Youth Water Leaders Program

Open to youth aged 17 – 25, the Youth Water Leaders Program will provide participants with the skills and tools necessary to identify and propose solutions to environmental issues within the Ottawa River watershed, while offering them hands-on opportunities to learn about the river and make a difference in their communities.

The program:

Solving complex water issues in the Ottawa River watershed can only come from a strong water movement: citizens who understand, steward and defend our most precious resource. Ottawa Riverkeeper wants to empower the youth of today to become water leaders! They will be the driving forces in their communities, working to protect the Ottawa River watershed and ensuring a swimmable, drinkable and fishable future for all. With this in mind, Ottawa Riverkeeper has created The Youth Water Leaders Program!

Open to youth aged 17 – 25 who are interested in developing a stronger understanding of environmental water protection and have a passion for making a difference in their communities, the Youth Water Leaders Program provides participants with the skills and tools necessary to identify and propose solutions to environmental issues within the Ottawa River watershed. Following a six module program, participants work with experts in the fields of communication, science, outreach and volunteering to co-design and carry out meaningful service projects addressing environmental water challenges in their communities.

Over a 6-month period, participants gain more than 120 volunteer hours through mentorship workshops and the completion of their co-designed volunteer projects. They get to know the watershed and learn about the different policies, regulations and authorities governing it. Participants also get to experience the Ottawa River firsthand as part of a paddle expedition they will help plan!

Upon completion of the program, participants will have developed the research, organizational and leadership skills that will serve them well in pursuing the future career of their choice, while making invaluable connections and helping to improve the health of the Ottawa River watershed.

6 Qualities of a Water Leader

How to apply:

Ottawa Riverkeeper operates throughout the Ottawa River watershed, on the Quebec and Ontario sides of the river, and in both French and English. We are dedicated to working with youth from the diverse communities within this region. We encourage youth from the Ottawa River watershed who live outside the National Capital Region to apply.

The third cohort of the program is currently in progress, and applications are closed at this time. If you are interested in learning more about the Youth Water Leaders Program, please contact Katya Smirnova at for more information.

Latest news:

Cohort 3
  • October 4th & 13th, 2020: Susan Johnston, the creator of the podcast Asking for a Friend on CKCU, led a 2-part series on podcasting for the youth. In the first part, the youth learned to record sounds and interview each other, and in the second, they learned how to put their audio recordings together with editing software.
  • September 29th, 2020: The Youth Water Leaders collaborated together to create an online Trivia Night. The youth came up with all of the trivia questions themselves and each question was read by one of the youth either in English or in French.
  • September 26th & 27th, 2020: Boreal River Adventures facilitated two days of exhilarating introductions to whitewater paddling days for our youth who learned how to surf waves and found new connections with the Ottawa River.
  • September 22nd, 2020: Media Style facilitated an online communications and marketing workshop for the youth; teaching them contemporary skills that they can use to promote their future service projects.
  • September 12th, 2020: The youth met in-person for the first time and went stand up paddle-boarding on the Ottawa River followed by a delicious picnic of pizza by the water.
  • August 27th, 2020: A few Youth Water Leaders attended a Sustainability Network webinar about Canadians’ environmental values and behaviours. Dr. Erick Lachapelle and James Boothroyd gave us insight on how to continually engage our community in environmental action.
  • August 19th, 2020: The youth participated in a Q & A with Sunshine Tenasco, author of Nibi’s Water Song and owner of HerBraids. Sunshine spoke openly and honestly about the drinking water crisis in many First Nations communities and our youth asked her questions about how to bring Indigenous perspectives to water conservation efforts. 
  • August 15th, 2020: Ottawa Riverkeeper’s biologist Katy Alambo hosted a webinar about the wonders of watersheds for the Youth Water Leaders and members of Canadian Wildlife Federation’s WILD Outside program. 
  • July 21st, 2020: The youth created their very own watermark videos which are now posted on
  • July 7th, 2020: Cohort 3 of the Youth Water Leaders program met over Zoom for the first time to discuss the program and its involvement with the Ottawa Riverkeeper
  • June 11th to July 16th, 2020: Youth Water Leader, Rachel Balderson, was awarded a Young Leader Grant from Nature Canada to develop and implement a project to celebrate the role nature plays in our lives. The Youth Water Leaders Program collaborated with Rachel and art ecology educator Emily Rose Michaud to hold a 6-week workshop series on Nature Journaling as a way to encourage young people to connect with the Ottawa River and its watershed. 
  • May 22nd, 2020: A Youth Water Leaders Webinar was held to share program information and encourage other young people to apply to the 3rd Cohort that is launching this summer. Youth Water Leaders participated on a Q & A panel to share about their experiences in the program. We launched our new Youth Waters Leaders Program video
  • May 2020: The Youth Water Leaders provided input into an Ottawa Riverkeeper Youth Engagement Strategy to further develop youth initiatives and opportunities with the organization. The Youth Engagement Strategy aims to find creative ways to mobilize a new generation of young people to become active in water protection and empower youth leadership and civic engagement.
  • April 11th, 2020: Youth Water Leader, Harmony Eshkawkogan, planned a Youth Water Walk for March 22 on World Water Day, however due to the COVID-19 state of emergency it was not safe to move forward with such a large gathering. Instead she worked with the Assembly of Seven Generations to host an online webinar about Water Walks, now viewable online.
  • March 16th, 2020: Youth Water Leader, Owen Wilson, wanted to encourage others to explore the watershed during the winter months and wrote a blog “Winter Wildlife in the Ottawa River Watershed.” Riverwatchers provided photos for his blog in support of #natureisnotcancelled which became our social media hashtag during the spring while we were experiencing unprecedented times with COVID-19. Both the Youth Water Leaders and Riverwatchers want everyone to know how beautiful our watershed is during any season. 
  • March 15th, 2020: Youth Water Leader Ella Lake planned and coordinated a Youth Engagement Forum to gather ideas for hands-on educational experiences related to the Ottawa River watershed. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to postpone the event. 
  • March 7th, 2020: Youth were led through a printmaking workshop that combined art with activism. They were inspired by youth water leaders from around the world and created lino block portraits of young leaders making change in the world. 
  • February 23rd, 2020: Youth Water Leader, Harmony Eshkawkogan, planned an evening at Color Me Mine to share information about Indigenous Water Walks and to work creatively together on painting a pail that would later be used to carry water from the Ottawa River as part of a Youth Water Walk.
  • February 18th, 2020: Cohort 1Youth Water Leaders co-created a Species-at-Risk Memory Game that is now available in our Learning Library. Did you know you can borrow resources from our Learning Library?
  • January 29th, 2020: The Youth Water Leaders visited Dr. Jesse Vermaire’s lab at Carleton University and learned about his research on microplastic pollution, and how our Riverwatchers, the world’s largest network of citizen scientists sampling microplastics in freshwater, have been central to this project. 
  • January 25th, 2020: The Youth Water Leaders went to the Maniwaki Native Friendship Centre, an hour and a half north of Ottawa, to participate in a one-day youth exchange with youth from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Algonquins of Barriere Lake. Mike Diabo, who is an Indigenous Science Teacher, shared the Algonquin Pike Head Teachings and led the youth through a Climate Change lab. Anna Cote, founder and head chef at The Birch Bite, showed the youth how to clean and cook fish, sharing the nutritional value of traditional food sources.
  • January 18th, 2020: Youth from the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation joined our Youth Water Leaders at the Àbadakone Continuous Fire exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada and worked on creating their own artistic prints that reflected imagery within the watershed. 
  • January 17th, 2020: Chelsea Youth joined our Youth Water Leaders for a beaded pendant Her Braids workshop to learn about the importance of clean drinking water in First Nations communities.
  • December 7th, 2019: Rachel Balderson, a Cohort 1 Youth Water Leader, was mentored by Cathy Rogers, a Riverwatcher, to publish a blog post. The blog is about the Youth Water Leaders attending the annual National Capital Commission’s Archaeological Dig this summer.
  • November 19th to 23rd, 2019: The Youth Water Leaders co-created and released a social media campaign on 5 Easy Ways to Protect Your Local Waterways.
  • November 16th, 2019: Although the snow came early in November, when the youth had planned a fall shoreline cleanup, they still went to Wakefield to do a mini-cleanup around town. They also learned how to take water quality samples and analyzed them in our citizens science lab. 
  • November 13th & 14th, 2019: The Youth Water Leaders shared their watermark stories as part of the Watermark Project.
  • November 1st, 2019: We kicked-off the second cohort of Youth Water Leaders Program with a meeting at the Ottawa Riverkeeper office. The youth are preparing to share their Watermarks; developing ideas for their service projects; and brainstorming ideas for upcoming educational workshops.
  • October 4th to 6th, 2019: Youth Water Leaders participated in a rafting expedition on the Gatineau River, led by Boreal River Adventures. Participants learned leadership, teamwork, and wilderness skills, as well as more on the ecology of the watershed. A First Nation member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg joined the youth to share the history of the area and its significance to the Algonquin people.
  • September 30th, 2019: Recruitment for the second cohort of the Youth Water Leaders Program ends. The first cohort of youth have been so engaged that they will continue to be a part of the program alongside the second cohort!
  • August 30th, 2019: Youth Water Leaders met with our Water Quality Intern to learn about Ottawa Riverkeeper’s recreational water quality testing program. The youth got a chance to collect water samples, process them, and perform an analysis to determine if E.coli was present!
  • July 12th to 14th, 2019: Youth Water Leaders visited OWL Rafting where they did some whitewater rafting, worked on their canoeing and kayaking skills and met with some local Riverwatchers to learn more about issues affecting the Ottawa River.
  • June 29th, 2019: Youth Water Leaders participated in Ecology Ottawa’s Green Infrastructure event at Britannia Park where they shared information about green infrastructure techniques we can all do to protect the Ottawa River.
  • June 15th, 2019: Some Youth Water Leaders met at Parc Moussette for our Beach Cleanup and to learn more about the recreational water quality monitoring that Ottawa Riverkeeper does throughout the summer in support of Swim Guide.
  • May 11th, 2019: The Youth Water Leaders had their second meeting, where they brainstormed project ideas. They’re hoping to engage with the watershed community, showing simple things people can do in their daily lives to protect the river and highlighting some of our dedicated Riverwatchers and volunteers who are already doing the work of a water leader!
  • March 30th, 2019: A group of 8 young people gathered at the Ottawa Riverkeeper office to kick-off the Youth Water Leaders Program!