Waterkeeper's Water Literacy Coordinator, Claire Lawson recently presented the Watermark Project at the book launch for Nina Munteanu's "Water Is..." Here is what she presented.
My role at Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is largely to address the gap between our strong Canadian water values and our limited water knowledge.
According to RBC’s 2015 Water Attitudes Study, Canadians view fresh water as their most important natural resource; yet, 56 percent of Canadians aged 18-34 do not know where their drinking water comes from. In other words, the majority of Canadians my age cannot point to the source of their own drinking water.
This lack in water knowledge indicates that there is a gap between citizen values and their understanding of water - which leads us at Lake Ontario Waterkeeper to believe that Canadians have a water literacy problem.
The one way that we believe we can fix this problem is by reconnecting people to their waterbodies. Through the use of personal stories - what we call Watermarks - we believe that Canadians can articulate not only that they care about their waterbodies, but why they care about their waterbodies. It’s because of this gap in values and knowledge - and we believe we can bridge it - that we started our Watermark Project.
So, before I dive into details, has anyone here heard of our Watermark Project?
The Watermark Project launched in January of this year. It is a project designed to inspire people to articulate their connection to water (perhaps for the very first time) through storytelling. After all – whether you’re aware of it or not – somewhere, somehow, there is at least one waterbody that is a part of who you are.
What we are encouraging individuals to do in our Watermark Project is to reflect upon a powerful memory that they have about a body of water from a certain time in their lives. These personal stories are what we like to call Watermarks.
A Watermark must contain three simple pieces of information (in addition to the overall story):
The name of your waterbody;
Where the waterbody is located; and
The approximate date this story/memory took place.
Now, you might be wondering, why Watermarks are important?
There are three main reasons why Watermarks are important:
They articulate why we care and inspire further learning. Not only do these stories articulate that we care about our waterways, but these stories also reawaken why we care. With the time and energy and thought put into drafting and submitting these Watermarks, people tend to realize on a deeper level that they do care about their waterbodies and are, subsequently, more inclined to learn more about them – such as learning about the body of water that supplies your drinking water.
They serve as a legal record. Watermarks are important because they document the use of a waterbody in a way that can help you and your children protect that waterbody in the future. Watermarks provide evidence that the waterbody is being used by people here in Canada and this ensures that environmental laws be applied to safeguard it from harm (induced by industrial activity or development).
Mark Mattson (an environmental lawyer and President of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper) explained it best. He said “because environmental laws have been weakened so much in the last 10 years, you have to show beneficial use. You have to show that people are benefitting. If you don’t show beneficial use, it’s like a victimless crime.” Therefore, Watermarks become a basis for water protection.
They are the first step in water leadership. Watermarks are the first step in the process of becoming what we call a Water Leader. If you have a look in your gift bags today that Nina has prepared for you, you will find our “6 qualities of a Water Leader” poster.
A Water Leader is loosely defined as someone who is engaged in water-related issues in a way that becomes more of a lifestyle than a task. Much like water is a fundamental part of your life, being a Water Leader means integrating water-related issues in your life for continual improvement. If you want to learn how to become a Water Leader, feel free to contact me directly. My business card is also in your gift bag.
So far, we have over 540 Watermarks in our archive protecting 300 waterbodies that many Canadians love.
My own Watermark happens to be about Lake Ontario and how my perception of water quality in the lake was overcome by – like most things – a combination of factors. As a Vancouverite, I yearn for a swim on hot days, and moving to a humid Toronto last summer made me wish that I could jump into Lake Ontario after work. Unfortunately, I perceived Lake Ontario to be unsafe to swim in.
Fortunately, I found Swim Guide – an informative data-driven app that lets me know what beaches are swimmable and what beaches aren’t. Among the hundreds of Watermarks that I have yet to write about living near waterbodies across Canada, Sweden, and Belgium, this was my first.
So, before I end this speech today, I would like to ask you one last question:
Will you join our mission to protect Canadian waterbodies by submitting your very own Watermark?
Nina Munteanu tweet from Water Is... book launch: