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.
The K’omoks Estuary is a special place in the Comox Valley in British Columbia. Majestic Sitka spruce forests, Garry oak ecosystems and extensive tidal flats are home to a variety of birds, fish and other wildlife. The area has a rich Indigenous history, most notably an abundance of well-preserved wooden stakes that make up ancient fish traps used by aboriginal communities for over 1,000 years.
Project Watershed has been active in the Comox Valley since the early 1990’s, and have prioritized the protection and restoration of the K’omoks Estuary, including notable sites like the Kus-Kus-Sum estuary and Courtenay Air Park lagoon. They are working to increase green floodplain infrastructure in the region to address flooding and rainwater management by increasing flood resilience, infiltration and ecosystem health.
The communities in the Comox Valley are highly attuned to the importance of environmental protection and many of the area’s municipal and provincial politicians are supportive. But an increased influx of new residents from nearby Vancouver and Victoria means 40% of the community has lived in the area for less than five years, and there is work to be done to raise the profile of local environmental challenges.
Project Watershed has been working to develop an overall green infrastructure vision for the Valley to address challenges such as flooding and rainwater management. They determined that the well-known and beloved Kus-Kus-Sum estuary, alongside other popular local parks and greenspaces, would make great demonstration sites to showcase the importance of green infrastructure in the valley.
Kus-kus-sum is an ancient burial site that was industrialized with the construction of a sawmill site in the later half of the 20th century. The site now sits with concrete, metal walls along the riverside, and an asbestos filled building on site. Project Watershed, in partnership with the local K’omoks First Nation and the City of Courtenay, have a Memorandum of Understanding to purchase and restore the land to its ancestral existence.
Funding from all levels of government and support from the community are necessary in order to achieve the purchase and restoration price tag of 6.5 million dollars.
They hosted a tour of six local sites, with the participants being invited to tour on foot or by kayak. Local speakers and volunteers were engaged to lead the tours and share information about each location, and its potential to contribute to a green infrastructure floodplain.
With a goal of spreading the message of the value of green infrastructure far and wide, Project Watershed invited local decision makers of all political stripes, including the mayors and councillors of three area municipalities, school trustees, regional government officials, two MLA’s, two MP’s, and First Nations communities.
They deliberately kept the tour groups small to ensure a low ratio of volunteers speakers to participants. Lots of personal time for participants meant they really heard and absorbed the messages the speakers were sharing.
The group got a lot of positive feedback from tour participants, and many volunteer speakers indicated they felt strongly that they had a positive influence on their audience. Local councillors said they had gotten in-depth and practical information that would help them in their future planning in the Valley. Building relationships between the host organization and the areas decision-makers was an added bonus of the event that will contribute to the success of green infrastructure planning in the region.
Since scheduling is always a challenge for busy mayors and councillors, the event organizers opted to create laminated maps with speaking notes that could be shared beyond the event. A compelling video was also created showing footage of the walking tour and kayak trip, with a concise but informative narrative about the value of green infrastructure and the potential of local sites.
The Town of Sackville, New Brunswick prides itself on their proximity to Tantramar marshes, the Bay of Fundy and the suite of nature-based recreational opportunities available. A University town, the community has a self-described cosmopolitan, artistic and pedestrian-friendly vibe.
EOS Eco-Energy has been active in Sackville and the surrounding Memramcook-Tantramar region for more than 15 years. Focused on promoting renewable energy, sustainable development and climate change action, EOS’ focus on community-based solutions has ingrained them in the fabric of the town.
Building on years of climate change adaptation and green infrastructure efforts, EOS undertook the first depaving project in the Tantramar Region in the spring of 2019. Optimally located next to the Sackville Farmers Market in Bill Johnstone Memorial Park, the project involved depaving a 335 sq ft parking area and laying down a permeable pavement layer. The permeable asphalt and its base layers allow rainwater to pass through to the soil below, unlike traditional asphalt which directs water to storm drains.
The project not only addressed a significant draining problem in the parking lot, but also raised public awareness of and desire for green infrastructure solutions in the community.
Softening the Ground
EOS’ work on the town’s first depaving site began long before the first shovel broke ground. In the spring, they held a Community-Based Social Marketing workshop to develop approaches to build community support and influence social norms around green infrastructure. Specifically, they developed green infrastructure pledges for community members to take, in which they shared how they’re using their rainwater as a resource, or commit to how they’re going to implement changes in the future. This led to a much bigger impact as pledges were shared on social media, and even picked up and promoted by the provincial government.
The Town of Sackville was a willing partner on the depaving, having worked with EOS on past green infrastructure projects, including rain gardens. This partnership was critical to the project, as the Town not only helped to secure the ideal depaving site, but also helped with site preparation and have agreed to take on the long-term upkeep of the site.
The site chosen for this first depaving project was critical to its success. Located next to the Sackville Farmers Market, the site received a high volume of foot traffic. Curious passersby would stop on their way to the market, read the information signage, check out the demonstration site, and learn about permeable paving and green infrastructure. EOS was also able to put up a booth shortly after the site installation to further engage market-goers.
Many people learned about the depaving project from the media. Thanks to concerted and strategic media outreach efforts, EOS’ work was picked up by local news outlets as well as CBC New Brunswick. This significantly extended the reach of their work, and they’ve since had inquiries from across the country, including from people in Manitoba, Ontario, and Newfoundland.
In the months since the depaving project was completed, EOS’ has received many inquiries from residents interested in learning more about managing their rainwater. Many have inquired about installing rain barrels on their own properties, so EOS is planning for more bulk purchases and DIY workshops in the future to address that need. They will also be continuing their rain garden program with residential homes, moving beyond the initial focus on schools and businesses.
The Town is looking to possibly install more depaving sites around the city, and Mount Allison University has expressed a similar interest. EOS also has plans to install 10 more rain gardens in downtown Sackville to reduce flooding during summer 2020.
Longer term success for this work would be noticeable behaviour changes among the community, local municipalities and businesses, including depaving their driveways and parking lots and replacing them with permeable pavers or other green infrastructure solutions. EOS has already seen strong indications of this trend taking hold, with residents signing pledges and asking for resources, and growing media attention.
Famous for warm beaches and enormous lobsters, Shediac Bay has strong connections to water. Situated on the Northumberland Strait off the Atlantic Ocean, the shoreline communities around Shediac Bay enjoy a stunning backdrop of coastal islands, lighthouses and beaches.
The people who live and work in the Shediac Bay area care deeply about their local rivers and beaches. While green infrastructure might still be a new idea for most of the public, residents do have a growing awareness of the importance of water quality and the impacts of climate change.
Softening the Ground
The Shediac Bay Watershed Association has been active in the region for 20 years, and most recently has been working to build community support and participation for green infrastructure. As a key partner in a local initiative EcoVision 2025, SBWA has focused their outreach on the areas’s municipalities - increasing staff and councillors knowledge of the value and importance of green infrastructure
Staff of the municipality have a reasonably high level of knowledge about green infrastructure, but with limited capacity as a small municipality, they haven't been able to bring in new approaches. They’ve been open to and supportive of SBWA’s offers of partnership, and SBWA staff have been able to naturalize a recent retention pond the city built, and also gave the go-ahead to build one demonstration rain garden in 2018 with another planned in a high visibility area for 2020.
To move beyond support for third party projects, the municipalities need political support and motivation. Under the umbrella of an EcoVision municipal summit, SBWA organised a presentation to three local municipal councils focused on stormwater runoff issues and management approaches. In addition to the presentation, SBWA gave each councillor a stormwater resource kit that included information about rain gardens, rain barrels, stormwater runoff and stormwater management solutions.
The presentation was very well received, with many councillors expressing gratitude for the information. The feedback was that green infrastructure solutions are logical and valuable. The councillors agreed that a more concerted effort for the environment in the region was needed, and that a proposal for a larger scale stormwater management program would be feasible with more planning and more education activities.
With the area municipalities increasingly supportive of larger green infrastructure solutions, SBWA will next turn its attention to the public. Recent media coverage of bacterial contamination on local beaches has led to public concern about water quality. There is a misconception that the contamination is coming from a broken sewage system at a nearby development, but in reality the E Coli is coming from stormwater runoff.
SBWA has been part of a local water testing program, the results of which will help to demonstrate that the contamination is coming from stormwater runoff into area streams. This will provide an excellent opportunity to present green infrastructure projects as the solution for water quality in the rivers and beaches so loved by local communities.
Beautifully situated on the Bay of Fundy, the historic city of Saint John is home to over 70,000 people. While it’s a progressive urban centre with strong connections to nature and water, the value of green infrastructure is still relatively unknown in the community.
That’s why ACAP Saint John chose to undertake the installation of Saint John’s first rain garden in Queen Square West, a popular west-side park. ACAP saw this as an opportunity to not only elevate public knowledge and appreciation of green infrastructure, but as a key step in a larger initiative to develop a climate change adaptation plan for the City. The demonstration rain garden was an opportunity to showcase what green infrastructure, a key aspect of climate change adaptation, could look like in the city.
ACAP worked with staff from the City of Saint John and local volunteers to build the rain garden and plant 200 native plants on the site. They also installed an interpretive sign that would inform visitors to the park about the value of rain gardens, and direct them to ACAP’s website for more resources. In addition to informing the public about green infrastructure, ACAP hoped to inspire people to build rain gardens on their own properties.
Softening the Ground
ACAP has a good relationship with the City, who often lend in-kind support for project installation. This project not only had planning and implementation support by city staff, but the project was unanimously supported by the city council.
For the rain garden project, ACAP engaged a broader audience by inviting nearby schools to tour the site and leading tours for local service clubs. Volunteers from a local business were instrumental in helping with planting and installation. Planting days were also well attended by community media. This ensured that news of the rain garden installation would reach a larger and more diverse audience.
Saint John’s first public rain garden has been enthusiastically received. ACAP staff and volunteers are regularly complimented on the garden as they water or weed the site and visitors share their appreciation for the improvement to the previously sparse park. It’s been valuable for staff and volunteers to be on-site doing the garden maintenance, as it’s provided an opportunity to initiate conversations with park users and visitors about the importance of rain gardens and green infrastructure. The signage on site has also been key. ACAP has ensured there are good resources on their website about how to build a rain garden at home, so interested community members can initiate similar projects on their properties.
ACAP already has plans for another rain garden installation in the city, at the ACAP office downtown. While it is early days for green infrastructure development in Saint John, this successful installation is a key first step in undertaking a larger climate change adaptation planning process for the City.
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!
“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.