Nearly 60 people attended the Ottawa River--Who Cares? event on Tuesday night. We were treated to a great evening of entertainment and education. Anda Bruinsma was the event organizer and MC.
The evening kicked off with a wonderful reflection by Jeannie Smith of the importance of the river to her, followed by a beautiful song she wrote called Kitchissippi. Watch for it on YouTube, coming shortly.
We were honoured to have Algonquin Elder Skip Ross drive down from Petawawa, where he was born on the shores of the Petawawa River eighty years ago. While he started school in 1937, at home, he learned the history and traditional ways of his people from his grandmother. Skip shared his love and passion for rivers which started at a young age when he had his own birchbark canoe and explored up and down the Petawawa River. As a young man he was aptly named River Running Man by a Migmaw Name-giver. Over his lifetime he has learned intimately the precious relationship between the water, the fish and all the plants and animals that need the river for their existence. He worries that people are not aware enough about the fragility of this relationship. He explained that we are in the Eighth Fire of existence where we will have to make the choice between more and bigger material possessions or the survival of the planet. It is our choice. Without rivers, "the life blood of Mother Earth" we cannot exist. He provided a powerful message rooted in the traditional ways of his people, we were privileged to have him with us.
Unfortunately Meredith Brown, the Ottawa Riverkeeper was unable to join us due to a last minute family emergency. She was, however, well represented by Meaghan Murphy, River Watch Coordinator, and Alex Brett, Director of Communications, from the Ottawa Riverkeeper office. They educated us on the vast expanse of the Ottawa River watershed draining into the river that flows past us here in Ottawa. Issues affecting the river include dams without fish ladders, radioactivewaste and sewage dumping, runoff from agriculture, lawns, golfcourses resulting in massive algae blooms which suffocate the fish.The most critical challenge in managing issues affecting the river is the problem of inter-jurisdictional responsibility between various governments. No one is responsible so there is no comprehensive data collection! In 2010, the Riverkeeper organized the first ever Ottawa River Summit bringing together Mayors, First Nation Chiefs and key agency players to discuss the issues and challenges facing the river and map out a plan for the future. The Riverkeeper is developing a River Watch Network to help monitor activity and events which affect the river. Many volunteer opportunities exist for anyone who has a passion for ensuring that we stay vigilant in monitoring the river. They are looking for someone to join their network in the Cumberland area. A great thanks to Meaghan and Alex for jumping in at the last minute.
The Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa, Graham Saul, rounded out the guest speakers. Graham focused specifically on the issue of the Ottawa River Action Plan put in place by the City of Ottawa to address the millions of litres of raw sewage that it dumps into the river following every rain event. Interestingly he told us, the system was build that way, at a time when it was thought that occasionally allowing overflow to dump directly into the river was no bid deal. We now all know that it is. In the downtown, sewage and storm water are collected in the same pipes and delivered to the treatment plant. Even with a very light rain the capacity of the treatment process is overwhelmed and the system overflows. Instead of tearing up the entire downtown, the problem can be managed with holding tanks that would feed into the treatment plant when flow rates are lower. Ecology Ottawa has a petition with approaching 10,000 signatures to keep the focus on this issue and push the Feds and Province to anti up with their share of the infrastructure money, the City has it's share approved and available. You can sign the petition on their website. Ecology Ottawa is a volunteer based grass roots organization that reaches over 15,000 people in the capital. They are working to make Ottawa the Green Capital of Canada. They too have many volunteer opportunities. If you would like to join a motivated and enthusiastic group of people intent on keeping the face of our city green and our river swimmable all summer long, check them out.
On behalf of the attendees, the Cumberland Community Association would like to thank the guest presenters for their insightful, interesting, and thought provoking presentations. We can no longer take the river for granted...we each own some responsibility to to ensure her health and well-being as she contributes to ours.