Imagine watching the water rush over Niagara Falls for a full 24-hours. Now imagine it wasn’t water at all…imagine it was raw sewage. That is how much sewage was dumped into Canadian waterways in 2017. That’s 270 million cubic metres.
Where does this sewage come from? Either areas that offer no treatment, so it just flows (if that’s the word) untreated into our water bodies, or from combined sewer overflows – sewer systems that combine both wastewater and stormwater, and when they hit their maximum levels, they overflow.
We all intuitively understand that sewage is yucky. Nobody is excited to swim, paddle or fish in sewage-affected waters. And, as you can imagine, untreated sewage wreaks havoc on water quality, and can include a who’s who list of contaminants including all kinds of bacteria (like E.Coli), viruses (like Giardia) and parasites which can make people and animals sick—and may even be lethal. It is also very high in phosphorus and nitrogen, contributing to nutrient pollution that can drive toxic algal blooms.
Though this news is not great for our waters, it is a win that Statistics Canada is now publishing the information on a new public access portal. The data shows that BC is leading the nation in total sewage released into waterways (both CSOs and untreated discharges), followed by Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Looking at Combine Sewer Overflows alone, Quebec leads the nation, followed by British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario.
But thanks to the work of Our Living Waters Network members, there are solutions to our combined sewer overflow problems. Check out the toolkit "Tackling Combined Sewer Overflows" developed by Ottawa Riverkeeper.
On the positive side, let’s look at what a few communities are doing to solve the combine sewer overflow problem:
- The City of Ottawa is currently building a Combined Sewage Storage Tunnel, a storage facility designed to hold up to 43 million litres of sewage and stormwater. The tunnel is intended to create more capacity for combined sewers, which would take pressure off existing infrastructure in times of heavy precipitation and therefore decrease instances of overflow events. Notwithstanding this project, it would not have prevented at least nine CSO events in 2017, which generated more volume than the tunnel can hold. The tunnel, which will be operational in 2020, should stop CSOs in all but extreme weather events.
- Although the scope of the CSOs is particularly daunting in Vancouver, there is work underway to address the issue. For example, Metro Vancouver (the regional government consisting of 22 member municipalities) is slowly separating stormwater sewers from wastewater sewers, with the goal to eliminate all CSOs by the year 2050. They are prioritizing sewers that are the worst offenders. They have also required all 22 member municipalities to adopt Integrated Stormwater Management Plans, which include actions like integrating green infrastructure into land-use planning in order to minimize runoff that makes its way to sewer systems in the first place. The City of Vancouver is also in the process of developing a Rain City Strategy, with the goal of minimizing runoff by capturing and cleaning 90% of rainwater that falls in the city.
While solutions need to be enacted in these specific places, it is ultimately a national challenge. One that OLW Network members are committed to turn the curve on (ending Canada’s sewage pollution problem is a priority for the OLW Network).
If you are driving solutions to Canada’s sewage pollution problem or are looking to collaborate with those who are, please reach out so we can connect you with like-minded organizations.
In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This global agenda aims to catalyze actions necessary for humans to live sustainably with each other and the planet by focusing on a variety of thematic areas including people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. To inspire action, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been developed and specific targets and indicators have been created under each goal to measure progress.
While reaching the SDGs is going to take many organizations all across the world, for each individual organization, it means understanding the important part we play in the larger picture.
The work of the Our Living Waters Network - and the OLW shared measurement system, which drives many of the collaborative actions we take - is well aligned with many of the SDGs. In particular SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, but also with specific targets and indicators within SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG 14: Life Below Water, SDG 15: Life on Land, and SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals.
We know many organizations, from governments to non-profit organizations, funders to businesses, are actively determining how to achieve the SDGs, and as a member of the OLW Network, we invite you to explore our handy guide: Our Living Waters and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which demonstrates how the OLW shared measurement system, and much of the work that you do, helps achieve these SDGs. We hope you will find this guide useful if you are looking to demonstrate how your activities contribute to the SDGs.
Taking a step back, the guide also shows how the OLW shared measurement system provides an excellent roadmap on how to achieve many parts of the SDGs, especially SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, within the Canadian context, allowing us all to play our important part in the larger picture.
In 2018, we were excited to launch our second round of grants under the Our Living Waters 2030 Fund. In total $97,000 were distributed to Our Living Waters member groups to collaboratively advance progress on at least one of our 24 impact measures. Priorities for the fund were established directly by our members through an annual survey which helps us align member focus across our impact measures given limited funding dollars. (Not an OLW Network member yet? Sign up here).
It’s amazing what a little bit can do! With these funds, Our Living Waters Network members are now working towards the following inspiring outcomes:
- Positioning fresh water as a priority issue in the lead up to the federal election;
- Working toward renewal of the Canada Water Act with Indigenous and non-indigenous partners;
- Advancing the launch of data hubs in the Columbia, Atlantic and Lake Winnipeg regions;
- Providing tools and support for communities to address sewage problems in their watershed;
- Working with 18 communities across Canada to advance adoption of transformative green infrastructure programs;
- Supporting indigenous representation at the 2018 Living Waters Rally; and
- Helping support 75 water leaders attend a national community based monitoring round-table in Ottawa to advance federal support for citizen science initiatives.
Want to read about the fantastic accomplishments Network members have already made with 2017 grants from the OLW 2030 Fund? Check out these impact stories and be ready to be inspired!
These stories all highlight that together we can make a difference. Thank you to all members of the freshwater community for doing what you do!
On November 27-28, 2018, a national discussion focused on identifying potential government supports for community-based water monitoring (CBWM) initiatives took place in Ottawa. More than 70 attendees, from across Canada, took part.
The discussion was convened by OLW Member groups: The Gordon Foundation, Living Lakes Canada and WWF-Canada. It brought together experts, innovators and practitioners from across the water sector to share unique perspectives regarding initiatives to monitor and protect watersheds across Canada.
The day and a half discussion considered how the federal government can meaningfully and effectively engage with and support CBWM work.
Representatives from local, regional and national initiatives were present. They included: CBWM practitioners; federal government scientists and policy makers; environmental non-governmental organizations; members of First Nations communities and academics.
Collectively, the participants sought to identify actionable steps the federal government can take to show leadership and support in advancing community-based monitoring of freshwater ecosystems in Canada.
Across Canada there is growing awareness that communities are deeply connected to their waters and best placed to see changes to their rivers, streams and lakes as they happen.
As a result, CBWM initiatives are gaining national momentum. The growth of these programs is an opportunity for the federal government to advance a number of its core environmental priorities while simultaneously building meaningful relationships with community-led efforts at the forefront of freshwater monitoring and protection.
This workshop aimed to develop a shared set of concrete recommendations to make the most of existing federal investments in CBWM and guide efforts to ensure that programming across departments is well coordinated and effectively addresses community needs.
Participants workshopped draft recommendations focused on the following key thematic areas: (1) Capacity building; (2) Effective monitoring; (3) Data management; (4) Facilitating regional and national collaboration; (5) Mobilizing knowledge for action; and (6) Sustainable funding. Stay tuned, in next month, for a draft of recommendations that emerged from the discussion.
Active participation by representatives from CBWM initiatives and government departments alike ensured local expertise and federal realities informed the discussions, and that these focused on finding common ground while avoiding one-size-fits-all solutions.
Water knowledge is power - supporting community based monitoring efforts in the Kaska Dene Territory
WWF staff, along with partners from Living Lakes Canada, arrived to the Kaska Dene Territory of the Liard River watershed, in Northeastern BC this past September to beautiful fall weather and stunning autumn colours as far as the eye could see. They were there to support the development of a local water monitoring program with a training and baseline sample collection, supported by the Our Living Waters 2030 Fund.
James, a Guardian from the local nation, was particularly excited to participate. He’s taking courses in environmental science and was told by his professor to jump on any opportunity to receive CABIN certification. Not long after, he was invited to complete this training – truly an example of mutual benefit received from this collaboration.
All Canadians deserve to know if their water is healthy. The national picture painted through WWF-Canada’s Watershed Reports however identified an alarming lack of data across the country. Nationally we use information about water health to inform development planning and to understand cumulative effects. But to the communities living in a watershed, water knowledge is power, and to the Dane Nan Yḗ Dāh Guardians of the Daylu Dena Council and Dease River First Nation, understanding the baseline conditions of their watershed will empower their nation to make development decisions that won’t compromise the integrity of their traditional territory.
The Kaska Dena territory includes portions of the Liard River watershed. The Kaska Dena Guardian program - the Dane Nan Yḗ Dāh program, managed by the Dena Kayeh Institute - has monitored several environmental indicators but until recently it had not included a water monitoring component. WWF-Canada identified the Central Liard sub-watershed within the Kaska Dena territory, as a priority watershed for benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring, which led to the perfect opportunity for WWF-Canada and the Dane Nan Yḗ Dāh Guardians to work together.
To help establish a new monitoring program, WWF-Canada supported, and Living Lakes Canada led, the training and certification in CABIN protocol to six people including Guardians, Dena Kayeh Institute staff and Daylu Dena Council staff. The Guardians, Dena Kayeh Institute and Daylu Dena Council staff spent two days receiving certification in CABIN protocol. The Dena Kayeh Institute identified potential monitoring sites based on traditional knowledge, ecological importance and community priorities. The sites monitored spanned the Upper Liard and the Central Liard sub-watersheds.
After every person successfully received their certification, the Guardians along with WWF-Canada and Living Lakes Canada staff sampled a total of 5 sites using the CABIN protocol. The Guardians will continue monitoring these sites according to their needs and priorities on an ongoing basis. The baseline knowledge they receive will inform nation-to-nation governance and allow them to better manage their own territory, as well as help complete the national picture on the health of all Canada’s watersheds.
Another region in Canada is launching a public and open-access hub for water data. Joining the Mackenzie region, Atlantic DataStream will be your one-stop shop for data on water quality in Atlantic Canada. With over 20 groups, including NGOs, federal, and municipal governments, and First Nations feeding into the hub, it will become the most comprehensive and accessible data-set on freshwater in the region, covering all 4 provinces with dozens of parameters and all centralized in one easy access online hub.
The project came to fruition a few years ago after the Community-Based Environmental Monitoring Network (CBEMN), out of Saint Mary’s University, partnered with WWF-Canada to host a water forum in the region. Carolyn Dubois of The Gordon Foundation presented on the MacKenzie DataStream project they had just launched, and the pieces of the puzzle all fell into place from there. The CBEMN had been compiling community-based monitoring data from across the region for years, and the DataStream platform gave them the opportunity to channel that data using online, accessible and new visualization tools.
Anyone who monitors water quality in the region can feed their data into the hub. The database will also provide space for groups to describe the methodology and approach used to collect the data, and allow for comparability across the region. Entire field seasons can be uploaded at once making it an easy step for organizations working on the ground to collect data. This week’s launch of Atlantic DataStream also marks the launch of the new Atlantic Water Network, consolidating the water programs of CBEMN and networking water monitoring groups throughout the region.
Stay tuned as the first field season for Atlantic DataStream comes to an end and the official launch of Atlantic DataStream takes place this Fall. Following this first season, look for the workshops for groups on inputting data, and data management and digitizing your groups water data. Information from Atlantic DataStream will also feed into updates to WWF-Canada’s watershed health reports, which are regularly updated via their interactive online tool.
Thanks to our members for completing our 2018 Our Living Waters Priorities survey. 77% responded, giving us confidence that these priorities are truly reflective of OLW Network members.
Here’s a summary of what you told us.Read more
On June 13th we hosted WWF-Canada as they launched the first comprehensive report on the health of Canada's freshwater ecosystems. 5-years in the making, this assessment reviews Canada's 25 major watersheds and 167 sub-watersheds for detailed data that together paints an important picture on the health of waters.