Monday, June 14, 2010

Freshwater Youth Summit - A success!

The 2010 Freshwater Summit was a huge success. On June 1st and 2nd, 300 individuals gathered at the Rene M. Caisse Theatre in Bracebridge, Ontario, to listen to 6 amazing speakers discuss current issues and policies regarding our freshwater resources.

At the same time, 38 students from 8 schools in the Parry Sound-Muskoka region gathered at the Muskoka Campus of Nipissing University to educate themselves, listen to these 6 speakers, and discuss the changes that they would like to see. During the first day of talks, students began by gathering in five groups – each group was a specialist in one area. These included:
Canada’s Freshwater ResourcesJustice and Jurisdiction
Water Knowledge
Water Management, Part 1
Water Management, Part 2

Each group created a list of freshwater issues that they had encountered while reading background resources prior to arriving at the Youth Summit. Then, we all gathered to watch a live-feed of Henry Lickers (Freshwater: Our Cultural Misunderstandings and Responsibilities) and John Smol (The Power of the Past: Long-term Environmental Changes in Aquatic Ecosystems). At the end of the talk, there is typically a question and answer period – it was very neat that the students were able to ask questions to the speakers as well! The students then began to consider some recommendations, or lists of things that should be changed, to help improve the current issues they deemed important.

The students gathered at the Muskoka campus of Nipissing University to watch the keynote speakers at the 2010 Freshwater Summit.

The afternoon then continued with presentations by Norm Yan (Assessing Present Issues in Canadian Freshwater Ecosystems) and David Schindler (The Future of Boreal Freshwater Resources), and more youth group discussions.

Afterwards, Merissa and I were able to attend a delicious dinner (made by students at Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School) followed by a talk by Maude Barlow (Canada’s Water: Private Resource or Public Trust?). Her talk was amazing – we were captivated by her from the moment she stepped on stage until the moment she was finished. She is truly an amazing speaker and science communicator.

The next morning, the students gathered at the Nipissing University Muskoka campus again and began with discussions about recommendations right away. Then, they continued by listening to Gord Miller (Science, Policy and Freshwater), and watching a taped recording of Maude Barlow’s talk from the previous night. Then, students changed groups and began discussing their recommendations with classmates from their own school. This allowed students to compare (on a small scale), the types of recommendations that were important to other students at the Youth Summit.

The busy morning was followed by a lunch with all of the speakers! This was fantastic – the speakers sat down and had lunch with the students, signed some of their t-shirts, and even posed for a large group photo! (David Pearson, one of the Co-Directors of the Science Communication Program, and the MC of the Freshwater Summit, was also signing some t-shirts!)

T-shirt signing!

The Youth Summit group gets a photo taken with the keynote speakers!

After lunch, Henry Lickers and Norm Yan sat down with the large group, listened to the group recommendations, and gave some encouraging positive feedback.

Finally, our day ended with a large group discussion, where the students discussed what they wanted to be included in their final communiqué, which will be sent to the G8 leaders when they are in Huntsville at the end of the month.

As Jim Rusak and Maude Barlow said to Merissa and I at a dinner during the Summit, we were witnessing history in the making. This was an absolutely fantastic opportunity for each and every student who was able to attend this Youth Summit (and also for Merissa and I!). The students are more knowledgeable about current freshwater issues, and will hopefully have a large impact on the future of the environment.

The final Youth Summit Communiqué is now complete, and it expresses all of the major recommendations that the Youth believed were important to ensure that there is enough freshwater to sustainably support industry, agriculture, and human consumption while maintaining healthy ecosystems. (Check out the communique below!)

It’s still taking some time to sink in with me, but I know that I now think differently about the world and every drop of water that I use. Today’s youth are recognizing the importance of our freshwater resources, and I think it’s time that we all recognize our individual responsibility in relation to water and begin to take our future into our own hands and start making a difference.

Check out the article that was printed about the Youth Summit!

Merissa and I got our photo taken with Maude Barlow!


June 1 and 2, 2010
Nipissing University
Bracebridge, Ontario

This is a call to action on behalf of the Youth of the 2010 Freshwater Summit for the Canadian government, all world leaders (particularly those leaders in the G8), and for all citizens to recognize their individual responsibilities in relation to water. We are not living in the world that you were raised in – this is a world that we, your children and grandchildren, are inheriting. Lead us in our concerted effort to do what is right for the water of the world for our children and grandchildren.

We, 36 youth from Parry Sound and Muskoka Districts, Simcoe County and Halton Region, gathered at the 2010 Freshwater Summit to educate ourselves, listen to six speakers, and discuss current freshwater issues. We strongly believe that, in Canada and in other countries, we can no longer take water for granted.

Water is fundamental; humans, plants, animals and ecosystems need sufficient water in order to survive. Every living thing deserves access to a sufficient quality and quantity of water to sustain life. As such, we propose that water should be managed as a public trust and that water should be a human right regardless of financial standing. National governments and the United Nations should recognize water as a human right and are therefore encouraged to adopt the upcoming proposal of a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth which would ensure the rights of ecological systems. We as humans have the responsibility to ensure that these rights are protected.

As Canadians, we request that the Canadian government immediately establish a National Freshwater Policy that includes clear regulations and targets, steps for immediate and long term protection and conservation, and an educational strategy to advise our citizens and encourage participation.

A National Water Policy must be established. As such, we believe that a national hierarchical network of water committees should be established to enforce a National Water Policy and to regulate and maintain this Policy thereafter. These committees should be from each province and territory and should include all stakeholders (members of the scientific community, First Nations, community citizens), as well as representatives from each watershed. Once established, public meetings should be held to help educate the public, receive their input, and allow them an opportunity to ask questions about the Policy.

It is our recommendation that in the National Water Policy, the following issues be addressed.


Due to the scarcity and increasing demands on freshwater resources, we believe that it’s our responsibility to protect drinking water sources.

We believe that money should be allocated to assess, research, and monitor freshwater resources to help establish a national standard for drinking water.

A fully funded committee for the protection of biodiversity should be founded. Funds should be allocated to water infrastructure in order to upgrade, maintain, and increase efficiency, as well as to clean up bodies of polluted water. Community committees should also be able to apply for grants in order to improve the local quality of water.

Water should be returned to the environment from all uses in the same or better state as it was prior to use. When used water is not returned in an acceptable state, those responsible should be required to cover the costs of ecosystem restoration, including the biodiversity, health, and economic consequences of this pollution. Furthermore, in order to prevent pollution whether individual or industrial, we believe that fines should be issued based on the severity of the offence. Water protection laws must be enforced.


In order to meet the water demands of future generations, steps must be taken to preserve and conserve the resources that currently exist. This can be done by committing additional resources for research, new standards for water use and planned land use. Research needs to be conducted on a regular basis to determine how our actions are affecting the ecosystems around us. We need to ensure that our ecosystems are balanced, sustained, and protected.

Studies must be conducted to determine new standards for household and industrial use. This should be metered and monitored in order to make recommendations on how to further reduce water usage. Additional incentives should be offered to encourage the adoption of environmentally friendly technologies that reduce water consumption. One such incentive could include the use of grey water as a resource instead of treating it as a waste.

To reduce transportation of water, increasing emphasis should be placed on the use of local resources. Furthermore, the effects on, and the availability of water should be considered when planning for land use i.e. agricultural, residential, commercial and industrial growth.


An educated public will support and practice effective water policies. They will become water ambassadors and guardians for freshwater policy.

Implement public awareness campaigns with the goal of educating the public on water usage, protection and conservation to encourage sustainability. Water sustainability programs should begin in elementary school and continue throughout the secondary grades.

The knowledge that developed countries have relating to water treatment and management should be freely shared with developing countries.

We, the future decision-makers, believe that a National Water Policy would ensure a good quality and quantity of water for our children and grandchildren. We are the ones who will be feeling the effects of the decisions that are made today. Thank you for taking into account our carefully considered recommendations. We look forward to your published steps to action.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


We (Merissa and Sarah) both completed our 8-week internships at Science North. Now that we are finished our internships, we decided to interview each other about the experiences we had!

What did you do during your internship?

Merissa: I worked on the new travelling exhibit, Wildlife Rescue. I was assigned the area of "Emergency Response," where I had to research the way wild animals are treated in emergencies. I interpreted research about wild animal rescue and I wrote content documents for the exhibit. The content documents will be used to write the content on the graphic panels in the exhibit. I also contributed ideas for interactive exhibits in the area.

Sarah: During my internship, I helped re-vamp teacher workshops, which are books of activities that are presented to teachers across Ontario to help them with interactive activities in the classroom. I also developed pre- and post- activities for school programs, developed new content for camp-ins, and even got to deliver a few overnight camp-ins.

What was one of your most positive experiences?

Merissa: My most positive experience was during the second design team meeting. I felt really passionate about one of the interactive exhibits, so I fought to keep the exhibit. I thought it was really important to have something for younger kids.

Sarah: I really enjoyed doing the overnight camp-ins. I got to observe one and deliver two of them. I thought it would be hard to stay up from 7 pm to 7 am, but it was lots of fun and you really realize how much kids enjoy Science North.

What did you learn from your internship?

Merissa: I learned essential skills like team work, creative thinking and flexibility. The content was always changing and I had to learn how to cooperate and come to consensus with other people about ideas.

Sarah: I really learned the importance of getting people’s opinions on things; it’s helpful to get other people’s input to make a good idea even better. Doing jobs like this also happen in a fast-paced and changing environment, so you need to learn how to be flexible.

How was your internship related to Science Communication?

Merissa: I was doing work on an exhibit for a science centre. I was learning how to communicate complicated science to a grade 8 audience across North America. I was really living Science Communication.

Sarah: I was able to take science topics that can be difficult to understand and create hands-on activities that can be used in classrooms. Having a science and teaching background was helpful since I would be more likely to know if certain experiments work or not, and I would be able to expand on explanations that would be easier for teachers who are not specialists and children to understand.

During our internship, we were able to share an office space. This made things even more exciting for us. We were able to run ideas past each other and share interesting facts along the way. Here is a list of the top 10 things we learned while we were on our internships:

1. World Turtle Day is May 23rd. Turtles are an important part of our ecosystem and help keep our lakes clean. Did you know that road mortality is a major cause of turtle death in Ontario?
2. Using a Mac computer when you are not used to it is a hard thing.
3. Snack time is at 10:30 a.m., or when we both pull out a banana to eat it at the exact same time.4. If you want to stay awake all night for a camp-in, staying hydrated is the key! Drink lots of water (with your reusable water bottle).5. Meetings can be long, but getting free food is pretty awesome.
6. Magic mud is pretty cool. It can dance on speakers and people can run across pools filled with it. Try it at home (small-scale, of course!) by mixing some corn starch with water!
7. To keep the mood light, having a joke of the day can be helpful. For example, “Why didn’t the brain want to take a bath? Because it didn’t want to get brainwashed!”
8. Oiled birds get their heads cleaned with toothbrushes. And yes, they really use Dawn dish soap (but they have to do other steps before they do this).
9. There are beautiful sunrises over Ramsey Lake at 5 am.
10. Our internships at Science North were awesome!

- Merissa and Sarah