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Freshwater


Water in Cities: The Canadian Water Summit

The Canadian Water Summit is an annual event attracting hundreds of passionate water advocates and professionals from across the country and abroad.  I had the great pleasure of chairing this year’s event, entitled “Water in Cities”, which explored a number of pressing urban water issues facing Canadian municipalities.

Left to Right: Todd Latham, President, Actual Media Inc. and publisher of Water Canada magazine with David Miller, President & CEO, WWF-Canada and Canadian Water Summit 2014 Chair

Left to Right: Todd Latham, President, Actual Media Inc. and publisher of Water Canada magazine with David Miller, President & CEO, WWF-Canada and Canadian Water Summit 2014 Chair © Laura Tozer

Throughout the conference, several themes emerged as leaders from diverse sectors discussed what is needed to promote and implement sustainable water management in Canada.  A number of presenters echoed the need to create a more captivating narrative around water that speaks to a broader audience, since we all share deep and common interests in water across our vast country.

Another highly relevant topic that emerged repeatedly was the question of triggers for improved water management.  All too often, we don’t take action to build better, more resilient systems for water governance until serious issues arise.  Recent flooding in Saskatchewan and Manitoba reminds us of the devastating impacts of extreme weather events; unfortunately, many times it’s only after a crisis has occurred that preventative measures are taken to avert similar future scenarios.  And where we have taken steps to avoid repeating our mistakes – like Toronto planners making the city’s flood plains a no-go zone for construction after Hurricane Hazel in the 1950s – we’ve seen great value.  Clearly, this is something we need more of as our climate becomes increasingly unpredictable.

Gardner expressway passing over the Don River – one of the two main rivers that flow through the heart of Toronto.  © WWF-Canada/Noah Cole

Gardiner expressway passing over the Don River – one of the two main rivers that flow through the heart of Toronto. © WWF-Canada/Noah Cole

We must recognize that Canada is a very lucky country when it comes to water.  We’re home to some of the world’s most exceptional and largest freshwater ecosystems, and we’re not as affected by water quality problems and shortages as many other parts of planet.  However, the landscape is changing.  A changing climate and other mounting pressures brought on by municipal, industrial, agricultural water demands will inevitably intensify existing challenges and give rise to new issues previously unseen in Canada.

Given our current standing as a water wealthy country, I believe this presents us with a huge opportunity to take proactive measures to secure a sustainable future, one in which both people and nature have the water they need to prosper.  At WWF-Canada, we believe this starts with a healthy environment. Yet at a national scale, we don’t have a complete picture of the health of our waters.  To help fill this critical knowledge gap, we have been developing freshwater health assessments across the country to better understand the status of our waters and provide direction on our path forward.

Understanding the health of our waters is an essential first step to making sure we’re taking care of our waters, so they can take care of us.  At the Canadian Water Summit, I felt confident that our water future was in highly capable hands, and that together, we can work to build the information base and widespread support we need to ensure Canada’s waters are and remain healthy.