We Want To Know campaign: “Once you start to love something, you protect it”

By Aaron Thornell

Since its founding, Ottawa Riverkeeper has been working tirelessly for over a decade towards the protection and promotion of the Ottawa River. This summer the group has been pushing Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin to alert the public when untreated sewage being dumped into the river.

Largely through efforts made by Ottawa Riverkeeper, the municipality of Ottawa has made significant strides towards lowering the amount of untreated sewage waste that is being dumped into the river each year.

“Over the years, the City of Ottawa has reduced the volume of untreated sewage going into the river by over 80%,” says Meredith Brown, the Riverkeeper who has been with the organization since its inception. “This really came about through public and media awareness.”

Part of the challenge now for Ottawa Riverkeeper is to carry that kind of governmental action over to the other shore of the river. On the Québec side, there are more combined sewer outlets than the City of Ottawa, while awareness of the issue of dumping and mitigation efforts remain low.

“We started crafting this campaign we call ‘We Want To Know’,” says Meredith. “And what we want to know is when untreated sewage goes into the river. We want that information in real time, available to the public. This serves to create awareness of the issue. When there is public, real-time reporting about the dumping of untreated sewage, people start to understand just how often this happens.”

The campaign consists of online letters being sent to the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau. Ottawa Riverkeeper hopes that this public awareness campaign can push Québec to prioritize investment in its sewage infrastructure.

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to the protection of the Ottawa River Watershed are the geographical and political realities that beset it. The river serves essentially as a significant section of the border between Ontario and Québec, and over 200 municipalities are situated within the watershed. This means that collective and coordinated regulatory action can be difficult.

The recent creation of an inter-provincial water management committee for the Ottawa River Watershed was a step closer to the coordinated efforts. Ottawa Riverkeeper has been working on establishing an Ottawa River Watershed council, and has been attempting to bring all the implicated parties to the table through events such as the Ottawa River Summit.

In addition to the protective work done by Ottawa Riverkeeper, they also serve as one of the largest champions for the river as a recreational setting. This summer for example, they organized the “Ride the River! parade,” in which hundreds of watercrafts of all kinds took to the Ottawa River.

While recreational events such as these may seem less important than the work Ottawa Riverkeeper does in safeguarding the river, Meredith explains there is a deeper significance involved. “One of the things we really want to do is connect people to the river. Once you’re out on the river, you’re almost definitely going to have a good time. And once you start to love something, you protect it.”

To get involved in the “We Want To Know” campaign, visit ottawariverkeeper.ca.

This article is part of a series about environmental initiatives in Kitchissippi ward. We welcome your ideas and feedback! Contact editor@kitchissippi.com. Read other articles in this series right here.

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