It takes a watershed, and the people within it, to protect a river

This #GivingTuesday we are sharing a recent success story from the frontline of our Pollution Hotline!

Written by Riverwatcher Cathy Rogers.

On October 31st, we received a call on the Ottawa Riverkeeper Pollution Hotline: from a bridge crossing the Rideau River, a passerby had spotted an iridescent sheen, stretching a couple hundred meters, on the surface of the river. He was concerned, thinking that it might be oil or gas.

As soon as we took the call, Ottawa Riverkeeper staff got to work and alerted the Spills Action Centre of the Ontario Ministry of Environment and the City of Ottawa. City staff investigated immediately, dispatched emergency response teams, and notified the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.

In turn, the Ottawa Fire Department boomed the slick to prevent widespread contamination of the river, and a privately-owned clean-up crew skimmed and vacuumed over 9,500 litres of oil-and-gas-infused water from the river. That’s about the volume of 8 four-person hot tubs!

Thanks to a private citizen, the Ottawa Riverkeeper Pollution Hotline, and a responsive emergency team, the toxic contaminant was promptly removed from the river.

This rapidly unfolding chain of events shows how it takes the entire community within a watershed, to care for and protect a river: the action of on-site individuals, a clear and motivated point of contact to assess the information and alert appropriate authorities, and the rapid response of trained professionals.

Pollution HotlineIn this shared effort to protect our water, Ottawa Riverkeeper is a vital link between people (be it a concerned citizen, public organization, or private business) and responsible authorities. The Ottawa Riverkeeper Pollution Hotline is available by phone (1-888-9KEEPER, 1-888-953-3737) or through an online form that’s accessible at anytime on our website.

Ottawa Riverkeeper will assess the information, then identify and advise or pursue all appropriate responses. Ottawa Riverkeeper receives hotline tips regularly – approximately one every 10 days – from people all over the watershed (an area the size of England). Reported concerns include: spills, garbage dumping, strange smells or colours in the water, shoreline alteration, shoreline erosion, sediment loading, fish kills.

Please contact us if you notice an activity or condition that threatens a local waterway or shoreline and warrants a quick response!

The Ottawa River watershed is a magnificent home! We are incredibly fortunate to share this exceptional area with hundreds of species: fish, birds, mammals, trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, wildflowers.

In festive December, we celebrate, cherish, and give thanks for all that is important in our lives. As this season begins, today, Giving Tuesday, is a global movement to support the charities that underpin our communities. We hope that, in keeping with this movement, you will offer your support to Ottawa Riverkeeper. Today, please donate to help create more success stories like this one. With your support, Ottawa Riverkeeper will continue working to protect the health of our magnificent river, working to ensure our river remains drinkable, swimmable, and fishable.

It takes a watershed – and the people within in – to protect our life-sustaining river. Together we can safeguard the health and future of the Ottawa River.

2 responses to “It takes a watershed, and the people within it, to protect a river”

  1. Wendolyn Nicholds says:

    I live by the river for 23 years.
    Thankyou for responding I would be interested to know what the chemical spill was.
    I have been a friend of the Rideau River for 25 years and a scuba instructor for 35 years.
    A retired infectious disease nurse and a community member I would love to be involved. My niche soft water paths and a permaculturist creating huglekulturs to prevent erosion.

    • Matthew Brocklehurst says:

      Hello Wendolyn, thanks for your question! Unfortunately, it can often be difficult to determine the source for spills such as this. The event occurred on a day with heavy rain which often results in polluted stormwater runoff reaching our rivers. When we followed up with Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment they determined it was non-point source pollution (a collection of pollutants from multiple sources). What was really positive about this event was that it was reported right away and, due to a quick response, was successfully cleaned up. It’s a great example at how effective reporting to the Pollution Hotline can be and how it can have a positive contribution to protecting the river.

      I hope that provides you with a few more details. If you would like to be more involved with Ottawa Riverkeeper, I suggest signing up to our newsletter at or you can email me at to let me know how you would like to get involved. Thanks for you interest!