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Algonquin College News

AC World Water Day preview: Canadians motivated to protect freshwater

March 20, 2019
Community engagement with the health of Canada’s freshwater is strong and intensifying, says Catherine Paquette, Specialist, Freshwater with the World Wildlife Fund Canada.

“Canadians care,” says Paquette, who speaks Friday in the DARE District as part of presentations celebrating World Water Day. “We see that all the time. They realize how important water is and they are willing to play their part to protect it.”

World Water Day is a United Nations-sponsored celebration highlighting the importance of the world’s freshwater. The DARE District events beginning at 11:30 a.m. include a Water Ceremony hosted by Indigenous Elder Josie Whiteduck and a presentation by Paquette and Matt Hoar from Flow Water (a full schedule is below). 

Paquette says Canada’s freshwater — including lakes, rivers and groundwater — is threatened by everything from pollution to dams impeding the natural flow of rivers to climate change. “On a national scale,” she says, “pollution is one of the most significant threats faced by freshwater.”

The nature of the problem varies from location to location. It might be a high concentration of metals and other toxicants in a watershed near resource extraction operations or nutrients used in fertilizers finding their way from farmland into rivers and lakes.

High concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous in Lake Winnipeg, for instance, have resulted in some years in vast algae blooms that harm the ecosystem and damage fisheries, tourism and the enjoyment of life by people who live along the shore.

The Great Lakes, which contain 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply, are under continued stress due to industrial, agricultural and urban pollution. According to the World Wildlife Fund, native fish species in Lake Ontario dropped 32 per cent on average in the past 25 years.

Pathogens in the water supply are a common source of disease. Ottawa’s beaches are closed to swimmers on occasion during the summer because of elevated levels of E.coli often attributable to untreated wastewater flowing into area rivers.

Heat is itself a source of water pollution, Paquette notes: large industrial users of water sometimes return enormous quantities of heated water to lakes and rivers where it is a threat to wildlife, notably to fish that will not spawn in water above a certain temperature.

Considered together, these sources of pollution have a huge impact on wildlife. Canadian governments at all levels have taken major strides to monitor, mitigate and clean up pollution, and community groups and citizen scientists are also increasingly involved in protecting the country’s freshwater resources and the creatures that depend upon it.

“There is amazing work being done at the community level,” Paquette says. Individuals and groups across Canada are monitoring fish runs, insect and bird numbers, and cleaning up pollution along river and lake shores — all important work to preserve and protect life along our waterways.

“Pollution is still a very high threat. Whatever we can do, as individuals and as countries, to monitor and improve the health of our freshwater matters.”

Schedule of World Water Day Events on Ottawa Campus (Friday, March 22, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.)
  • 11:45 a.m.: Josie Whiteduck, Indigenous Elder, hosts a Water Ceremony in Kejeyadizidgigwogamig (Knowledge Keepers Space), DARE District, Third Floor.
  • 12 noon: Three Sisters soup served in front of Pidaban, Second Floor, DARE District.
  • 12:20 p.m.: Guest speakers Catherine Paquette from the World Wildlife Fund Canada and Matt Hoar from Flow Water, in front of Pidaban, Second Floor, DARE District.
****Register here for the World Water Day presentations.