World Water Day 2011–Reflections from Ottawa

Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.

Melting snow and spring rain aren’t the only reasons Ottawa residents have been thinking about the water around us.

Ottawa’s problems with sewage runoff spilling into the Ottawa River have been in the news again. We recently had our third overflow of 2011 (making 64 in the last year), although the City’s Ottawa River Action Plan is intended to address this and other water management issues over the next couple of years. There’s also concern about sewage treatment plans in Chelsea and around Wakefield and the effects on the Gatineau River.

In being vigilant about the health of our water systems, we’re not alone. Across Canada and around the world, people are calling for better care of waterways and our water supply.

March 14-22 marks the first-ever Water Week in Canada. Organised by the World Wildlife Fund Canada, Living Lakes Network Canada, the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and others, Canada Water Week aims to highlight the importance of freshwater and to encourage individuals, communities and governments to protect it.

The end of Canada Water Week, March 22, is also World Water Day. The United Nations established this day to promote freshwater and its sustainable management. This year’s theme is Water for Cities: how urbanization, climate change and other factors affect urban water systems, and why we need better water and waste management, water reuse and conservation.

International observances like these often pass unnoticed in Ottawa, but this year a few groups have staged events. The Ottawa Riverkeeper’s celebration on Tuesday, March 22 (6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Royal Oak Downtown at Bank and Gloucester) features Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown, Anil Naidoo of the Blue Planet Project, and Alison Woodley from Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. The Council of Canadians and the University of Ottawa also held World Water Day-related activities during the week.

International and national theme days may not make much of dent in how we manage our resources locally. But they do provide an opportunity to draw attention to environmental issues and impetus to encourage local leaders to act.

Knowing more about how we manage our water is part of protecting water resources. The City of Ottawa sets out how it manages water and monitors the health of rivers and lakes at http://www.ottawa.ca/residents/water/index_en.html. The Ottawa Riverkeeper provides information on the Ottawa River system including what threatens the river’s health and what we can do to protect it.

The Ottawa Riverkeeper has also stated that community involvement in managing water is important. Community involvement includes independent expert input, traditional knowledge, innovations from other communities around the world, and citizens’ perspectives.

The Ottawa River, which provides drinking water to over a million of us, is part of the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, according to the Riverkeeper. Worth giving some attention to this week.

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