Building communities connected to water

It may seem cliché but no saying is more true than “Water is Life”. Water unites us. It connects our communities. It fuels our economies. Unfortunately, we continue to take water for granted. Its connecting force, its fuel, its life force exists in each of our subconscious. We know its value but we don’t always (or even often) consider it in our day-to-day decision making. If we are going to make water decision-making more prominent in people’s minds, we need to bring the value of water into the forefront of our consciousness.

When interacting with water, we are more quick to understand its value. People interacting more regularly with water - either passively (walking along the shores, enjoying the view, picnicking with family) or actively (boating, swimming, fishing) are more likely to support efforts to defend, or protect, its health. This may speak to why many (all?)  indigenous communities have an intrinsic connection to water. Water is a focus element for their cultural stories, interactions, and to their way of being and living on the land.

If we want greater engagement of the Canadian public in issues around freshwater health, then we need to amplify water into the consciousness of the public. To do this, we need to heighten their experiences, and their stories, of how they interact with our freshwater spaces.

The Waterkeeper’s WaterMark project exemplifies this approach. The project, collects people’s memorable moments on, in or near water, and begins engaging people by connecting with their stories and their experiences with water.  

The project has collected 1000s of watermarks (see image above), which mark what they refer to as, the “gateway to water literacy” - the first step in their defined pathway to water leadership.

In a similar manner, the Great Lakes Commons has been travelling around the region exploring people's connections to water and opportunities to advance water leadership. Stories of connection are also shared in their online tool, the great lakes commons map. The notion of strengthening relationships with water has become central to their activities. If our communities have strong relationships with water then they naturally empower water leaders who defend and protect its health.

How are your initiatives in the community building and strengthening the conscious bond between local residents and visitors and the region’s waters?


This blog series is inspired by a ½ day exploratory conversation convened through the Our Living Waters Network.  At the meeting, a small group of network members and supporters explored the dominant freshwater narratives that we’ve encountered in our work for freshwater health across Canada. Participants of the workshop included: Canadian Freshwater Alliance, Great Lakes Commons, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Tides Canada. The opinions throughout the series represent those of the author and not necessarily any of the workshop participants.

Lindsay Telfer
About Lindsay Telfer
Mom, organizer, capacity builder, outdoor enthusiast, justice advocate. Thoughts posted are my own :).
Building communities connected to water
Building communities connected to water
Imagine a Canada where all waters are in good health: