I recently attended the 8th annual Canadian Water Summit held at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto, Ontario, on the Territory of the Mississauga of the New Credit. Organized by Actual Media Inc. and entitled “Collaboration to Action” (Leadership & Investment in Canada’s Blue Economy), the summit brought together creative minds from industry, academia, government and civil society to imagine what our future will be.
“[Water] is the new space race.”—Hank Venema, IISD
Hank Venema, chair of the summit and Planning Director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), challenged us on: “stewarding, designing, optimizing, and enlivening the watersheds that envelope and protect us with the creative touch of the best science, engineering, and finance—and this is Canada’s race to win.”
The true gravity and challenge posed by climate change and our current environment was set by The Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of Environment and Climate Change. In a passionate exhortation, The Hon. Glen Murray did not mince words: “We are on the verge of an existential crisis,” he began.
“Once you know what climate change is, the science of it, you can’t un-know it. It changes you forever.”—Hon. Glen Murray
“We are living in the era of acceleration,” he continued. Hon. Murray mentioned that the boreal forest covers over 54% of Canada. The world’s forests take up roughly a third of the carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels each year. Recent studies are showing that Canada’s boreal forests are not absorbing as much carbon as previously thought. This is because trees killed by forest fires and insect infestations (e.g., pine beetle) are no longer taking in carbon. “Eighty percent of the pine forest in British Columbia are dead from [reduced resilience from] drought and beetle infestation,” said Murray. A 5% change in our forests, said Murray, will have a massive impact. He exhorted us to act in all our capacities: as individuals making a choice to eat chicken vs. beef or not driving your car to work to our corporate and organizational responsibilities in helping to shape policies, such as not carrying bottled water or soft drinks to putting in a green roof.
Morning plenary sessions included an interesting panel on resource management that included companies with a reputation for irresponsible use such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA); these were joined by The Nature Conservancy of Canada.
It was interesting to hear Jonathan S. Radtke of Coca-Cola show some humility in openly admitting that Coca-Cola’s lack of corporate responsibility (e.g., accusations of draining watersheds dry in India and quality control issues, revealed in part by small NGOs and documentaries) cost them hugely in public support—both abroad and in America—with resulting public condemnation, bruising boycotts, loss of contracts, and drop in sales. Radtke used this example to reveal how efforts to increase corporate sustainability (partly through listening to their community and providing a more transparent platform) is allowing them to rebuild a more responsible relationship with the public and with other stakeholders, including the Nature Conservancy and other conservation / restoration groups.
Nelson Switzer of Nestlé failed to offer similar examples of learning and reconciliation for Nestlé and it would have done them good for him to have done so.
Afternoon sessions were introduced with opening remarks by The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, 29th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. “People have an emotional connection with water,” said Hon. Dowdeswell. “Water is life.”
“Water shapes our identity and the Great Lakes are the symbolic heart of our land”—Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell
Dowdeswell was followed by a luncheon Skype keynote with Geoff Green on board the Canada C3 research vessel as it makes its 150-day voyage around Canada. Green spoke of the Students on Ice Program and the water research they were conducting. Green also acknowledged how the Indigenous people consider water as alive, a view we need to respect and embrace.
Dianne Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, talked about the use of biogas from sewage in powering buses in Hamilton.
Brenda Lucas, executive director of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, opened the break-out sessions with some interesting statistics on Canadians’ perceptions about drinking water and water issues generally.
The summit then proceeded with collaborative break-out sessions that included partnerships to address the water gap in Indigenous communities and designing blueprints for action. The breakout I attended was led by John Presta, Director of Environmental Services in The Regional Municipality of Durham. Attended also by local climate modeller Jaimie Witherspoon of Cole Engineering Group Ltd., program chair, Katherine Balpataky, and Paul Grenier, Niagara Region Councillor, we discussed the pitch Presta had proposed: the need to consider local climate modelling in design standards. Of note, all groups agreed that education of the public, not only key stakeholders, is paramount to the success of any innovation—particularly, given that most involve a shift in paradigm and thinking.
Kate Panchal of The Great Lakes Project, shared some of the work they are doing to raise awareness and educate the public on the Great Lakes as precious resource, balancing ecosystem, and source of unparalleled beauty. Kate shared with me a little about the “Great Waters Challenge” with schools and youth groups and their Great Art for Great Lakes (GAGL) program with Great Lakes communities in Ontario.
“The future of the Great Lakes is the future of us all.” Chris A. Hadfield
I also met Angela Murphy, manager of research and partnerships at Ryerson Urban Water (RUW), a multi-disciplinary collective of research experts intent on providing practical solutions to urban water challenges. RUW promotes innovation in water education and advocate transformative policy framework implementation. RUW champions the adoption of strategies that build healthy resilient cities through a holistic approach that connects new technologies and philosophies to the broad ecological benefits of conservation and sustainability. They are addressing these challenges by working alongside stakeholders from government, industry and community associations.
Stacey Dumanski, outreach coordinator for the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan discussed with me about “Global Water Futures”, solutions to water threats in an era of global change and a research program at the University of Saskatchewan to transform the way communities, governments and industries in Canada and other cold regions of the world prepare for and manage increasing water-related threats.
Watermark Project was also there: collecting, archiving, and sharing Canada’s water stories. The Watermark Project is a community effort to collect and archive true stories about the ways people interact with water. Started by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper in 2015, the Watermark Project aims to collect one story from every Canadian household. A Watermark is a true story about you and a body of water. Whatever your story may be, your Watermark connects you to a shared water heritage. Watermarks are filed in the archive. They create a living record of our powerful connection. When you archive your Watermark, you help protect your water heritage. Listen to the watermarks of Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Environment Minister, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell and the Honorable Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change; as well as many others.
A copy of “Water Is…” made it into the hands of The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell and the Consul General of the U.S. Consulate Juan Alsace.
“Water Is…” is currently recommended by Water Canada as Summer Reading.
Internationally published author, teacher and limnologist Nina Munteanu explores one of the most important elements of Earth.
Nina Munteanu’s “Water Is…” represents the culmination of over twenty-five years of dedication as limnologist and aquatic ecologist in the study of water. As a research scientist and environmental consultant, Nina studied water’s role in energizing and maintaining the biomes, ecosystems, and communities of our precious planet. During her consulting career for industry and government, Nina discovered a great disparity between humanity’s use, appreciation and understanding of water. This set in motion a quest to further explore our most incredible yet largely misunderstood and undervalued substance.
Part history, part science and part philosophy and spirituality, “Water Is…” combines personal journey with scientific discovery that explores water’s many “identities” and ultimately our own.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.