Co-written by Thomas Kierstead and Claire Lawson.
Over half of young Canadians don’t know the basics of our most treasured resource – water. Yet, these same Canadians are desperately needed in the movement to protect it. This is why Waterkeeper Mark Mattson is on tour to campuses across the province to fill that gap, and improve Canada's Water Literacy.
Our President Mark Mattson is on tour to deliver a water literacy presentation to students at university campuses across Southern Ontario. This presentation is meant to give young Canadians what they need to know so that they can give meaning and force to environmental laws and ultimately protect their waterbody.
To be clear, you don’t have to be a lawyer or a Waterkeeper to do this. We know that people can protect what they care about if they know the basics, have the right tools, and are supported by a strong network. Our Water Literacy Tour is designed to increase water literacy to all Canadians and provide the right tools and network for people to protect the water they love. This tour is one way to bridge Canada's water-knowledge gap and inspire people to work towards swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.
Water Literacy in Canada
According to RBC’s Water Attitudes Survey (2015), 56% of young Canadians aged 18 to 34 do not know where their drinking water comes from. For instance, there are 2.8 million people from Toronto alone who get their drinking water from Lake Ontario. How many people know this?
Although many people live within 10km of Lake Ontario’s shoreline, Lake Ontario has long been dismissed by the people living it its watershed. Sure, we know it exists; we visit its parks, we see people sailing there and people throwing sticks for their dogs. But, did you know the basic fact that your body is at least 60% Lake Ontario?
Not knowing where your drinking water comes from is one thing, but that’s something you can Google search. What Google can’t tell you is how to be more water literate. And that’s the purpose of this Fall’s 2016 Water Literacy Tour.
Tools for Water Literacy
Our first tour date was a great success. We stopped by Trent University, where Mark presented to approximately 50 students.
Mark spoke to many points, but there are 2 powerful tools that he emphasized and hopes every Canadian will use. The first is the Watermark Project.
The Watermark Project
“Somewhere, some waterbody is a part of who you are. It shapes you, just as you shape it. To protect that waterbody is to protect yourself. To know your waterbody is to know your Watermark."
As an environmental lawyer, taking polluters to court was what came naturally to Mark. After years of litigation, Waterkeeper won many of its cases. Over $2 billion of environmental remedial actions resulted, but that wasn’t enough. The goal for a swimmable, drinkable, fishable future still seemed distant. Although effective, this approach was time-consuming and inefficient. Considering the sheer size of Lake Ontario’s watershed, there wasn’t enough time or resources to make change happen fast enough.
That’s when Mark saw the need to change our approach. Why not help people identify their own love for water? Why not share knowledge with community members so that they may also take the lead and protect their own waterways? The more people care, the more inclined they are to be empowered and protect their waterways.
This is why the Watermark Project was created. By providing an outlet for people to share their story about a particular waterbody, they can help protect it. The Watermark Project archives these stories and geo-maps these waterbodies in a national database of identified important waters.
The second tool that Mark emphasizes in the Water Literacy presentation is Swim Guide.
One of the most common questions Waterkeeper was asked in its heyday was simply: Is it safe to swim in Lake Ontario? It’s a crucial question and an urgent question. We thought it would be easy to find the answer. But we were wrong.
As it turns out, reliable facts and figures about beach water quality are hard to come by. It's very difficult for the average citizen to make an informed decision about where to swim. Because water quality changes, a swimming zone can be swimmable one day and fail testing standards the next.
This is why we created Swim Guide. In pursuit of a future where everyone can swim, drink, and fish from their local waters, Waterkeeper believes the public should know when they can touch the water and when they shouldn’t.
Swim Guide has a big role to play at every level. Bringing awareness to the contaminants threatening our waterways to helping people find swimmable water. And if the water isn’t safe to swim in, it gives the public reason to ask why. If people see pollution in their waterways, Swim Guide also gives people the ability to report pollution.
Since its launch in 2011, Swim Guide has been a huge success. By providing water quality information to almost 1 million users for over 7000 beaches in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and New Zealand, this app strengthens people's connection to water.
We need more people working towards swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters.
So if you haven't yet, please join the Swim Drink Fish network.
You can do that by doing any or all of the following:
As Mark reiterates in his presentation, you don’t have to be a Waterkeeper or an environmental lawyer to protect your waterbody. All you need are the right tools and the right people.
The Water Literacy Tour continues this week at Queen’s University, University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and the University of Toronto next week. Hope to see you at one of these campuses soon!
Want us to present at your school?
Contact our Water Literacy Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.