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.
Earlier this year, nearly 80% of our Network members shared their thoughts on what opportunities were most ripe for national collaboration and action. This input is the guiding force behind the identification of the Our Living Waters Network Priorities for the coming year.
In establishing these priorities we identify important opportunities to collectively advance towards our goal for all Canada’s waters to be in good health.
In no particular order, our 2019 Priorities are:
These priorities guide our Network activities and opportunities to support collaboration.
It's been a busy and productive year for us, and all our 75 members, of the Our Living Waters Network. Celebrate with us as we review the work of the network, the impacts that we've driven by supporting collaboration of network members to turn the curve on one of our 24 impact measures. We also added a new winning condition - restorative economies - along with 3 related impact measures. We continue to establish our baselines with 54% of our measures now with baseline numbers.
Check out our 2018 Annual Report.
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.
In 2017, the first working year of the Our Living Waters Network, Green Communities Canada and the Canadian Freshwater Alliance collaborated to explore how green infrastructure was transforming the way rain and stormwater was being managed in our communities. 40 communities across the country, varying in size, completed a self-assessment on stormwater and green infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the results reinforced our suspicion that we have a ways to go. Although many communities have pilot projects that use green infrastructure to help manage stormwater, few have evolved to integrating these solutions as central components in their communities’ official plans.
To address this gap and help turn the curve on this OLW impact measure, the Canadian Freshwater Alliance and Green Communities Canada set up a Community of Practice to support local non-profit groups to advance uptake of green infrastructure. The goal? To grow the number of communities transforming the way rainwater is managed using green infrastructure tools and initiatives.
The project is building a network of applied practitioners working to advance green infrastructure as a key tool in freshwater health and climate resilience in communities around the country. Six groups in the Community of Practice developed local action plans that mapped out strategies and actions to transform the landscape in their respective communities with green infrastructure.
Stay tuned as these action plans get underway. We will profile work in these regions and test how they are leading to transformative green infrastructure solutions.
Want to get involved? The Community of Practice is open to new members. Contact us to find out how you can join and start driving local action for green infrastructure!
Primary tools: The Soak it up! toolkit and stormwater scorecard
Estuaries are amongst Canada’s rarest and most productive habitats. The dynamic nature of estuaries makes them a hotspot for biodiversity and they are also a migratory stopover habitat both for species moving from the ocean into rivers and for bird species traveling north/south along the coast. Yet the very dynamism that results in such natural productivity has produced a jurisdictional quagmire resulting in very limited protection for these vital elements of Canada’s rivers.
Our Living Waters is pleased to partner with Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada to bring you three leaders working on estuary conservation in BC, Dr. Jonathan Moore, Dr. Tara Martin and lawyer Deborah Carlson.
In this webinar, these three leaders will share their thoughts on why estuaries are so important, explore some of the many threats facing the Fraser estuary and seed ideas on potential measures that can be taken to conserve these ecosystems.Read more