Introducing Adèle Michon, Québec Director of Operations, Ottawa Riverkeeper

Adèle Michon is Québec Director of Operations for Ottawa Riverkeeper, the non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the Ottawa River’s watershed.

By Katharine Fletcher

This is the full version of the interview by Katharine Fletcher featured in the Our Environment column, published in the three Outaouais-based Ryan Papers: the West Quebec Post, Aylmer Bulletin, and Pontiac Journal.

Adèle Michon is Québec Director of Operations for Ottawa Riverkeeper, the non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the Ottawa River’s watershed. Whereas Meredith Brown, the Ottawa-based Riverkeeper, is well-known, our Québec representative who was hired September 2013 is less known.

Michon agreed to an e-mail interview, where she explains her role and views regarding the Riverkeeper mandate.

KF: Adèle, what is your background?

AM: I have a degree in environment and sustainable development at McGill University, plus a master’s in Geography at Carleton University. I have worked with NGOs and government agencies in Quebec and abroad, exploring ways to engage local communities and First Nations in actively protecting their natural environment. These experiences prepared me for engaging with the Ottawa River’s diversity of communities. I started working with Ottawa Riverkeeper in September 2013.

KF: Why did you apply to become Ottawa Riverkeeper’s Director of Operations for Québec?

AM: Ever since I moved from a mountainous area of Southern France as a young kid to Montreal’s suburbs, I’ve been passionate about protecting nature, especially rivers, because I love canoeing. Moving to Ottawa, I was amazed by the river: both its calm beaches and wild rapids. I am dedicating my life to protecting what I love, so this position seemed a perfect fit!

Ottawa Riverkeeper protects rivers for the wellbeing of the communities which depend upon them. I believe that our rivers and lakes should be healthy enough so to sustain rich wildlife, provide safe drinking water, and sustainable recreational activities. These are our rights and it is our responsibility to ensure that they remain this way.

KF: Why is it important for the Ottawa River to have a Riverkeeper?

AM: The Riverkeeper provides an independent voice for the river, she advocates for its wellbeing. There are many facets to any issue, and often the economic aspect dominates. The Riverkeeper allows balance by giving local communities the knowledge and strengths needed to protect their right to a swimmable, drinkable, and fishable Ottawa River.

KF: Why do we need an Ontario as well as a Québec-based Riverkeeper?

AM: Not only is the Ottawa River 1271 km long and draining an area bigger than England, it is the boundary between two provinces. The laws and regulations surrounding management of rivers and environmental issues differ in Ontario and Quebec. Also, the government works mainly in English in Ontario, in French in Quebec. This makes it difficult for one person to keep up with all issues and to connect with both Anglophone and Francophone communities. This is why it is critical to engage both provinces.

KF: What do you believe are the two most crucial environmental challenges affecting the Ottawa River – on the Québec side?

AM: The biggest challenge facing the Ottawa River is that there is no integrated approach to managing the river, no shared vision or shared goals that take into consideration the well being of the river and all of the users. There is no single agency responsible for the long-term health of our river. Today we have a “piece-meal” approach to managing the river and it is very challenging to find the correct agency and department that will take responsibility to fix the many problems that exist on the river.

On the Québec side we still have a long way to go to improve how we manage and treat our stormwater and sewage. The City of Gatineau releases significant quantities of untreated sewage into our river on a regular basis, and not only does it affects the wildlife of the river, but it also affect our capacity to enjoy swimming and canoeing on the river during hot summer days.

KF: What two positive environmental improvements have been accomplished since you started work, that you’ve been involved with?

AM: Environmental improvements can take years of work and I’ve only been working one year. That being said, I’m proud that we’ve been able to increase the public understanding of the impact of combined sewers on water quality, and the barrier it poses for people wanting to safely swim or paddle. Through hands-on monitoring of water quality in Brewery Creek and outreach at public beaches, we have increased the citizens of Gatineau’s support to that City’s massive investment needed to modernize their sewage infrastructures.

Furthermore, the number of people engaging in river issues has increased significantly since I started last year. Most importantly, we have now reached an even number of Riverwatchers from Ontario and Quebec. These community leaders live all along the river and are our eyes and years on the river, trained to be able to monitor water quality and issues.

KF: What can we the public do to best help? And, how do we get in touch with you?

AM: People can best help by getting out and experiencing their rivers and lakes, and learning about their water. Where does it come from? Which fish live in their river? As well, people can help by staying informed about the issues that affect their stretch of the river, by reporting pollution to our pollution hotline (1-888-9KEEPER), and by speaking for the river in their municipalities.

The more they learn about their water, the more people will increase their capacity to take action and to inspire others to do the same.

We welcome volunteers and donations, as we are a registered charity.

KF: Thanks so much for your time.

AM: Thank you for shedding light on the environmental issues of our region for so many years!

END of Interview

Katharine Fletcher’s bimonthly Our Environment column is published in the three Outaouais-based Ryan papers: the West Quebec Post, Aylmer Bulletin, and Pontiac Journal. She is a freelance writer and author. Visit her at katharinefletcher.com

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