Do you value water? A new campaign is hoping to show just how important water is, thereby changing the way we live with our most valuable resource.
“Everything we don’t want in society we’re putting into water, whether it’s chemicals or it’s something we dump down the drain. We’re forgetting it’s the same water we have to drink. It’s a cycle,” explains Colleen Sklar, Executive Director of Lake Friendly, an alliance of the nine municipalities surrounding Lake Winnipeg, and others.
That’s where the Aquavist campaign comes in.
“An Aquavist is someone who really cares about water and takes on protecting water as part of their daily routine,” Sklar says. “The average person has to say, ‘I’m going to start protecting water.'” More than just a public awareness campaign, Aquavist aims to foster the growth of a social movement by sharing stories of action
For years, academics, researchers, NGOs and governments have been working to change the endangered status of Lake Winnipeg, but an important group has largely been missing: the public.
“What’s so frightening is that people don’t understand that there’s an issue. If you take a look at issues around deteriorating [water] quality globally and about drought globally, we’re in a time when water better be on our minds because we may end up in Manitoba saying, ‘We don’t have enough water.'”
The problem is too much phosphorous entering the lake, causing huge algal blooms that are radically changing conditions for plants and animals.
“It’s hard to understand the lake is in trouble because [much of it is] so rich in fish and it’s not polluted with Coke cans floating in it, but we have to understand nutrient pollution itself is a very serious threat.”
And the health of the world’s 10th largest lake is a big deal. The Lake Winnipeg watershed is massive, covering almost one million square kilometres and including four provinces and four U.S. states. Deteriorating water quality has huge economic, environmental and social costs – up to 6.5 million people rely on Lake Winnipeg. It supports a $100 million a year tourism industry and a $25 million a year fishing industry.
Aquavist is envisioned as at least a 10-year campaign that organizers are hoping will be a long-term fix.
“It took us a long time to get the lake into this kind of condition. It started to really deteriorate in the ’80s. Change can happen… in a shorter time if we all start to get engaged.”
Rather than duplicate the efforts of other groups, Aquavist aims to connect and promote those who are already working to preserve our water, thereby inspiring others to act. For example, after the campaign launch in June, Sklar received a call from a pharmacist who had been collecting his patients’ old medication to ensure it was disposed of properly and didn’t end up in our waterways.
“We want to share the pharmacist’s story and we want to create a platform for those stories to be told, because those are the stories that inspire people to get engaged and involved.”
Much of the campaign will be online and on social media, but you can also expect to see billboards and bus ads.
Given Aquavist’s lofty ambitions, it’s no surprise it’s being compared to the early stages of the non-smoking movement.
“We need to address this issue from various levers of change,” Sklar says. “This is what we saw in the non-smoking movement – we saw from the health professionals to governments getting involved and all tackling the problem from their unique angle.”
In the case of Aquavist, some examples include governments addressing policy issues, businesses stocking alternatives to nutrient-rich products, and the public understanding its role, Sklar says.
Organizers are hoping the campaign will eventually be supported by other jurisdictions and exported outside the province.
“We’re really hoping that Manitobans will grab onto this campaign and others will see it as a made-in-Manitoba solution for water deterioration around the world.”
How can you make a difference?
- Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth
- Buy ecological, phosphate-(or phosphorus-) free or Green Seal certified household and personal care products
- Turn off the shower after soaping up and turn it back on to rinse
- Install water saving toilets and showerheads
- Don’t use garburators – they contribute an unnecessary amount of waste water; composting is a better choice
- Water your garden and lawn less frequently
- Plant a rain garden or use a rain barrel to reduce runoff water and nutrients from entering storm drains
Source: What’s your H2O IQ book