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.