Moving the dial on freshwater protection in Canada

This is an excerpt of a piece written by Andrew Stegemann in the lead up to the 2014 Living Waters Rally.  Andrew has since left his position at MEC to work as an independent consultant.  He remains a senior advisor to Our Living Waters.

From canoeing to backpacking, almost every single activity that MEC supports involves water. This means that our more than 3.5 million Canadian members have a keen interest in ensuring that Canada’s rivers, streams and lakes are ecologically intact; as a result, our move into the freshwater conservation space is a no-brainer. In addition to providing financial resources, MEC is in a great position to reach a large number of people and inspire them to take action.

To figure out the most effective role that MEC could play, I began by calling a bunch of smart people working on freshwater issues.

They were all excited that MEC was ready to help, but I was repeatedly told that a general outreach campaign wouldn’t be that effective. So, I asked, how can we really make a difference? How can we support something larger within the Canadian freshwater movement? Unfortunately, no one had an answer.

Soon after, I met with Oliver Brandes, co-director of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, and Tim Morris, co-founder of the Freshwater Alliance, and noted that there are so many great ideas around helping Canada’s fresh water problems. I asked: has anyone written down all these ideas- what success would look like in order to fix Canada’s fresh water problems? No one apparently had, so at that Vancouver pub we started making our own list… and ordered another beer.

Oliver and Tim told me that in order to really make a difference on fresh water, we needed, as a community, to create a theory of change. This led to conference calls with a few others including Freshwater Alliance director Lindsay Telfer and Tony Maas, co-founder and Steering Committee Chair for the Freshwater Alliance, who at the time was transitioning out of his long-time role as freshwater program director at WWF-Canada.

It was clear that we were on to something, and that the conversation needed to be expanded further. Tony expressed interest in coordinating the resulting effort, subsequently dubbed Our Living Waters, that has involved a dozen or so freshwater thinkers and funders coming together a few times over the past year to start figuring out what it would take to amplify the impact of the many, diverse organizations that make up Canada’s water community. One of the keys to doing so identified by the group was a clear, common agenda for change, starting with a big, hairy, audacious goal (or BHAG). Borrowing from one of the world’s most progressive water plans, the EU Water Framework Directive, Our Living Waters is framed by a BHAG of all waters in Canada in good ecological health by 2025.

Stating a BHAG is one thing; achieving it is quite another. But the Our Living Waters crew truly believes it is possible if the energy, capacity and experience of Canada’s water community can be coordinated in ways that reinforce one another so that as a whole, we become a force greater than the sum of our parts.

The 2014 Living Waters Rally is the perfect time and place to take Our Living Waters to the next level – to take what has been developed so far and open it up to your input, your ideas and your commitment! That is the only way we can build and sustain a truly common agenda for Canada’s water community. Intrigued?  I hope so, I sure am. And I look forward to seeing you at the Rally to continue the conversation.

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