to highly value our lakes and waterways as a source of national identity, yet also take them for granted, with even less action towards conservation than we took a decade ago.

As noted in the RBC press release, “Canadians Remain Conflicted About Our Most Precious Natural Resource: Fresh Water, ”Robert Sandford, EPCOR chair for water security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, thinks these attitudes come down to culture and economy.

“I think we’re dealing with a degree of denial,” says Sandford. “It’s challenging for us, as Canadians, to reconcile our long-held myth of limitless water abundance with the very real physical threats we’re hearing about and even experiencing.

“We don’t pay the real costs of the water we use—neither the costs necessary to transport and treat it, nor the environmental costs of wasting it. As a result, we’ve come to believe that water is cheap. There’s no incentive to use less of it.”

RBC recommends changing Canadians’ perception through communicating the economic value of water, governments putting more resources into water infrastructure and supporting technologies, and taking more global leadership in water stewardship.

In BC, we are blessed with incredible water resources and it’s clear many British Columbians care deeply about fresh water and the ways resource extraction and community development occur on the landscape. The Real Estate Foundation of BC (REFBC) advocates for greater community-driven leadership, governance, and management measures to ensure water safety and sustainability over the long term.

In 2017, REFBC worked with water experts to study water resources and create a framework of desired impacts, impact measures, and conditions. In the resulting report, “Murky Waters: Taking a Snapshot of Freshwater Sustainability in BC,” REFBC found that data about the state of BC’s freshwater is often incomplete, out of date, or unreliable, and improvements are needed to improve data collection, monitoring, and reporting.

In February 2016, a new Water Sustainability Act was introduced in BC outlining licensing, stream protection, well and groundwater protection, water sustainability, and regulatory enforcement. BC has an opportunity to manage and address its water challenges by turning ideas into action. Protecting watershed areas and fresh water resources comes down to the available resources and means to implement changes.

Groups such as the Freshwater Alliance in British Columbia are key in the engagement process and they believe public involvement and advocacy are the best ways to protect BCs lakes, rivers, streams, and creeks. They represent over 230 non-profit groups and organizations working to protect the waters of BC and include groups that work with restoration, education and children’s programs, First Nations and indigenous organizations and governments, fishing and freshwater recreation clubs, advocacy groups, and more.

On World Water Day, this March 22, take a moment to appreciate that we live in one of the most blessed places on Earth, in terms of our ability to enjoy an abundance of clean water, and enjoy benefits of an abundant natural heritage that many can only dream of. Consider supporting local advocacy groups protecting a waterway or rivershed near you such as the Rivershed Society of BC, (www.rivershed.com), the Horsefly River Roundtable (www.horseflyriver.ca), The Baker Creek Enhancement Society (www.bakercreek.org), Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society Water Wise Program (www.ccconserv.org).

Further reading:

The Guardian, “Water: the weirdest liquid on the planet.” (https://www.theguardian.com/global/2015/may/11/water-weirdest-liquid-planet-scientists-h2o-ice-firefighters)

United Nations, World Water Day Development Report. http://www.unwater.org/publication_categories/world-water-development-report/

World Wildlife Foundation, “Watershed Threat Report.” http://watershedreports.wwf.ca/#threat

World Wildlife Foundation, “Watershed Health Report.” http://watershedreports.wwf.ca/#health/

The Real Estate Foundation of BC, “Murky Waters: Taking a Snapshot of Freshwater Sustainability in BC.” http://www.refbc.com/sites/default/files/Murky-Waters-web.pdf

BC’s Water Sustainability Act. www.engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/

Freshwater Alliance, http://www.freshwateralliance.ca/bc

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