On World Water Day, don’t you want to know if the Ottawa River is clean? Is it safe to swim in it? To eat the fish we catch? The answers to these questions depend a lot on where you are and when you are asking. With its 146,300 km² surface, more than 200 municipalities, dozens of rivers and reservoirs, countless lakes, our watershed is a complex system of inter-related bodies of water that are affected by nature’s rhythms, human activity, and climate change.
Assessing the health of the watershed is therefore a complex endeavour that requires access to enormous amounts of scientific data, an understanding of rich traditional knowledge, as well as an ability to conduct regular testing and tap into massive resources to develop reliable reporting protocols.
Are you tired yet?
Tackling this challenge is the mandate of the Watershed Health Committee, a diverse group made up of approximately 20 volunteer experts that Ottawa Riverkeeper has been convening for more than a year. At its most recent meeting on March 16, the Committee continued the delicate work of sifting through the different indicators being used to assess water quality, to determine the impact of urban development on shorelines, to measure the distribution of animal and plant species, among many others measures of watershed health.
At the all-day workshop held in Gatineau, we welcomed the participation of a number of new representatives from key sub-watershed organizations. A fresh Indigenous voice also made sure that the search for technical evidence not overshadow the need to reinforce people’s experiential bond to the river.
This latest gathering proved to be a success on many levels, not least of which was the renewed desire to forge ahead in the spirit of inquiry, collaboration, and stewardship.