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.