Since arriving in Canada on Sept. 11 to film three documentaries about the Ottawa river as part of River Mission, a joint initiative between Ottawa Riverkeeper, Blue Legacy International and the de Gaspe Beaubien Foundation, I have kayaked, whitewater rafted and canoed on the river. As the source of the region’s tap water, I have drunk from the river and seen first hand the watershed’s sewage plants as they clean and return water to the river.
As closely as I’ve gotten to know the Ottawa River during this expedition, I have gotten to know the people that are its champions even better—people like Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown, Ambroise Lycke, director of the Temiscamingue watershed and Algonquin elder Skip Ross, all of whom fight to give this river a voice.
While we’ve borne witness to stories of empowered and impassioned individuals advocating for the river, we have also discovered there is a dramatic lack of accessible information and technology tools to support public action and understanding of the state of our water.
All that I have seen and heard here truly underscores the importance of knowing the state of our water—is it safe to swim in, can we fish in it, can we drink it. Information about water quality is the most critical tool we have to empower people to reclaim and restore their water. And yet, time after time, I see how hard it is for people to obtain and make sense of that information.
Ultimately this is a river that belongs to the communities of people that enjoy and rely upon it every day. Hearing about their concerns for the river and their visions of a better future has truly reinforced my belief that we are all stewards of the quality of our own water. But to bring about the change we seek, we need the right tools, technology, innovation, access to water quality information, public accountability and openness.
Water advocacy on every level starts with one question: how well do you know the state of your water?