The last time the Canadian Water Summit came to Vancouver, the city was in the midst of the 2015 drought and under the harshest water restrictions in over a decade. That was a very different backdrop for discussing water, as one speaker at this year’s summit in Vancouver pointed out. Three years later, 2018 has new, but related water issues like the 68 First Nations communities currently under boil-water advisories in Canada or Cape Town approaching “day zero:” when the South African city has officially run out of water.
Crises grab attention, but day to day there are deeper ongoing discussions about water. How should we preserve water? Clean it? Track it? Protect it? Manage it? Share it? On the opening day of the Canadian Water Summit, members of mining industry and the beverage industry, engineers and water protectors, First Nation chiefs and resource managers, professors and explorers tackled these questions and many more. In each session, water wore a different hat.
Dr. Kim Sturgess, the CEO and founder of engineering consulting company Alberta WaterSMART, highlighted the changeable nature of water in a map of water-stressed regions. Water, she said, can be a trigger for conflict and a weapon in conflict, mentioning warring groups in Africa that had poisoned wells to attack rivals. In another session, Chief Harvey McLeod spoke about how the Syilx Okanagan Nation is struggling with too much water along the Upper Nicola watershed.
“We’ve had two 100-year floods in the last two years alone. We are really being challenged right now.”
– Chief Harvey McLeod
Another powerful speaker, Chief Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith band (Secwepmc Nation), spoke about taking her community’s opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline to a Texas boardroom of Kinder Morgan shareholders. The pipeline, if built, would cross the nation’s ancestral land in interior British Columbia — a potential threat to the community’s water security. “Water is going to bring us all together,” she told the room, “whether we want it to or not.”
In an inspiring session led by the cave-diving explorer Jill Heinerth, the fun, immersive and inspiring side of water emerged. Heinreth has explored some of the most inaccessible regions on earth: the hidden underground rivers of Florida, the unknown aquifers beneath Mexico and under glaciers in the Canadian Arctic. Her purpose is always to show water’s path and humanity’s connection to it.
At the Canadian Water Summit, the view of water changed depending on who was speaking, but four key themes emerged: education, collaboration, connection and protection. Just as water is the most essential, interconnected element for all life on earth, the path to saving it depends on interrelated principals. Learn your water’s source and you’re more likely to protect it. Collaborate with diverse, marginalized groups and you’re more likely to have a holistic understanding. Spend time around water and you’re more likely to learn about, appreciate and protect it, which is exactly what the Canadian Water Summit succeeded in doing.
Laura Trethewey is Ocean Wise’s Senior Writer and Editor.