“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
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.
It may seem cliché but no saying is more true then “Water is Life”. Water unites us. It connects our communities. It fuels our economies. Unfortunately, we continue to take water for granted. Its connecting force, its fuel, its life force exists in each of our subconscious. We know its value but we don’t always (or even often) consider it in our day-to-day decision making. If we are going to make water decision-making more prominent in people’s minds, we need to bring the value of water into the forefront of our consciousness.Read more