Water, and the ocean in particular, has always held a powerful presence in my life.
I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, on the shores of Biscayne Bay with the world-famous Miami Beach and the Atlantic Ocean at my doorstep. My earliest and fondest childhood memories center around family trips across the Everglades to Marco Island, on the west cost of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. There my little brother and I would spend hours hunting for seashells on Marco’s white, powdery sand beaches; and my father would delight in waking me up just before dawn so that we could splash in the waves and watch the sunrise together.
I was your classic water baby.
Now I'm a water mama, with three precious water babies of my own; and I feel so fortunate to be raising them in Vancouver, BC, where they can share those same experiences of hunting for seashells and splashing in the ocean that were such an important part of my own childhood.
But while many of the beaches in B.C. are safe and clean, there are too many places where pollution from combined sewer systems and industrial runoff make swimming a risky proposition at best.
Last summer I had an experience that impacted me profoundly - I participated in a race as part of the Big Chop Paddle Series on False Creek, an urban waterway at the heart of Vancouver. My son, eldest daughter and I had just finished a race on a stand-up paddle board and were heading back in to shore. It was a typically hot summer evening, and the water looked inviting enough, so my kids told me they wanted to jump in and swim the short distance to the beach.
My first instinct was to say yes, but then I remembered the water quality results that we'd been sharing through Swim Guide that month and my gut tightened. E-coli levels were within guidelines for paddling, but were far too high for safe swimming. Feeling the kind of fear that only a mother feels for the safety of her children, I shouted to the kids: "Stay out of the water!"
They were confused at first; my son was too young to fully understand the danger, but my daughter became visibly upset and defiantly leapt in. I panicked. Throwing all caution to the wind, I jumped in after her and pulled her from the polluted water. She kicked and screamed as I waded to shore and begged to just put her body into the water for even a little swim. Thankfully, after a couple of long, hot baths at home, we managed to avoid getting sick.
This experience powerfully reinforced why I sacrifice so much to keep Fraser Riverkeeper strong and viable. Families must be able to make happy memories on the water without having to worry about the threat of polluted or unsafe water. Whether it's my daughter or your own kids, no child's Watermark should be of contracting a waterborne illness from swimming in their community.
We all owe it to ourselves, and especially to our future generations, to ensure a swimmable, fishable, drinkable future for us all.
Lauren Brown Hornor is Executive Director of Fraser Riverkeeper and your BC Swim Drink Fish Ambassador.