From May 3rd to 5th, my colleague Larissa and I went on a mini road-trip to the northern part of the Ottawa River watershed. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet people who, like us, are drawn to the river and want to ensure it has a healthy, sustainable future.
Our journey took us from the urban centre of Ottawa-Gatineau all the way to the agricultural lands on the northern shores of Lake Temiscaming. With every bend of the river, we discovered changes in geography, distinct communities, and varying perspectives on issues of concern. But always, we found a powerful bond to water. People spoke of the river as a loyal neighbour, a cherished friend, a stabilizing and unifying force.
In Cobden, I sat down with Karen and Rene Coulas of the Muskrat Watershed Council, a group of citizens looking for solutions to reduce nutrient loading, while sharing best practices and empowering residents to improve water quality. They are building a network of concerned citizens and hoping more people get on board to foster economic and environmental sustainability in their region.
In Deep River, we spent time with river enthusiasts whose observations about fish stocks, the dams around Swisha on l’île de Rapides-des-Joachims, and recent public land use regulations informed our understanding of the river in that area, where the shores of Ontario and Québec are so close. They live just a few minutes away from Chalk River, home to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), which gives them a particular appreciation for how the facility operates, as well as its significant role in the community.
In Mattawa, we were gracefully, one might say lavishly, hosted by Riverwatchers Graham and Janine. They took us on an invigorating pontoon ride to the Otto Holden dam, one of four operated by Ontario Power Generation. Together, they provide electricity for 1 million homes, but also make for very long portages if you are paddling down the river!
A rainy drive then took us up to Temiscaming Shores (ON) and Ville-Marie (QC), where we each met individuals and groups who generously shared their detailed knowledge of the area’s mining, farming, and tourism heritage.
While in town, I met with representatives of l’Association pour la Préservation du Lac Témiscamingue, a group of citizens raising awareness of water quality issues in the lake. They are especially concerned with the growing presence of green-blue algae and the establishment of a handful of new pig farms along the lake’s tributaries. Despite a limited budget, they keep forging ahead and recruiting new members.
Also in Ville-Marie, I visited with Marilou Thomas, the General Director of l’Organisme de bassin versant du Témiscamingue (OBVT), a sub-watershed that spans 34 835 km2. Shoreline erosion, agricultural run-off, flooding, and waste water treatment on riverfront properties are only a few of the pressing issues the OBVT is tackling. Marilou and her colleague Camilla took me to where they conduct water testing on the Loutre river, a fast-flowing tributary of the lake that is brown from the surrounding clay soil. We also stopped at the gigantic Barrage des Quinze in Anglier, a small municipality of about 300 people that, strangely, does not have drinking water since 2008.
In Haileybury, our time with Nicole, Peter, and Julie showed us once
again how grassroots organizations are born. They are just starting out, but they will go far because they are reaching out and leveraging their networks. Much of the prosperity of the region depends on tourism. That requires a clean lake and they will make sure everybody gets the memo.
The main message we heard throughout our trip is that people want to connect. They want to share information or remediation technologies, exchange tips on successful strategies, and enlist their peers in the safeguard and promotion of a thriving watershed we can all enjoy.
We are amazed by the energy, dedication, and collaborative spirit of our new river allies!
Director, Watershed Council Initiative