Canada Turns Attention to River Health

National Geographic News
June 6, 2003

Sunday, June 8, is Canada's first official Rivers Day. Inaugurated in part because of 2003 being International Year of Fresh Water, the day is to become an annual occasion to focus on the country's huge system of rivers. National Geographic News interviews Harris Boyd, chairperson of Rivers Canada.

Why create a Rivers Day? What's the philosophy and objective behind it?

The purpose of Rivers Day is to bring attention to the important role waterways have played in the development of our country, to underline the need to preserve them and to create a focal point and a communications vehicle to get people involved in a wide range of activities—environmental, educational, and recreational—to ensure future generations will be able to enjoy our rivers.

Who is supporting this initiative? How many organizations are involved? Is there widespread community support?

Rivers Day is organized nationally by Rivers Canada, a nonprofit society with a board of directors drawn from all across Canada. It is supported by groups like the Canadian Canoeing Association, EarthWild International, as well as local charities like River Keepers, the Vancouver Aquarium, and many other community organizations. We hope our partnerships will grow and thrive as this important celebration gains momentum in the coming years.

To most people in the world, Canada is a huge country with large areas of wilderness and many pristine rivers where one can fish for salmon or paddle a canoe in splendid isolation. How accurate is this picture?

This is still a good description. Canada is still home to much of the world's largest and [most] ecologically significant wilderness, but intense pressure from industrial developments and urban growth have been seriously threatening that picture.

What are the biggest threats to Canada's rivers and what can be done to alleviate the situation?

Pollution, overuse, resource-extraction, roads, dams, and so on are perhaps the greatest threats. We must have meaningful environmental and social impact assessments before development, better planning, and in some cases no development at all.

Fresh water is becoming perhaps the most precious commodity on Earth. Something like a billion people live without regular access to safe drinking water. Presumably this is not a problem in Canada?

Canada is fortunate to have an estimated 25 percent of the Earth's fresh water, but we should not take it for granted. Without steps for protecting its integrity today it may be lost to a variety of pressures in the future.

To what extent is Canada concerned that there might be growing international pressure to share its freshwater resources in the centuries ahead, especially if the U.S. West Coast runs dry?

Continued on Next Page >>




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