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
Another region in Canada is launching a public and open-access hub for water data. Joining the Mackenzie region, Atlantic DataStream will be your one-stop shop for data on water quality in Atlantic Canada. With over 20 groups, including NGOs, federal, and municipal governments, and First Nations feeding into the hub, it will become the most comprehensive and accessible data-set on freshwater in the region, covering all 4 provinces with dozens of parameters and all centralized in one easy access online hub.
The project came to fruition a few years ago after the Community-Based Environmental Monitoring Network (CBEMN), out of Saint Mary’s University, partnered with WWF-Canada to host a water forum in the region. Carolyn Dubois of The Gordon Foundation presented on the MacKenzie DataStream project they had just launched, and the pieces of the puzzle all fell into place from there. The CBEMN had been compiling community-based monitoring data from across the region for years, and the DataStream platform gave them the opportunity to channel that data using online, accessible and new visualization tools.
Anyone who monitors water quality in the region can feed their data into the hub. The database will also provide space for groups to describe the methodology and approach used to collect the data, and allow for comparability across the region. Entire field seasons can be uploaded at once making it an easy step for organizations working on the ground to collect data. This week’s launch of Atlantic DataStream also marks the launch of the new Atlantic Water Network, consolidating the water programs of CBEMN and networking water monitoring groups throughout the region.
Stay tuned as the first field season for Atlantic DataStream comes to an end and the official launch of Atlantic DataStream takes place this Fall. Following this first season, look for the workshops for groups on inputting data, and data management and digitizing your groups water data. Information from Atlantic DataStream will also feed into updates to WWF-Canada’s watershed health reports, which are regularly updated via their interactive online tool.
Thanks to our members for completing our 2018 Our Living Waters Priorities survey. 77% responded, giving us confidence that these priorities are truly reflective of OLW Network members.
Here’s a summary of what you told us.Read more
On June 13th we hosted WWF-Canada as they launched the first comprehensive report on the health of Canada's freshwater ecosystems. 5-years in the making, this assessment reviews Canada's 25 major watersheds and 167 sub-watersheds for detailed data that together paints an important picture on the health of waters.
This whole conversation on the current dominant narrative around freshwater health in Canada points to both challenges and opportunities that as non-profit freshwater champions we need to embrace, to both alter the dominant narrative (that freshwater values exist in our subconscious, that acting to protect water results in negative economic decisions and that we don’t have any control or impact in decisions that affect freshwater health) and to promote a new narrative (one where guardianship is central, where we listen to, celebrate and honour the role water plays to our lives, and where we engage as active citizens around decision to protect, enhance and defend its health).
In this new water narrative, water literacy is key - not only do we celebrate our memories of water but we know about our local waters. This is exemplified by knowing that the water from our taps comes from local water sources. Currently only 43% of Canadians will attempt to identify their drinking water source. 57% don’t know or won’t even hazard a guess as to where their water comes from. We will know that we are altering the dominant water narrative when this statistic changes. Furthermore, when communities can clearly identify the local threats to healthy waters and feel that it is within their power to influence decisions around water, we will know that we are succeeding at changing the dominant water narrative of today.
Finally, we will know that the dominant water narrative is changing when the rich history, cultural connection and knowledge that indigenous communities hold over the waters of Canada is given its appropriate place. Our region’s founding stories relate to and are inextricably tied to water. A sharing of these founding stories can improve how we perceive waters but can also deepen understanding of indigenous rights, treaties and indigenous governance.
This blog series is inspired by a ½ day exploratory conversation convened through the Our Living Waters Network. At the meeting, a small group of network members and supporters explored the dominant freshwater narratives that we’ve encountered in our work for freshwater health across Canada. Participants of the workshop included: Canadian Freshwater Alliance, Great Lakes Commons, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Tides Canada. The opinions throughout the series represent those of the author and not necessarily any of the workshop participants.