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Symposium - Brainstorming for Canada's National Water Vision

Conference Day: 
Day 3 - November 9th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Brainstorming for Canada’s National Water Vision

Organized by: Pacific Water Research Centre and Ryerson Urban Water

Panel 1

Speakers: Nick Reid, Executive Director, Ryerson Urban Water; Courtney Bridge, Graduate Student, Simon Fraser University; Larry Swatuk, Director, Master of Development Practice (MDP), and Associate Professor, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at the University of Waterloo; Merrell-Ann Phare, Executive Director, Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources; Irving Leblanc, Director, Housing, Infrastructure & Emergency Services, Assembly of First Nations; Elizabeth Hendriks, Vice President, Fresh Water Program, WWF Canada; Jeff Hall, Professor in the School of Civil Engineering, Queens University

Moderator: Banu Örmeci, Professor and Jarislowsky Chair in Water and Global Health, and Canada Research Professor, Carleton University

Takeaways and recommendations

Background and motivation

  • Canada has a rapidly-worsening water crisis. The only response is a national response.

  • Canada does not necessarily have water where it is needed.

  • Water is like climate change in that we’re not all impacted equally.

  • There is momentum to create a National Water Vision for Canada. These talks are part of the continuum of conversations on developing that vision.

  • Federally, Canada currently has the Canada Water Act of 1970 and the Federal Water Policy of 1987.

  • Canada does not have federally-enforced drinking water standards.

  • 20 federal departments are responsible for freshwater.

  • There is a lack of water monitoring: no federal agency is dedicated to water, no standards exist for monitoring, and there is no national database for freshwater data.

  • Canada has not declared access to water a human right.

  • 14 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals can be directly connected to water.

  • Canada’s most important natural resource, according to Canadians, is fresh water. (RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study)

  • 2018 marks the beginning of the International Water Decade Alliance: Water for Sustainable Development (2018-2028). The Alliance is open to new members.

A Canadian water vision

  • The national vision must take into consideration:

    • The intersection of water and human rights

    • How to share water across borders

    • The drivers of water insecurity (climate change, population growth, etc.)

  • Focus on drinking water. It is a low-hanging fruit.

  • Particularly with citizen science and monitoring, expertise is needed to help guide what the data mean and where the monitoring should go in the future.

  • The vision needs to be followed by a strategy that includes data: track processes, make stakeholders accountable, and share resources.

  • Canada needs a culture of courage: fail quickly and fail fast.

Canadian legislation and the Canada Water Act

  • We try to protect the things we care about most by creating a law, and putting money where the law is. We legislate when we care.

  • We need a law that will give the water issue teeth.

  • A foundation exists already – the Canada Water Act. However, it is deficient and needs updating.

  • We have no capacity for national drought and flooding forecasting, etc.

  • The Canada Water Act should be more than an enabling act. It needs to require mandatory actions and enforcement in certain circumstances from governments across the country:

    • Designate significant waters for protection and restoration.

    • Set and enforce minimum standards to address or prevent cumulative effects on river basin health.

    • Mandate integrated river basin planning and management

  • An updated Canada Water Act should be developed in partnership with Indigenous Nations so as to ensure that UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and nation-to-nation relations are respected.

Indigenous peoples and water in Canada

  • Drinking water advisories are a major problem in indigenous communities.

  • Look at water infrastructure in indigenous communities.

  • Governance solution: Indigenous governments have their own water laws, and they are creating their own rights.

  • Indigenous government water policies need to be integrated into other Canadian policies.

  • A Canadian water vision should use a “made in Canada” approach. Indigenous cultures should be full partners.

  • Bring the First Nations holistic views on water to discussions about a water vision.

  • From a First Nations perspective, technology is allowing for quick and on-place water quality data.

  • Many indigenous communities are lacking water security, and have insufficient waste water treatment.

  • Treaties with colonials did not include giving up water.

  • Indigenous perspective: Water is the creator’s gift, and a living being that needs to be respected and protected.

  • The Truth and Reconciliation Report’s Calls to Action include a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with water rights embedded.

  • For First Nations, the very starting point is to respect their rights. Top-down solutions do not work. Often at these talks, it is “privilege talking to privilege.” There is a disconnect from impacted people.

Canada’s water resources

  • In 2017, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada released the Canada Watershed Reports.

  • Not understanding our water resources is a major challenge for Canada.

  • Of Canada’s 167 sub-water sheds, 110 lack data for watershed health.

  • WWF’s Living Planet Report found an 83% decline in fresh water species globally in the last 40 years.

  • Over 10 million Canadians get their water from groundwater, yet Canadian groundwater has not been fully mapped.

Canadian groundwater

  • In many cases new developments regulate wells a certain distance from a septic system, but that is not the case for older communities, where septics and wells may be interacting.

  • There is a wide variety of types of wells.

  • Testing standards for groundwater vary by province. Water quality can vary day-to-day.

  • Wells can run dry in severe drought conditions, yet forecasting is lacking.

  • Canada should have a national approach to monitoring groundwater and wells.

  • People need to understand where their water comes from.

Panel 2:

Speakers: Nancy Goucher, Knowledge Mobilization Specialist, Global Water Futures, Water Institute, University of Waterloo; Francis Scarpaleggia, Member of the Canadian Parliament for Lac-Saint-Louis; Julia Baird, Assistant Professor, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University; Ogimaa Kwe (Chief) Linda Debassige, M’Chigeeng First Nation; Lisa A Prime, Principal Consultant, PRIME Strategy & Planning, Ryerson Urban Water Advisory Board Member

Moderator: Zafar Adeel, Professor, Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University; Executive Director, Pacific Water Research Centre

Takeaways and recommendations

A Canadian water vision

  • A paradigm shift is necessary – water views within Canadian culture need to change.

  • Canada needs to be more proactive in our decisions around water, particularly related to chemical use.

  • Water is a complex issue: there are many jurisdictions and stakeholders.

  • The watershed is indeed central to protecting Canada’s freshwater resources. However, watersheds are not a sexy political handle for engaging Canadians at the ballot box on the issue of water.

  • We need a compelling narrative on water to win the interest of Canadians, which is a prerequisite to making change happen.

  • We need to understand what data are required, based on what will be done with the data.

  • Policies need flexibility, and to include the use of metrics.

  • Continue the dialogue – get the right people to the table, initiated by government.

  • If climate change is a shark, then its teeth are climate change’s impacts on water. Climate change is about water.

  • A Canadian water vision needs:

  1. To win the hearts and minds of Canadians. Water is a human problem first. Use storytelling.

  2. Collaboration: We need to have First Nations at the table and water people need to talk to people outside the water community.

  3. Targets and timelines: Make use of current momentum, review results of implemented change, improve water protection, share stories of success and monitor water using quantitative measurements.

  4. Global positioning: A vision for Canada must take into account that we are part of a global community. We are responsible for protecting 20% of the world’s fresh water.

Canada on the international stage

  • Water, and water security in particular, can be a new source of international leadership for Canada.

  • If we focus on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, we can share our expertise in many water areas.

  • We are a water nation; water is part of our Canadian identity, yet we are not present on the international stage.

  • If we take an international leadership role, then we can get all Canadian water stakeholders, including industry, to work on the problem (of global water security), which would also support domestic action to consolidate Canada’s own water security.

Water as a social-ecological challenge

  • We should look at water from a resilience perspective: how we might formulate a vision, including how we engage Canadians in the process?

  • It is about social-ecological systems: complex interactions between our society and our environment.

  • This perspective entails persisting, adapting, and transforming (shifting and finding new ways).

  • The key principles that underlie the social-ecological perspective are to:

    • Broaden participation (not just about politicians having this discussion)

    • Learn and adapt

    • Acknowledge that it is a complex system

    • Collaborate across scales (including data sharing across groups and institutions)

  • Draw on the vast amount of research that has been done on climate change skepticism and engaging the public, and changing attitudes and behaviours. What we have learned from this research can help us to engage the broader public more effectively.

Indigenous perspectives

  • A generation ago people could drink water from Lake Huron. Now the water must be treated. Young people only know of treated water – they have never been able to drink from the lake.

  • We need to invest funds that will support keeping water healthy.

  • A caution: if we talk about protecting water or the technical-economic ideas surrounding water challenges, we sometimes miss the cultural-spiritual part. Keep the two parts in mind.

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