Reconnecting with our local waterways

The Vancouver Sun, Lauren Brown Hornor - March 21, 2018

A picture taken on March 20, 2013 in Marseille, France, shows a drop of water that reflected a map of the Earth. World Water Day is held annually on March 22 to draw attention to the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. (GERARD JULIEN / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

As British Columbians, we are privileged to live in a region blessed with an abundance of natural beauty. So much of our life is shaped by our relationship with B.C.’s waters. All British Columbians, whether they live along our sprawling coastline, on one of our picturesque islands or high atop the mountains, can relate to this deep connection to water. Unfortunately, the current state of our waters is at an all-time low.

Our connections to water have been broken after years of hearing “don’t drink this,” “don’t swim there” and “don’t eat those fish.” We have been pushed away from our waters and they — and the life that depends on them — have suffered. Even when most people say they want our waters protected, they don’t know what to do.

Fraser Riverkeeper, a registered Canadian charity, and its national partner, Swim Drink Fish Canada, are working to change this. We are empowering millions of people to know and safeguard their waters by building a movement of folks who spend time on the water, such as boaters, paddlers, swimmers and anglers. Restoring this personal connection helps people to become more informed and more engaged or, as we call it, “water literate.”

Today we are celebrating World Water Day, which promotes sustainable management of freshwater resources and universal access to clean, “swimmable, drinkable, fishable” water (water that can be safely touched, is pure enough to drink, and is clean and wild enough that you can toss in a line anywhere and pull out a fish) — concepts that should resonate strongly with British Columbians. The occasion not only offers the opportunity to reflect on the importance of water, but our personal connection to this vital resource as well.

We work to protect and foster personal connections to water by engaging in innovative programs such as the Watermark Project. is a national story bank for people’s water tales that helps to promote increased understanding and action at the community level to protect swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters for everyone. To date, we’ve collected thousands of Watermarks, recounting personal connections to bodies of water spanning the country.

We also organize regular events, such as regional beach cleanups, which have successfully removed more than 112 tonnes of garbage from the Fraser River. This coming Saturday, March 24, is the 11th annual Fraser River Cleanup, our largest event of the year. With 500-600 volunteers expected, this is a perfect opportunity for residents to become more involved.

While there is no replacement for community-based action, there is also no denying that the protection of our water systems has become increasingly complex and multi-dimensional. In addition to non-profit organizations, the private and public sectors are also essential partners in addressing water-quality issues and driving forward sustainable usage of our waterways.

Take, for instance, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which, in 2013, launched its five-year, $2-million Fraser River Improvement Initiative. The goal of this program is to clean up derelict vessels and structures throughout the river, which not only block navigation channels, but can also harm wildlife and habitat by leaching toxic chemicals, such as fuel, oil and paint, into the surrounding environment. To date, the port authority has cleaned up nearly 150 sites along the Fraser. 

Or consider that just last week the federal government took this idea one step further, announcing funding for a nationwide effort aimed at removing abandoned boats through the Oceans Protection Plan — a $1.5-billion program that marks the largest investment ever made to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways.

B.C.’s coastlines and waterways are among our most valuables resources, and they come with a collective responsibility to protect them. Swimmable, drinkable, fishable water is necessary for the things people value most in life — family, friendship, culture, freedom and opportunity. We all have a role to play and possess a deeper connection to water than we often realize. So, this World Water Day, consider your own personal connection to water. Because when water is protected, communities can prosper.

Lauren Brown Hornor is the former executive director of Fraser Riverkeeper, where she now sits on the board of directors. She is currently the partnership lead for Western Canada with Swim Drink Fish Canada, a national group connecting people to water.

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