On April 11, 2019, a wide range of people united by their common concern for Canada’s water future – water and climate scientists, policy experts, legislators, and water decision rights-holders and stakeholders – gathered in Ottawa to discuss solutions for Canada’s emerging water crisis. The event featured a beautiful venue, distinguished panel, and attendance by federal ministers and other senior leaders. But the keystone piece of this event was a report, Water Security for Canadians: Solutions for Canada’s Emerging Water Crisis, that was the culmination of months of work by a coalition of groups who recognize the urgent need for more active federal leadership on water. In January 2020, the POLIS Water Sustainability Project hosted a webinar that discussed the report and key developments since its release.
The Canada Water Act (CWA) is an outdated piece of legislation that is unable to ensure federal water governance can effectively address increasingly complex and pressing water challenges. The Water Security report proposes a radical renewal of the CWA, including the creation of new federal water institutions and a co-drafting process with Indigenous Nations. The report was designed to be impactful, targeting federal decision-makers by laying out a multi-faceted case for legislative renewal that will lead to significant cost savings, more effective governance, and fulfillment of Canada’s commitment to Indigenous peoples.
The report has not had a chance to collect any dust since the launch event in Ottawa. It was well-received at the 2019 Canadian Water Resources Association conference in May, where the report’s main authors hosted a session dedicated to their findings. The report was the basis of engagement work during the 2019 federal election, and was sent to each of the main political parties. We were pleased to see some of the ideas from the report included in election platforms of multiple parties and, following the election, establishment of a new Canada Water Agency as a key priority in the mandate letter issued to Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Johnathan Wilkinson, by the Prime Minister. The introduction of a new Agency presents an opportunity for advocates to propose ideas around its scope, mandate, and core functions. It could also provide an opening for federal policy and legislative renewal on water (e.g., modernized Canada Water Act) under future governments.
Written by: the Forum for Leadership on Water
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.
“A $20 bill may feed us a meal, but it will never sustain us,” said a panelist at the Assembly of First Nations Water Symposium, which gathered close to 500 Indigenous water guardians, technicians, government officials and allies. Our Living Waters was on hand to listen and learn from the priorities and discussions at the gathering.
A recurring theme, as the panelist quoted above suggests, focused on building the long-term capacity of Indigenous communities to engage in and solve water challenges themselves. A panel on women and water highlighted this from a technical point of view, stating politicians, companies and non-governmental organizations all want to ‘help solve the crisis of water in First Nations communities’. But, all the panelists emphasized that First Nations should be leading the collaborative efforts. Solving First Nation’s drinking water problems has to be about more than outside organizations knocking on doors selling the latest technological fixes. Rather, Nations need to be engaged as leaders on what solutions are required, and then supported to solve the problems and more importantly, to sustain the solutions now and into the future.
Also, a big focus at the Symposium was the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. The Act received almost unanimous condemnation by the crowd. Though the criticisms of the Act itself run deep, it’s the process of the legislation’s creation that tops the long list of priority actions. It may best be framed in the words of AFN staff member Irving Leblanc, “Nothing about us, without us.” Drafting legislation about First Nations with inadequate input is beyond insufficient. The legislation, at the very least, should be co-drafted by diverse representation of Canada’s First Nations communities. Check out these documents for more on AFNs analysis of the Act: SDWFN Preliminary Concepts; Water Legislative Reform 2019-2020.
This led to some of my own reflections on how we, as a majority settler base, can do better at allying ourselves with First Nations water concerns. There is certainly overlap in OLW Network priorities to those I heard at the symposium, so the content of what we are concerned about align. However, our priorities and our strategies for implementing priority actions needs to be co-defined with our indigenous partners and allies. And that’s going to take resources, capacity and patience to learn alongside each other. Reconciliation starts at home and in each of our respective organizations.
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!
Bill C-68, which will modernize Canada’s Fisheries Act, is in the final, critical stages of the legislative process. After three years of public engagement, consultation with diverse stakeholders and interests, and deliberation by elected officials, we have a strong bill that goes a long way to delivering on the mandate issued by the Prime Minister to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to “restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards” to the Fisheries Act.
Soon to be under review by the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Bill C-68 introduces the most progressive changes to Canada’s Fisheries Act in half a century. In anticipation of the review, a group of over 20 environmental and conservation organizations from across the country submitted a brief to the Senate Committee to share our key interests and concerns, and - most importantly - to urge the Committee to undertake its work as quickly as possible. The clock is ticking down on this Parliament and it is critical that policy makers in Ottawa deliver on this unprecedented opportunity to modernize one of Canada’s oldest and most important environmental laws.
Our brief, titled Sustaining healthy fisheries, waters and economies, proposes minor amendments to strengthen provisions dealing with rebuilding of depleted fish stocks and improving habitat banking. But the main focus is on defending one of the most important modernizations in the Bill: addition of the “quantity, timing and quality of water flows” – what we in the freshwater community know as environmental flows – to the definition of fish habitat. Some industry and agricultural organizations are calling for this change to be removed from the Bill, arguing that it will mean that municipal water pipes, rainwater running off of city streets or farm fields, or even puddles, may now be designated as fish habitat. This is not what the science of environmental flows entails, nor is it the intent of the updates to the law. The changes simply reflect what we have long understood: fish live in a three-dimensional world, and cannot use a spawning habitat or feeding ground if it is not covered with the right amount of clean water at the right time of year.
We expect the Senate Committee to begin hearings on Bill C-68 in early April. That leaves only three short months for Senators and MPs to work together to get the legislation to the finish line before the Parliament rises in June for the last time before the fall election.
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.
“One trillion litres of sewage leaked into Canadian lakes and rivers over last five years”. Such was the jaw-dropping headline that spurred national media coverage of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) this summer.
Not surprisingly, we heard from many shocked Canadians. How did they not know this was happening? How could 21st-century Canadian cities still be releasing untreated sewage into their waterways at such a massive scale? And what can be done to fix this? For many years, we’ve been asking ourselves those very questions. With help from the Our Living Waters 2030 Fund, we set out to begin answering them.
Why haven’t most people heard about the magnitude of CSOs in Canada? Or if they have, why was it from the news media and not from the municipalities where they swim, drink and fish?
The answer, in short, is lack of transparency.
Municipalities in Canada are required to report CSO occurrences annually to the federal government. Most do (although several remain non-compliant), but that information never makes it into the public realm unless municipalities themselves choose to release it—which is a rare occurrence indeed. That’s why we’ve been working to have Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations (WSER) data published on the Open Government Portal.
So what can we do to fix a problem that’s happening at such a massive scale (remember—that's one trillion litres)? One thing that has become clear is that no one group can tackle this issue nationally with a cookie-cutter approach. Indeed, each of the 269 Canadian municipalities where CSOs occur has a unique set of circumstances. Local community groups and well-informed decision-makers may be the best placed to shine a spotlight on the issue and press for change. It’s with these groups in mind that we developed a comprehensive, bilingual resource called Tacking Combined Sewer Overflows: A Toolkit for Community Action.
Based on lessons learned by Ottawa Riverkeeper and others, as well as the successful reduction of CSOs in the City of Ottawa in recent years, the toolkit provides a roadmap for community groups and proactive decision-makers who are keen to make a difference in their community. Already viewed nearly 800 times in the first two weeks after publication, we look forward to continuing to distribute and promote the toolkit and its roadmap.