Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Friday, 21 October 2011

Green Infrastructure Manages Stormwater while Providing Additional Benefits

By Deb Martin Downs, Director, Ecology Division, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority

Colleen Cirillo, Coordinator, Green Infrastructure Ontario Research and Development Section, Toronto and Region Conservation


Recent monitoring and modelling activities in southern Ontario reveal that urbanization is degrading the environmental health of many watersheds. Policy documents, including Credit Valley Conservation’s (CVC) Credit River Water Management Strategy Update and Toronto and Region Conservation’s (TRCA) watershed plans, conclude that a new approach to stormwater management is essential to watershed health and climate change resiliency.  These and other Conservation Authorities are proposing a shift away from conventional approaches and including green infrastructure in the response to water management in urbanizing areas.

To assist with this shift, CVC and TRCA developed The Low Impact Development Stormwater Management Planning and Design Guide in consultation with government and industry.  This guide details landscape-based stormwater management planning and low impact development stormwater management practices, many of which are green infrastructure types. Examples include green roofs, swales, and permeable pavement. Additional green infrastructure types, including urban forests and community gardens, also collect and purify stormwater and should therefore be considered by ecologists, planners, and developers as they make this essential shift in stormwater management.

Green infrastructure as stormwater management is even more appealing when the additional benefits provided such as sun protection, air purification, and the mitigation of urban heat island effect are considered. Efforts are underway to assign economic values to these and other benefits and services, and a coalition has formed to advocate for green infrastructure across Ontario.

Members of the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition share a common vision of a healthy Ontario in which the economic, social, environmental, and health benefits of green infrastructure are fully realized, protected and enhanced. The coalition is led by a seven-member steering committee with representatives from the following organizations:

·        Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF)
·        Landscape Ontario
·        Ontario Parks Association
·        Toronto and Region Conservation
·        Green Roofs for Healthy Cities – North America Inc.
·        Evergreen
·        Ontario Association of Landscape Architects (OALA)

The coalition defines green infrastructure as natural vegetation and vegetative technologies that collectively provide society with a broad array of services for healthy living. These services include:

·        water and air purification
·        energy savings for buildings
·        a reduction of the urban heat island effect
·        climate change mitigation and improved adaptability
·        reduced health care costs because of active recreation  opportunities, air and water quality improvements, etc.
·        capital and operational cost savings for traditional gray infrastructure

Green infrastructure takes many forms including natural systems, parks, gardens, engineered wetlands, storm water ponds, green roofs and green walls, urban forests, and meadows.  It also includes soil in volumes and qualities adequate to sustain vegetation and absorb water, as well as technologies like porous paving, rain barrels, cisterns, and structural soils.

Since its inception in 2010, the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition has steadily grown in size. As of September 2011, 51 organizations, agencies and businesses from across Ontario have joined as official coalition members. This is a diverse group, with some representatives based in small towns and others in big cities. Some study and protect biodiversity while others design gardens, install green roofs, manage stormwater or advocate for healthy communities. What brings members together is a shared awareness of the great potential of green infrastructure to address Ontario’s stormwater predicament while simultaneously benefiting society in numerous and diverse ways. For more information on green infrastructure and the coalition, visit

 Deb Martin Downs is the Director of Ecology at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. Colleen Cirillo is also with TRCA and the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition GIOC. Colleen is speaking at Latornell on Friday morning in a session entitled “Making the Case for Green Infrastructure”. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is one of the founding members of the Coalition.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Social Media and Science- Friend or Foe?

By Scott Adams

Birchbark Media

Now that anyone with a computer and an internet connection can broadcast their thoughts to the world, there is no shortage of content to consume. Content as vain as celebrity breakfast choices or as captivating as live natural disaster updates is now only a click away. Everything has become news and everything is now news worthy - at least to someone.

The fundamental shift in how we communicate has empowered each and every one of us to be our own publishers, broadcasters and journalists. To some this is a gloriously compulsive revolution yet to others it is simply a waste of time. Therein lies a roadblock when social media is put on the table to communicate science. When the focus is on such extreme uses of social media it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

Like it or not, how we communicate, how we gather information and how we interact with our communities has undergone a seismic shift through the rise of social media. As with most change, it is easier to focus on the negative then to take the time to understand the positives. But that’s not why you are reading this, I hope? If we can get past the Farmville requests and ‘I just fed my cat’ posts, we can discover an extremely generous friend in social media.

To get to that point we need to break down social media like a science experiment and examine each of its individual parts. The discovery is that there is nothing new. Each core element of social media can be found in our everyday lives and it is only the outlets for distribution (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter) that are new.

To demonstrate this let’s break down the name itself - social media.

Media - We consume media every day. Media is the newspaper, TV show, billboard, journal, etc … It contains a message, concept, news or information of some kind. For us to consume it there are a few factors that must be in place. We have to seek it out or have it find us, it has to meet our needs or interest and most importantly we need to trust the source. 

Social - unless you are a hermit, social is a part of your everyday as well. It’s our personal interaction with our communities - family, friends, workmates, and strangers on the street. We instinctively form social circles based on interests, values, kinship, etc … Each circle is more personal then the next with the tightest circle typically being your closest friends or family. Within these tight and more personal circles we find the individuals whom you most value, share opinions with, take advice from and above all they are the ones you trust the most.

Seven years ago (for argument’s sake we’ll use the launch of Facebook as the start of social media) these two - social and media - were separate. Marketers and communicators had to be very crafty and spend lots of money to infiltrate your social circles and build your trust. What’s worse is that even if they did get on the inside there was no way to join the conversations at the kitchen table or water cooler.

Snap forward to today, however, and the world is a different place. Now that the two words are together and they have moved online, communicators have an unprecedented opportunity on their hands. Not only is the media portion now easier (and less expensive eg. Youtube vs broadcast) to produce, they also have the ability to drop it right into the middle of their audiences’ social circles through social networking websites (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter). Now you might be so excited at this point that you want to stop reading and go blast your message to social networking sites right away. Well don’t. The important stuff is still to come.

If you read back to our break down of social media, you’ll notice that there is one word that was mentioned in both descriptions - Trust. This is what will make or break you. You must establish trust with your online community. Remember, it’s social media not social advertising. The content or media you produce must be of interest and provide value. Always keep in mind that your goal is to stay in your communities’ social circle. If you become someone who is always providing value to your followers you will build trust. And just like in the real world, as trust increases the social circle tightens and that’s when what you have to say actually matters.  And isn’t that the goal?


Scott Adams is the founder and president of Birchbark Media, a social media marketing and video production company based in Peterborough Ontario. One of his first jobs was at the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority and when he is not at his desk he can be often found wondering the Canadian wilderness, paddle and camera in hand. Scott is a session speaker at the 2011 A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium, where he will speak to the topic “Beyond Farmville…is Social Media Actually Good for Business?”

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

TELL ME and I'll forget; SHOW ME and I may remember; INVOLVE ME and I'll understand: a new generation of engaged youth environmental professionals

By Jason Tran
Take a second and listen to what our ecosystems are saying: climate change, global warming, water shortages, food security, biodiversity loss, fragmented communities; the list of concerns seem to expand with each passing day. Despite these complex issues that challenge our social, economic and environmental fabric, there is much reason to be optimistic. Policies and regulations continue to be enhanced and implemented to more effectively manage our natural resources. Across the country, stakeholders of all shapes and sizes synergize their collaborative efforts in meaningful partnerships to affect positive change. While Canadians as a whole are becoming more aware of environmental concerns1, perhaps the greatest sense of optimism is derived from the leadership that our youth display.

More Canadian students are enrolling in post secondary environmentally related programs, such as conservation biology and bio resource management to name a few2. As youth are our future, this new generation of young conversationalists are expected to fill more than 100 000 environmental jobs that will become available over the next decade due to a retiring workforce3. While these soon to be young professionals await their turn to carve their own footprint, they remain engaged and not dormant. Youth are soaking up a plethora of training and professional development opportunities, continually refining their skills and preparing themselves for an exciting career in the green sector.

Initiatives such as Ontario’s Stewardship Ranger program offer diverse outdoor experiences, from the restoration of native habitats to cleaning up streams and riparian corridors.  Others such as Environment Canada’s Science Horizon Youth Internship, the Federal Student Work Experience and Ontario’s Internship program prepares young people with opportunities to develop knowledge, skills and experiences to succeed in environment based careers.

The A.D. Latornell Symposium is another venue common amongst young professionals; either attending as a delegate, presenting student research posters and or participating as a conference moderator or in the YCP program. Collectively, these initiatives (and not exclusive to those mentioned above) provide experiential learning opportunities that compliment young professionals’ post secondary training, reinforcing the fact that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

As we, the current workforce, push ahead with our efforts to manage and protect the natural commons, we should be encouraged and enthusiastic about the quality of highly skilled young professionals that will sustain our environmental legacy. The world is a beautiful place and worth fighting for and they, the youth, are being the change they want to see in this world.

1. Environment trumps health care, Afghanistan as key issue poll
Jason Tran is the Liaison Officer for the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) at the University of Guelph. In this role, he coordinates OAC’s educational outreach initiatives, which support high school SHSM programs in environment, agriculture, food science, business, horticulture, forestry and energy.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Time to try something new if we want to 'Protect the Source' in Ontario

By Charley Worte
Conservation Ontario
We are used to taking water for granted here in Ontario because it looks as if we have plenty. In recent years, however, drinking water safety issues, droughts and floods are proving the historic myth of abundance false. The effects of a changing climate and the increasing demands of a growing population mean that our water supplies are becoming less reliable and less secure.
If we are going to have adequate and sustainable supplies of water in the future we are going to have to do a better job of looking after it and that’s not going to be easy. Water touches all aspects of our lives from something as basic but critical as drinking water through to supporting our manufacturing and energy industries. Water is also a key part of our recreational activities and is fundamental to the health of the natural ecosystems around us.
Currently the management of our water is fragmented among many different agencies and organizations resulting in inefficiencies and duplication of effort and inconsistent or conflicting actions. This approach is not going to be adequate in the future but there are ways to be more coordinated and integrated. We can do this through the concept of integrated watershed management.
Integrated watershed management (IWM) is the process of managing human activities and natural resources in an area defined by watershed boundaries. While it has received endorsement at a number of levels, to date implementation has been slowed by the challenge of bringing the many players to the table.
Some progress is being made. The Clean Water Act, although specific to protecting municipal drinking water sources, is based on a multi-stakeholder watershed approach.  The Lake Simcoe Watershed Plan also has aspects of an integrated approach to water management.
However, future challenges will need a broader commitment to integrated management. In particular the uncertain and complex impacts of a changing climate on our water resources will be difficult or impossible to adapt to in isolation. Watershed strategies using watershed scale information and collaborative decision making will be critical to successful management of our water sources in the future.
For everyone, from government agencies to nonprofits and local communities the challenge will be to recognize that we need to find ways to work together better. A big challenge perhaps but the critical thing is to start with some simple actions; communicating more, sharing our information, maybe even share our problems.  That’s why the theme of this year’s Latornell conference is Water: The Future of the Source. Once we get to know and understand each other a little better then we can probably find ways to help each other.
Yesterdays solutions aren’t going to solve tomorrow’s problems. It’s time to try something new. 

Charley Worte is the Manager of Conservation Ontario’s Source Protection Program. Conservation Ontario is the network of 36 Conservation Authorities, local watershed management agencies that deliver services and programs that protect and manage water and other natural resources in partnership with government, landowners and other organizations. Conservation Authorities promote an integrated watershed approach balancing human, environmental and economic needs. Conservation Authorities are organized on a watershed basis.