What does it take to trigger implementation of recommendations posed to the Federal government? For the past nine months the Federal Water Strategy Team has been meeting to explore exactly that. In late 2018, the National Roundtable on Community Based Water Monitoring released a collaborative report with detailed recommendations on how the federal government could advance community based water monitoring (CBWM) efforts across the country. But has there been any action on these recommendations? We all know how frequently collaborative recommendations are published without being translated into action.
Since January 2020, 10 water leaders (NGO’s, funders, tech, academic, watershed groups) from across the country have come together, motivated by their shared goal: to spur federal action on the 2018 CBWM recommendations. Their continued commitment and regional expertise combined with third-party coordination support from OLW has created a fertile container for collaboration.
The group began by prioritizing the roundtable’s 64 sub-recommendations landing on 4 as collective priorities across the country. These 4 priorities were framed in a letter to Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada Jonathan Wilkinson which put into context why these priorities are important in today's ever changing climate.
In follow up to this letter, the Strategy Team is leaning on their government relations skills and engaging government contacts and MPs to validate CBWM as a credible and invaluable source of badly needed water data. As our momentum grows, so does the size and coverage of our Strategy Team. The group of 10 has grown to 20 representing CBWM programs in 5 provinces and with 5 National groups.
Coordinating ‘strategy teams’ is a service OLW offers to Network members working collaboratively to turn the curve on any of our collective impact measures. We provide coordination, and in some cases funding, to help maintain momentum and overcome capacity restraints that usually arise when this type of collaborative work is performed “off the sides of leaders’ desks”.
Collaboration is valuable work, we want to recognize that. And it leads to results!
Investing in 'shovel-ready' and 'shovel-worthy' jobs that advance climate resiliency and water security can create an immediate 3638 jobs and nearly 1.5 million job hours in over 300 projects across the country. By prioritizing investment in small, rural and Indigenous communities we can put people to work across numerous impacted communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Read our letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to members of the Green Recovery Taskforce, including summary of our research and the over 300 projects we identified.
42 groups came together to encourage Prime Minister Trudeau and key federal ministers to invest in natural infrastructure as a part of Canada’s COVID-19 recovery plan. In an open letter submitted on Thursday May 21st, the groups provide detailed recommendations for investment in natural infrastructure as an integral part of Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID crisis and its long-term resilience against the impending climate emergency.
The letter focuses on three key recommendations:
- Get money moving by expediting funding to projects that are “shovel-ready” and “shovel-worthy,”;
- Keep money moving by modifying existing programs to address current barriers for natural infrastructure projects; and
- Sustains support over the long term by enabling integrated policy, programs and legislation, including the establishment of a dedicated natural infrastructure fund.
Faces of the OLW Network: Lina Azeez, Watershed Watch Salmon Society
Behind each member of the OLW Network, their projects, and their efforts to help turn the curve on our collective OLW impact measures, are people. The OLW Network relies on our connections and collaborations with each other, so we want to highlight the most important aspect of the Network: you, its members.
Each month, we’re highlighting someone in the OLW Network through a Q&A interview format, taking a peek into their work lives and all the quirks that come along for the ride as we adjust to working from home. The interviews are conducted by Andrew Stegemann, Director of the OLW Network, and are edited for length and clarity.
This month’s face of the OLW Network: Lina Azeez
Lina is the Connected Waters Campaign Manager with Watershed Watch Salmon Society. She lives on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples in Vancouver, BC, and due to this pesky COVID thing, now finds herself sharing her work world with her partner, Shehzad, and her cat. More on the cat in our exchange...
Andrew: Do you have any animals in the house?
Lina: Yeeeeaaaaaahhh (extended, almost celebratory ‘yeaaah’)…. We’ve got a cat, her name is Purrrsimon Pringlesworth...
A: (laughs) That’s amazing. Pursimon Pringlesworth!?
L: Yeah, P-U-R-R-R-S-I-M-O-N
A: Is that three R’s!?
L: Yeah, it’s very funny at the vet.
A: Please tell me it’s a giant, furry, humongous … (Lina is shaking her head)
L: (Laughing) No, she’s a kitten. She’s about six months now, a little tuxedo cat. We call her Purrrsy for short. She loves to sleep on my lap when I’m working which is really nice. She spends a good amount of her morning overseeing the activities of the day out the balcony - we put her on a leash - she watches the birds and the bees, having a great time.
A: (Laughs). I love it. Okay, onto the questions… What is something positive happening in your work world during these unique times?
L: It’s really nice to see people come together and be really forgiving of each other and understanding of why some things may be delayed or not up to a certain quality we may otherwise expect. I’ve enjoyed seeing people rally to keep things going so that our projects are still relevant. We were having this conversation internally, asking, is it the time to talk about salmon when there’s a pandemic going on? We realized it is the right time, because people want to be outdoors in nature, and we want to be sure we have a nature to be out in. So, that work never stops - we need to keep making sure our watersheds continue to be protected and our salmon habitat is healthy. We not only want to be outdoors, we also want to ensure our food security, and our nature security.
A: I have heard many talk about these notions of ‘security’: food security, nature security, water security and how important they are showing themselves to be.
L: Yes, but not in a way where we have to highly manage it and take it out of its natural context, which is what we tend to do. Like, “oh no, we can’t grow food naturally so let's put it into a lab or create fish farms” and that’s the answer to our crisis. It’s about managing it naturally, so it’s not just about human needs and consumption, but also for the larger ecological functioning. For example, the work I focus on is around flood control. We need to protect communities against floods so we put up dykes and walls and channelize rivers and we try so hard to have complete control but to the detriment of everything else. Consider waterways in the Lower Mainland [area around Vancouver] that are impacted by flood structures like pump stations, which move water from the land side to the Fraser River - those pump stations will also pull fish and amphibians and they get ground up in the pumps and spit out. We’re calling for pump stations that are fish friendly so we’re improving the ability for fish to live while also providing flood infrastructure.
A: What is a quirk of your home/work life right now?
L: I’m hearing a lot more live music from people’s homes. People playing the ukulele, and just across the way, somebody is really good on the piano. I get two hours of that. And my partner - bless his soul - is taking time during the day to play his harmonica (laughs). From Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) to Happy Birthday… and I provide some vocals.
Also, the 7pm appreciation [people making noise in support of the front line workers] is wonderful. Sometimes after work we go biking, and hearing people cheer is very emotional. You can hear the echoes downtown with everyone cheering and playing trumpets, airhorns, fireworks and the boats honking as well. It feels like we’re all together. It’s really nice.
A: Last question, on the larger theme of what comes next, given this crisis, what’s your hope?
L: Oh wow, so many hopes. I have many thoughts in their infancy. I want to see us look at people differently, respecting the front line workers. Like the whole idea about universal basic income for example, I’ve always loved it and want to see it realized. For example, just yesterday I read the Arundathi Roy article, “The Pandemic is a Portal”. She’s an amazing writer, thinker and environmental activist from India and her article offered hope that the pandemic would be the door through which the world would emerge more just, supportive and changed for the better. In the economic context, I’ve been thinking about what changing the way we think about ‘business as usual’ would look like. I know it must happen. It’s been said many times already but I truly believe we cannot go back to the way things were. It’s been great to see the way companies are pivoting to address this issue - they were making one specialized thing, and now many are making PPE equipment for example. It’s not a new ask from the climate change and environmental movement to say we need to change the way we do business, but apathy, poor leadership and greed say it’s impossible. But, seeing that it is possible and that we can do it gives me hope. Also, all the before and after photos [like the state of rivers or cities and pollution]. People are remembering what it used to be like. They are remembering, but I don’t know if that’s enough, because people still need to feed the kids and house themselves, and oftentimes many governments aren’t able to provide that for their people.
From the perspective of my work, we are seeing this opportunity to talk about changing basic things we take for granted. So we can make bold asks that create systemic change like spending stimulus money on habitat restoration, governance and policy, and fish friendly flood infrastructure.
Previously featured on "Faces of the OLW Network"
We are so thrilled to share our report of annual activities for the Our Living Waters Network!
Take a flip through below or download a pdf version.
Faces of the OLW Network: Liz Hendriks, WWF Canada
Behind each member of the OLW Network, their projects, and their efforts to help turn the curve on our collective OLW impact measures are people. With all this (gestures broadly) happening around us due to COVID-19, these are truly times for family, friends and for embracing our social connections while we physically distance. The OLW Network relies on our social connections and collaborations with each other, so we want to highlight the most important aspect of the Network: you, its members.
Each month, we’re highlighting someone in the OLW Network through a Q&A interview format, taking a peek into their work lives and all the quirks that come along for the ride as we adjust to working from home, many of us with kids and pets dashing about in the background!
The interviews are conducted by Andrew Stegemann, Director of the OLW Network, and are edited for length and clarity.
This month’s face of the OLW Network: Liz Hendriks
Elizabeth Hendriks is the Vice President of Freshwater Conservation with WWF Canada. She lives in Toronto, and now finds herself sharing her work world with her family, including her partner, Pat, and her two kids, Chloe and Jack, and Bluey the fish that swim lazily behind her during video calls with her colleagues.
Andrew: What is something positive happening in your work world during these unique times?
Liz: I love that folks at WWF are being so creative and thinking about how this current situation will change how we achieve our goals. Nobody has said we can’t achieve our goals. They talk about how we will look differently at our goals and think of different ways of achieving our conservation goals. Even in uncertain times, there is a curiosity in WWF’s conservation team to drive at impact and that brings me so much hope and joy.
A: It seems like people are trying to be innovative. Is there an example of an aha moment from that?
L: We’re still very much in the brainstorming phase of this work to be honest. While we haven’t found the perfect solutions yet, there’s this willingness to rumble with change. It’s like the saying, you have to have some storming before the norming. We know a large part of our work is about the human connection. Recognizing that, we’re grappling with changing how we do what we do.
A: It reminds me that the change we need now - going through this - doesn’t mean that this is the change of forever. This will pass. Nobody knows how long, but this will pass. Moving on to the next question, what is a quirk of your home/work life right now?
L: The quirks in our home involve trying to have structure while I’m working from home. For example, yesterday we had the first online video piano lesson for my daughter, but I couldn’t figure out how to lift up the phone so the instructor could see the keys. Probably because I was trying to type one-handed on my laptop since I wasn’t part of the lesson... We’re all adapting!
We also have “Momma Time” and it’s important that the kids can see our daily schedule at eye level. But it’s all changing a lot. I’m trying to make Momma Time magical time… but sometimes you just have to sit on your kids because they’re not listening. I have a picture of me literally sitting on my child because she threw the airplane that one last time. I said, “Stop throwing the airplane”, and she didn’t. So I sat on her. Someone said, “Oh, that’s amazing!”, and I said, yeah it’s called good parenting… and not great parenting (laughs).
A: Tell me about this dedicated Momma Time.
L: The kids and I (try to) make a commitment that there are no screens, we keep our patience, and that we are present in the activity we choose collectively to do. We have chosen these rules to engage in Momma Time so it feels like something more than the normal. Right now, we’re attempting 9am - 11am. We also have a Question of the Day. My son is five, so he gets a Question of the Day at school. Right now, it’s, “Who is scarier, zombie, alien or monster?”
A: On the larger theme of what comes next, given this crisis, what’s your hope?
L: This is a great question because before these changes, a lot of my job and discussions were talking about how we can control and manipulate the external world for the goals we want. This time is teaching me how little control we have and how important being in the moment is. Frozen 2 is very popular in my household and one of the main songs is about what’s the next right thing you can do. I think how much of this time - even though it’s only been a few weeks - has already taught me to be in this moment and how little is in our control. When I think about what’s next - I know we have an opportunity to restructure how our communities and society are structured. By doing the next right thing, I hope we build something better through this challenging time, that we can build a different future by living into today.
From 2013 to 2017, 890 million cubic metres of untreated sewage and wastewater effluent was released from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into 844 different waterbodies across Canada. For some context, this equates to untreated sewage flowing over Niagara Falls for 3.7 days, or 88.8 hours. This also means it could fill everyone's bathtub in Canada 148 times. So how do we have such precise numbers? And why is it important to have this information open to the public?
Where the numbers comes from
This information comes from recently published data on Canada’s Open Government Portal. In 2018, Swim Drink Fish submitted a formal request to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to release data in relation to sewage pollution in Canada on the Open Government Portal. The release of this data would provide free, on-demand access to machine readable data files for sewage pollution nationwide. On November 25th, 2019 ECCC released this data that was gathered under Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations (WSER). This release sets an important precedent publishing other environmental regulatory data for public consumption.
WSER came into effect in 2012 under the Fisheries Act to help manage wastewater releases by systems that collect an average daily influent volume of 100 cubic metres or more. These regulations relate specifically to subsection 36 in the Act, which is the key pollution prevention provision, that prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances like sewage and wastewater effluent into waters frequented by fish. The work done by ECCC to release this data provides a framework for publishing other environmental regulatory data to the Open Government Portal.
Turning the Curve on Combined Sewer Overflows
Why are these publicly available datasets so important? Open data are the building blocks of open knowledge. According to the Open Knowledge Foundation open data is vital for information transparency and scientific advancement. Open data means everyone including scientists, policy-makers, non-profits, and the public has access to the same raw materials. The information and knowledge contained in the WSER datasets are key to turning the curve on Combined Sewer Overflows across Canada. The WSER data contains information on when and where sewage is released, and whether wastewater treatment facilities are meeting regulations as they relate to the Fisheries Act.
Information Contained in the WSER Data
Four different reports were released on the Open Government Portal, all with very important information enclosed:
- The Identification Report. This dataset contains detailed information on all the wastewater treatment facilities across Canada. The information ranges from the average volume of effluent deposited per day from wastewater systems, whether the effluent is deposited in water frequented by fish, and also a description of use of water at the discharge point (i.e. recreation like swimming, fishing, boating…).
- The Acute Lethality Report. This dataset reports on whether the effluent released from wastewater treatment facilities passed/failed the acutely lethal test for rainbow trout. The Acute Lethality test was developed specifically for determining the acute lethality of effluent from industrial and wastewater facilities.This test is used across Canada by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to monitor and control industrial and wastewater effluent.
- The Monitoring Report. This report contains information on water quality, including results of effluent testing under the Fisheries Act. It tells us whether the effluent released by wastewater treatment facilities is below the accepted limit for suspended solids (SS) and carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand (CBOD). Both SS and CBOD should not exceed 25 mg/L according to section 6(1) of the Fisheries Act.
- The Combined Sewer Overflow Report. This report contains detailed information about CSOs for all cities in Canada with combined sewer systems (excluding the province of Quebec). The data contains the estimated volume of sewage released on a monthly basis at specified combined sewer outfall locations. The report contains the latitude and longitude for all combined sewer outfalls across Canada. In all, this report provides all the information we need to know when and where, and the amount of sewage released into waterbodies across Canada.
According to Environment Canada, wastewater is one of the largest sources of surface water pollution in the country. The information contained in these datasets is an important step for Turning the Curve on combined sewer overflows and wastewater pollution in Canada. The knowledge that can be gained from these 4 datasets helps everyone tackle sewage and wastewater problems at both a local and national level. To download all of the reports listed above visit: https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/9e11e114-ef0d-4814-8d93-24af23716489
Story photo by Flavia Lopez. This photo illustrates one of the impacts of sewage pollution from combined sewer overflows in the City of Toronto. In the photo you can see items that are flushed down the toilet including wet wipes and feminine hygiene products.
A new online platform will help close the gap between data and decision-making.
Lake Winnipeg DataStream is an open-access, online portal for water-quality data. Led nationally by The Gordon Foundation, Lake Winnipeg DataStream launched in collaboration with LWF on March 20, 2019. Lake Winnipeg’s portal is the third in the national DataStream network, pioneered in the Mackenzie River watershed by The Gordon Foundation and the government of the Northwest Territories in 2016.
Advancing LWF’s core commitment to open and accessible information, Lake Winnipeg DataStream offers a platform to support strategic collaboration and innovative approaches to water policy and management.
Data sets now accessible online include phosphorus data collected by the Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network, long-term ecological reference data from IISD Experimental Lakes Area, and water-monitoring data from Environment and Climate Change Canada and Manitoba Sustainable Development. Provincial data contributions represent an important step in fulfilling a commitment, made at LWF’s request in 2018, to share provincial data online annually.
In today’s rapidly changing environment, no one agency or organization has the capacity to do it all. Combining data from government, industry and citizen sources gives us a clearer understanding of our freshwater resources, to support evidence-based decision-making.
Explore more online at lakewinnipegdatastream.ca
*posted with permission from Lake Winnipeg Foundation
The uptake of Atlantic DataStream has been tremendous with 40 environmental non profits, provincial and federal governments coming on board to share their water quality data since the open access database went live in June 2018. However this wasn’t always the case. Following the kick off event, we had just under 30 monitoring groups online and still many others who were eager to share their water quality datasets. So many that it was clear that additional support was needed to get this valuable information online.
Atlantic Water Network works with several organizations throughout the Atlantic region, many of whom had decades worth of data, but this information was not always available in accessible formats. Even with today’s technology, we hear stories of groups who have years of valuable information that is only found in paper copies, and in some cases, stored away in filing cabinets or even shoe boxes! Atlantic DataStream now makes sharing data even easier than before, with a standardized format aligned with the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency’s WQX format and safely stored incorporating Blockchain technology.
From literal shoeboxes to digitized formats, groups like St. Croix International Waterway Commission are working towards getting their water quality dataset of 15 years in one central location. With the heavy lifting of digitizing their data complete, they can be assured that this invaluable dataset is securely stored and accessible for decision makers to use in policy-making and design.
In addition to support from OLW, uptake of Atlantic DataStream was also made possible through project funding from the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund and Canadian Internet Registry Authority. The NB ETF funded our Project, “New Brunswick Historical Water Quality Data Acquisition: Historic Data Informing Future Decision Making”, with the goal of building capacity among New Brunswick watershed groups to format and upload their data to Atlantic DataStream. AWN staff trained and supported NB watershed groups as they formatted and uploaded decades worth of water quality data. This was a unique approach in that we provided both financial support and staff time to get as much New Brunswick water quality data online as possible.
Funding from CIRA supported our Water to Web workshop series that addressed Data Management of water quality data. Data management plays a key role in organizing, sharing and communicating the results of monitoring programs, but is often left until the last minute or skipped entirely. The Water to Web workshops to highlight data management and help groups integrate it into their program planning.
Even though the growth in water quality data has grown tremendously (there is nearly three times the amount of data on Atlantic DataStream compared to June 2019), there is still a lot more data that could be made accessible by uploading it to the online platform. AWN is committed to working with data holders from all sectors to make their water quality data available on Atlantic DataStream.
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