March 22 is “World Water Day,” the international day to think about water issues. It is also the first-ever meeting of the Great Lakes Guardians Council, a new advisory group created under the Great Lakes Protection Act.
Waterkeeper Mark Mattson has been invited by Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray to participate in the first Guardians Council meeting.
It’s an honour to be invited to an important meeting with people who love the Great Lakes. More than that, though, we feel a sense of responsibility for the Great Lakes and an urgent need to do more. Because our generation is watching these sweetwater seas slip away.
Word came from New York State last week that fish populations in Lake Ontario are declining. The last fishing season was one of the worst in memory. This news comes on the heels of a report from the US EPA that found man-made, cancer-causing chemicals in 100% of fish sampled on the Great Lakes.
People like to think things are getting better because it’s the 21st Century. We’re modern folks. We “know better” than in previous decades, when we made so many mistakes.
The truth is, more and more people grow up in the Great Lakes basin never knowing that fish can (and should) be clean.
Nearly 70% of coastal habitat has been lost here on Lake Ontario, with the number of people who remember what a healthy ecosystem looks like declining every year.
Drinking water supplies are deemed “secure,” so long as water can be heavily treated before you pour it into your glass. The notion of clean source water is an increasingly distant memory.
All this forgetting is the real reason Waterkeeper and our Swim Drink Fish Community wear the “three circles” emblazoned on our hats and shirts. We want to remember what we’re fighting for: swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.
What are we up against? A decade of ill-conceived policy and development decisions. Devastating cuts to monitoring programs. Data locked away in information silos. Fewer journalists covering water stories. Less time in our hectic lives to explore the watersheds around us. People from all walks of life taking water for granted.
It’s a risky gamble. Without water – without these Great Lakes – we have no community. We have no means of sustaining ourselves. We have no economy. We have no backdrop for the social and cultural experiences that give life meaning.
So on this day, I invite you to think about the water that flows through your backyard, the ribbon of blue at the edge of your community. I ask you to think about one action you took last year that helped to make that body of water more swimmable, more drinkable, and more fishable. And I ask you to think of one thing you can do this year to better protect the water that keeps you alive.
That’s how you celebrate World Water Day.