As part of AquaHacking 2017, a delegation of young professionals and students have combined their forces to outline a vision for Lake Erie by 2020.
The theme of the AquaHacking Youth Delegation 2017 has been anchored around asking ourselves: “how can we do things differently?”. We aim to represent the voice of youth, and have a vested interest in seeing Lake Erie clean and healthy again for future generations, as most of the delegates live on its shores or in its direct or neighbouring watersheds around the Great Lakes.
In part this vision document expands upon a report the Youth Delegation submitted to the MOECC, which was in turn informed by the comments authored and submitted on May 24, 2017 by Freshwater Future, Environmental Defence, Canadian Freshwater Alliance, National Wildlife Federation, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Michigan League of Conservation Voters and Ohio Environmental Council. This report is presented in Appendix A.
Once is it unveiled at the AquaHacking 2017 Summit in Waterloo on September 13, 2017, all citizens and organizations across the Lake Erie basin will be invited to adopt and contribute to this vision. All this has been made possible thanks to the generous support of de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation.
As the rising generation of young professionals and water advocates, we acknowledge Lake Erie’s invaluable natural heritage. Recognizing the ecosystem as a living system supporting the existence and well-being of the region’s human and natural communities, we believe that it is our duty to preserve and restore Lake Erie’s waters. Based on our personal experience and the consultation process initiated by the AquaHacking Forum 2017, we are proposing an inclusive declaration that outlines values and orientations that will inspire decision makers, stakeholders and the inhabitants of the lake to take action towards a better future for Lake Erie. This declaration was presented during the AquaHacking Forum 2017 and is promoted through our Lake Erie Connect platform and via social media.
Vision for Lake Erie 2020
By including diverse stakeholders, vulnerable groups, and the voice of Lake Erie itself - its waters, and the community of life that depends upon it - our connected efforts will bring about a healthier, cleaner, and more united Lake Erie.
A clean Lake Erie requires clear, measurable goals. If goals and actions toward restoring Lake Erie are too vague, it will make it challenging for the public to hold actors accountable. For this reason, we recommend including deadlines for targets, enhancing monitoring to measure what we manage, and clarifying which actors are responsible and what resources are available.
Keywords: transparency, measurable
Achieving inclusion and access for all stakeholders involves (a) physically connecting people to the lake and (b) in decision-making, ensuring all voices are present and heard. We recognize that the people living in the Lake Erie watershed depend upon the commons and are in direct relation to it; therefore, they also hold a responsibility to care for and act on behalf of these waters.
Keywords: subsidiarity, inclusion, accessibility
The waters, ecosystems, and communities of the Great Lakes are entwined and interdependent. Connection is in the relationship of people to the lake, of the lake to the shore, of the waters to wildlife and the economy. We recognize the importance of life experiences and personal connection rather than simply abstract concepts on paper. Multiple perspectives, stories, and experiences await.
Keywords: relationships, reciprocity, multi-stakeholder
In building upon past lessons, do youth know that Lake Erie was threatened by algal blooms in the 1970s, or that the Experimental Lakes Area gave the scientific backing for legislative action to curb nutrient pollution from detergents? Stories about the original abundance of the lake; and the different menaces over time (lead, mercury, nutrients, invasive species) will help to weave a narrative that inspires action.
Keywords: knowledge transfer
We encourage citizens of the lake to celebrate their connection and care for water through gratitude and ritual. Perhaps this is personal – going for a quiet walk, a swim, or listening to the sounds of waves, a babbling brook, or rainfall. Celebrations can be personal or communal, big or small.
Keywords: wonder, love, awe
In preserving the Lake, a balance is needed between the interests of current inhabitants and those of future generations. Intragenerational balance is also needed between those who use the water for economic, ecological, and spiritual purposes. Our efforts should be framed beyond avoiding collapse to restoring a natural balance inherited from the original communities who lived here.
Keywords: harmony, sustainability, circular
Despite the enormous amount of attention placed on Lake Erie at this moment in time, there is still a gap in water literacy levels among the general public and the actions required to protect and restore the Lake. The concept for #LakeErieConnect was inspired by the need to easily direct people to take immediate and local action.
Keywords: action, agency
Appendix A. YOUTH RECOMMENDATIONS ON CANADA-ONTARIO DRAFT ACTION PLAN FOR LAKE ERIE
1. A clean Lake Erie requires clear, measurable goals. If the content of the draft Domestic Action Plan is too vague, it will make it challenging for the public to hold the authors accountable. A vague Action Plan may also make it challenging for other stakeholders to adopt more specific goals for themselves.
- The majority of targets and actions are presented without deadlines, making it unclear when these targets and actions will be achieved. For some targets, their deadline is not included even when deadlines have been agreed upon in previous documents (such as the commitment in the Collaborative Agreement to achieve a 40% reduction in total and dissolved phosphorus loading by 2025).
- ACTION: include specific deadlines for targets in order to be able to monitor progress adequately.
- “Canada” and “Ontario” are listed as responsible for completing actions, but pieces of land cannot complete actions. Rather, people working for federal and provincial government agencies are responsible for completing the actions. These people require the resources to implement various Great Lakes commitments. Listing which division of government is actually responsible for completing each action and the budget allocated, would provide clarity, sufficient resources, and enhance accountability.
- ACTION: List which specific division of the government is responsible for completing which actions, and provide a resourcing plan with funding priorities, to avoid diffusion of responsibility and ensure transparency for the public.
- We cannot manage what we do not measure. To know which investments in agricultural practices or wastewater treatment have worked, and where further action is needed, continued and enhanced monitoring is vital for tracking nutrient reductions and staying on track with stated goals.
- ACTION: Canada and Ontario require a collaborative approach for assessing monitoring gaps (e.g. P loadings) and expanding monitoring in the priority watersheds and tributaries. Collaboration could be expanded to include other actors, such as citizen scientists.
2. A clean Lake Erie requires commitment from existing actor groups, and the involvement of new and unique actor groups.
- For actions to follow commitments, sufficient resources must be made available.
- ACTION: Conduct an economic study of current government spending on nutrient related programming (monitoring, education, enforcement, incentives etc.) in order to identify the most relevant programs and reveal which ones are in need of long-term funding or further investment.
- Question 2 of page iv of the action plan asks readers to consider how their community might be involved; there is potential to further this effort in a more thoughtful and official manner.
- ACTION: The authors of the DAP might consider adding an action or creating a program to more thoroughly and officially help other stakeholder groups identify and achieve targets and actions of their own – perhaps giving geographically relevant suggestions based on land cover, community structure, and local economy while listening to the local concerns and issues.
- There are numerous complex external drivers that affect Lake Erie and the actors involved with Lake Erie nutrient management and restoration.
- ACTION: The authors of the DAP might consider interacting with actor groups involved with more external drivers related to nutrient planning, including actors involved with urban and regional planning, urban development, climate change, invasive species, and crop financing.
- ACTION: Reinforce the inter-ministerial work of the Great Lakes Guardians Council by encouraging parallel and regular inter-ministerial deputy team strategy meetings and monthly communications to Ministry staff aimed at celebrating and promoting examples of harmonized inter-ministry work taking place on the ground e.g. cross-referencing the impact of the Drainage Act review on the DAP. Such work could help to clarify policies on drainage and nutrients in a way that incentivizes agricultural producers to minimize nutrient loss from the land.
- At present, youth do not seem to be viewed by government as a full interest group that is working towards a clean Lake Erie. Youth therefore struggle to find avenues for involvement. When empowered and educated, youth are a strong force for positive change now and into the future.
- ACTION: Encourage and provide financial support to programs that educate youth at all levels -- and especially the high school level -- to help with monitoring (i.e. citizen science), engaging local stakeholders, and developing projects to raise awareness in their community. This can enable youth to drive change, in their schools, homes and neighborhoods.
3. A clean Lake Erie requires a more thorough and robust communication vision than what is presented in the draft Domestic Action Plan.
- Recognizing that not all sources of information receive the same amount of trust, the medium does become the message. Peer learning is one way to ensure that the message is trusted when it reaches the desired audience.
- ACTION: Work with experts trusted by farmers to convey information about Best Management Practices (BMPs); and work with faces familiar to youth when conveying actions they can take. Open communication channels through which the stakeholders can express their concerns and feel involved in the discussion.
- Though page 44 of the DAP discusses the creation of a common portal for communicating progress, the DAP does not discuss the use of media sources that Canadians use regularly, including social media, television, newspapers, and radio.
- ACTION: In addition to the common portal, the DAP should consider how agencies will work together to use more mainstream and social media sources to share information, using evidence-based methods to ensure maximum impact.
- In addition to ongoing reporting via a portal and mainstream media, periodic progress reports could be accompanied by in person events to communicate progress while offering lessons learned and future plans.
- ACTION: An annual update on Lake Erie, through the “Let’s Talk Lake Erie” website, could be paired with meetings and presence at publicly accessible events (even celebratory events, like festivals) around the basin as a means of communicating and reporting on progress.
4. A clean Lake Erie requires holistic protection that acknowledges and plans for the ecosystem threats faced in the Eastern Basin; in particular, Cladophora as well as the ecosystem benefits provided by wetlands.
- Though Cladophora is referred to as a nuisance algae, it can degrade aquatic habitat, encourage bacterial growth, clog water intakes, and impede recreational uses and tourism opportunities.
- ACTION: The near-shore visibility and issues posed by Cladophora present an opportunity for public engagement, in particular around the Grand River. Educational programs and actions listed in Section 2 and 3 can be expanded to include action on the Eastern Basin now, rather than waiting for a target to be set.
- Wetlands reduce nutrient loadings to waterbodies, and also provide flood mitigation, carbon capture, and biodiverse habitats. According to Ontario Nature, Southern Ontario has lost more than 70 per cent of its wetlands - vital habitat for various turtles, butterflies, birds and mammals. There is also significant monetary value associated with the preservation of wetlands, making them an economically viable resource.
- ACTION: Ontario and Canada to work towards developing a science-based target for the protection and restoration of coastal and inland wetlands surrounding the Lake Erie basin.
5. A clean Lake Erie also requires the contribution of this youth delegation:
In addition to the recommendations above, as a youth delegation, we noticed that despite the enormous amount of work and attention being placed on Lake Erie at this moment in time, there is still a gap in water literacy levels among the general public, especially among youth pertaining to the threats faced by the Lake Erie ecosystem and the actions required to protect and restore its health. Upon conducting on the ground interviews and meetings, two key questions surfaced, especially among youth living upstream: “what is wrong with Lake Erie?” and “what can we do?”. This led us to develop the concept of: Lake Erie Connect (#LakeErieConnect). Lake Erie Connect is an interactive web platform that, through a simple quiz, connects people to take direct and immediate action, locally. It holds a database in its backend, consolidating all projects, organisations, work and resources available for Lake Erie. The quiz results will draw upon this pool of resources to display recommended actions catered to specific demographics like age, location and interest.
Appendix B. A POEM FOR LAKE ERIE
In the spirit of doing things differently, we would like to leave you with this poem that emerged from reflections by the youth delegates on the beaches of Lake Erie.
People will ask,
What’s wrong with Lake Erie?
And what can we do?
What will we tell them?
What is a lake? Just water or beaches and trees?
In nature there are no frontiers
And yet we keep putting in categories
Systems-thinking is about thinking holistically
The Lake is a larger living entity
Than our language makes it out to be
So let us expand the concept of the lake
To help connect more of it to itself
And more of us, to it
What Lake Erie needs right now
is a reconnect of people upstream
Because they don’t hear the waves
In their backyard everyday
They don’t have access - physically
to stay connected
We saw paddlers, a boat, a group of 20 year olds
Enjoy the beach of Lake Erie at Turkey Point,
Here, there is great access
Next part is providing greater access
To education and water literacy
About the watershed and the Lake
Lake Erie is resilient
But it is also sick
And it doesn’t have a voice
We all have the knowledge to be that voice.
How can we communicate to people
What Lake Erie needs right now?
We all come from our smaller areas
And one person alone cannot approach this
without feeling powerless.
How can we demonstrate how
having your moment with the Lake
can shift your perspective and connection to it?
How can we carry the stories?
How can we celebrate hyper local success
From around Lake Erie?
To give hope
To empower action?
How can we explain,
What Lake Erie needs right now?
From each of us,
And from us collectively.
AquaHacking Youth Delegation 2017