December 16, 2020
It's only natural to be curious about the most essential need for human health and survival: water. In this episode, we learn about clean water, recognizing the drastic difference in water security between communities and what can be done about it. We spoke with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist at the University of Saskatchewan, about water infrastructure in terms of freshwater availability, climate change, and the value of federal oversight and science communication. Dr. Madjid Mohseni, professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia and Scientific Director of RES'EAU, shares his expertise in water quality and technologies, and his efforts to facilitate safe drinking water access. He emphasizes collaboration with Indigenous communities and the importance of water operators, echoed by John Millar, the founder of Water First. John delves into the training and education for Indigenous community members, as an essential way to combat water challenges on the ground. Currently, boil water advisories disproportionately affect Indigenous communities. We discuss environmental racism with Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Associate Professor at Dalhousie University and author of "There's Something In The Water". Dr. Waldron draws upon intersectionality in the context of environmental health inequities, and shares the impact of policy changes.
Written by: Rachel Dadouch
Dr. Jay Famiglietti's website
Dr. Famiglietti's podcast: Let's Talk About Water
Dr. Madjid Mohseni's profile
Dr. Ingrid Waldron's profile
Emerging trends in global freshwater availability (Nature)
RES'EAU Centre for Mobilizing Innovation's (RES'EAU)
59 long-term drinking water advisories
The ENRICH Project
Support Bill C-230
Mashup Cape Town it could become the first major city in the world to run out of water. - Cape Town, South Africa is inching closer now to Day zero - Just 92 days away from having to shut off most water taps because of a severe drought. - Cape Town is the first major city in the world to plan to indefinitely shut off its water supply. - Sydney water is pushing for a 15% hike over four years. Putting more pressure on family budgets. - This drive for water conservation, water saving is now a burden that poor people must carry. - Living on a fixed income, I cannot afford any of this. - Water advisories are issued to warn people not to drink their water when it's thought to be unsafe. There are three types of water advisories. But boil water advisories are by far the most common. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office, he promised to end long term boil water advisories by 2021. So not all water advisories, just ones that have been in place for more than a year. - I've never had access to clean drinking water. I'm uh 50 years old. - Chief Chris Moonias is is calling for a complete overhaul of the water system saying the current situation can't continue.
Colleen Farrell Water is life. We can go weeks without food, but only a couple of days without water. For a really long time in human history, clean water access was one of the major factors in determining where people settled. This is still true in part. With technology, some of the challenges that come with a lack of easy water access can be overcome, but this is limited to very wealthy countries because of the energy and infrastructure required. However, even in places that are surrounded by water, like Canada, getting clean water to people is a massive undertaking. Most people don't think twice about what happens behind the scenes to make that happen, and take the privilege of clean water on demand for granted. In this episode, we discuss water security, and the factors at play, including climate change, the geographical region, and the systemic inequalities and water accessibility faced by Indigenous communities. And as you'll soon hear, the value of education and technologies as part of the solution. I'm Colleen.
Yagnesh Ladumor And I'm Yagnesh. Welcome to Episode 87 of Raw Talk Podcast. Before we begin, we'd like to acknowledge that Toronto was founded on the traditional territory of many Indigenous nations, including the Mississaugas, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Huron Wendat. This meeting place is still home to many First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. And we're grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land. As we explore the stories of medical science, we also ask our listeners to learn about and reflect on the long history of science and medicine, as tools of oppression against Indigenous peoples, and the complex perception of and barriers to healthcare that are still experienced by Indigenous people in Canada today.
Colleen Farrell We also acknowledge that the team behind this episode is made up of non-Indigenous peoples, and we were not able to feature an Indigenous speaker. So while the episode covers issues facing many Indigenous communities, we urge our listeners to be cognizant of this gap of lived experience.
Dr. Jay Famiglietti Most parts of you know, North America, certainly United States and in Canada, we have great infrastructure. So we take for granted that we can just go to the tap and turn it on and water will come out. But there's actually tremendous amount of infrastructure that goes behind that think about it, you might have to build a dam and store water behind a reservoir. And then that water has to be treated and then distributed through infrastructure, through you know, pipes throughout a city and delivered to your home. And it all has to be done in a timely, reliable fashion. And it has to be clean, we spend a tremendous amount of money to heat, treat, and transport water, I mean water's super heavy, it has a really high heat capacity, so it just takes a lot of energy to heat it and, and move it around. And so when you are leaving your tap on when you're brushing your teeth, that's not just water, you know, it'd be one thing if you just went down to the river with a bucket and pull it up to your house. Fine. Okay, but it's another thing when it runs through the infrastructure, it becomes very expensive and very wasteful and so in these time periods and in these regions around the world, where you have water scarcity, then it becomes very wasteful and very expensive, and a drain not only on the water supply, but on the energy supply too.
Colleen Farrell Nearly three quarters of the Earth's surface is covered in water. That might make you think that there's enough water to sustain human and environmental needs, no matter where you are in the world. However, this is far from the case since water that's safe for consumption. makes up a minuscule fraction of all the water on Earth. The World Economic Forum now routinely identifies water crises as one of the top 10 risks facing the world, both in likelihood and impact. To help us understand how, when it comes to water security, there is less not more than meets the eye. We spoke with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Executive Director of the Global Institute for water security at the University of Saskatchewan.
Dr. Jay Famiglietti I have been working for a long time using satellites to track how freshwater availability is changing all over the world. Um, and it's painting a pretty grim picture. And so one of the things that uh, I'm trying to work on personally in my research is taking action on the picture that we see and how we can somehow mitigate it, or adapt and plan for more water insecure future.
Colleen Farrell What do you mean, when you say water secure?
Dr. Jay Famiglietti Well, there are a lot of different uh, definitions of water security, the one that I like to use is a pretty simple one. And that is, can a region provide a reliable supply of potable water to its population, both now and into the future to do all the things that it wants to do. And so let's just break that down a little bit. Reliable is becoming more challenging with changing extremes due to climate change, potable, of course, means means drinkable, that can be a challenge in places that don't have this efficient water quality, or they don't have the treatment, both now and into the future, we have to be thinking about population growth, and of course, climate change. And to do all the things that our region wants to do, what are the things that we use water for? Grow food, for cities, for economic growth, for the environment, so it's a lot of different things that have to be balanced to produce energy. It's becoming a challenge, especially in water scarce regions.
Colleen Farrell So we're essentially surrounded by water as Canada is bordered by three oceans. What is the water supply like in Canada?
Dr. Jay Famiglietti Yeah, right. And you know, there's this myth of an infinite water supply in Canada. We have a lot of water, that's for sure. But there are a couple of aspects to that. There's the water that we see which is on the surface, and we receive that water from rainfall and from snow and that gets to the variability and climate. And that's becoming much less predictable. So in, in different places around Canada, the extremes are changing, the timing of rainfall is changing. We may see across Canada that we get more in the spring and more in the fall, less in the summer. So timing issues are, are a problem. And then there's the water that we can't see, which is the groundwater. And that's largely unmanaged, which is a problem, right? Because you can't really manage and sustain what we're what we're not measuring and what we're not monitoring. The other aspect of what most people I think kind of take for granted or don't even realize is how polluted the surface water can be and how contaminated the groundwater can be. So, you know, it looks great when you're flying over Canada, in a plane, but when you get on the ground, there are real problems.
Colleen Farrell In 2018, Dr. Famiglietti co-authored a paper in the journal Nature, titled, 'Emerging trends in global freshwater availability'. It was the first paper to quantify observational water storage trends on a global scale. Dr. Famiglietti told us how he and his team use satellites to observe water availability around the world.
Dr. Jay Famiglietti So just a little background on that paper. So that was actually the culmination of almost 20 years of work. So we started preparing for the launch of a NASA satellite called GRACE, which stands for Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment. We used data from this mission, the GRACE mission, which ran from 2002 to, to 2017. And we were able to map out the regions of the world that are gaining or losing water. Well, we could map it out every month for those 15 years that the GRACE mission flew. A little bit of background on the GRACE mission is really different than a typical satellite. Just in simple terms, when we think about satellites, we think about satellites that sort of function as cameras that are essentially taking pictures of the ground. We think about satellites that maybe function like some other kind of monitor like a thermometer, sensing the temperature or other emissions from the surface. GRACE is more like a scale. The reason it works like a scale is that water is very heavy. And as it moves around the globe, the mass uh, distribution of water on the earth is shifting around. So it might be wet on you know one hemisphere and drier in another hemisphere and then that might change with, with the seasons or with climate oscillations. And when that water mass moves around, you're actually affecting the gravity field, right and so more mass in the ground means a greater gravitational tug, less mass on the ground means less of a gravitational tug. So more water mass say because of a huge snowstorm in Toronto or less water mass because of ice melting in British Columbia. When there's more water mass on the ground, the gravitational tug on the satellite is actually greater pulls the satellites a little bit closer to the ground. It's like the surface of a scale moving up and down, it goes up when there's less mass, it goes down when there's more mass. And so by very accurately keeping track of the position of the satellites, the ups and downs of the scale, so just being able to put together these maps. So we produced a map that was really the first of its kind ever, that reveal this picture of just how rapidly the distribution of freshwater on the earth is changing.
Colleen Farrell So how is water availability changing globally?
Dr. Jay Famiglietti We see these broad patterns we think are related to climate change. For example, the high latitudes, the boreal forests in Canada, for example, getting wetter, and the tropics getting wetter. And in between all around the world, the mid latitudes getting drier. And then on top of that background pattern, we see these hotspots for either too much water flooding in the upper Missouri River Basin, and up into Alberta and Saskatchewan. Or too little water, the disappearance of groundwater from the world's major aquifer systems like the Central Valley in California, and it paints this really compelling picture of water insecurity all over the world. And, you know, I mentioned the rates. So what it's really telling us is the rates at which things are changing. And the rates are quite alarming. It's happening way faster than than society is prepared for. And the broad background, climate change pattern, we think it's related to climate change, we only have 15 years of data, so we can't say yet, but it is a pattern that's expected from because of climate change. We are seeing that that pattern hasn't really changed over the time period that we've been looking at the data. Remember, water doesn't really disappear on our planet, it just moves around from one place to another. And so these regions, these mid latitude regions that are drying, they're providing more water vapour into the atmosphere. So that ends up being redistributed in the atmospheric circulation. And the end result is we're getting more rainfall at high latitudes and at low latitudes. So Canada is absolutely expected to get more precipitation. But the challenge that we will face in adapting to it is that is the timing is the variability. We're expecting to have way more precipitation falling in the Spring, and the Fall. And that means more flooding. And we're expecting to see less in the summertime. And so that means in terms of say, irrigation, we may end up having water shortages in the summer, because the timing of the rainfall has moved to the Spring and the Fall. So the water in our streams won't be there when we need it in the summer to water crops.
Colleen Farrell Can we pinpoint what's causing these changes in water availability?
Dr. Jay Famiglietti Climate change driven by humans, the changing extremes are part of climate change, which is driven by humans. And of course, the ice melt is a definite climate change feature. And the groundwater depletion is something we're choosing to do, so that's human. So it's all, you know, the human fingerprint on the freshwater landscape is so recognizable, that, you know, it's time for us to act. So I think people often forget or don't, not they forget, they're just not really aware that a lot of what we talked about with climate change has to do with water. Is it going to rain more? Or is it gonna rain less? We're going to have more flooding or we going to have more drought? Is ice melting? Is the permafrost thawing? Is the snow disappearing? Sea level rise? Those are some of the major things that we talked about with climate change. That's, that's all water. So anything that we can do to slow that down, we'll increase our water security. Because, why? Well, if we have less variable climate, then it's going to be less flooding and less drought and easier to manage our water. If we have a slower rate of sea level rise, which is driven by melting freshwater, they won't be able to adapt to it more. If the rate at which our glaciers are disappearing slows down, then that will sustain our rivers and our water supplies because that's where a lot of the water comes from, especially in arid parts of the world. Ice melt and snow melt that recharges our groundwater will be able to sustain over a longer period of time.
Colleen Farrell Are you optimistic about the current water crisis and the impacts of climate change on water availability?
Dr. Jay Famiglietti I think it depends on what day you ask me. So I think we have huge challenges. I guess I'm I'm not overly optimistic. You know, when I'm realistic about what I see and I've been talking about it and doing all kinds of science communication at all levels from the United Nations down to the local Church, I would stand out at my front doorstep and and talk about this if people would listen, but it's too cold here. And I don't really see things, moving that quickly. It's really difficult. And you know, I just don't think we're there yet. I think an issues and many issues related to water quality, we're, we're doing okay, we could be doing better. But I think in addressing these broad patterns that I'm talking about, I'm not optimistic that we're going to change. I'm sorry, I wish I could be more optimistic. But I'm just not. We should be clear that, you know, it's happening fast but it didn't just start happening, right? It's been happening for a long time. It's just that we're finally seeing the rates, and we have these 15 years of data and we see that the rates are pretty fast. But some of this stuff has been happening for a very long time, the groundwater depletion in these aquifers has been happening for, for decades. The climate change part will only change at the pace with which we can impact climate change. And so we kind of know how that's going. And that's going pretty slowly. Where we can have more impact is on the water management stuff and specifically the groundwater depletion. These are societal decisions, these are provincial decisions, state decisions, regional local decisions on, on how much groundwater to use. And that's the part that I'm focused on. Because I think there we can affect change.
Colleen Farrell And what can be done about this?
Dr. Jay Famiglietti I think the smaller your area, the easier it is, to have water security. You know, with within limits. But you know, I, I think it's not as difficult to have water secure province, it becomes more difficult when you look at the whole country. And so there are some important steps. So let's use Canada. You know, and the United States, there's a lot of parallels there. United States doesn't have a national water policy, Canada has a Canada Water Act, that is something like 25 or 35 years old and really outdated, it doesn't even address climate change. The United States doesn't really have a national water agency, it has many agencies that are responsible for different things. Canada doesn't have a national water agency, you know, some things just need federal oversight. And I use the COVID response in the United States as an example. There's no real federal oversight and so you've got this patchwork of state policies. And you know, it's, it's not working and and the cases are going up exponentially. So we see a similar thing with water here in Canada. We need federal guidance and guidelines for drinking water, inst- enforceable, for drinking water standards. We need someone looking after all of these, these dams all across the country that are that are so old, and some of them are like Phantom dams, no one knows who is responsible. We need federal oversight to make sure we've got access, and clean water and water treatment plants that actually work in our First Nations and our Indigenous population. You need these larger scale entities to enforce that, you know, another big one that I didn't mention is this crazy dumping of the 200 billion litres of raw sewage every year into the ocean. I mean, that's, that's crazy, that needs federal policy. We need to do a better job communicating our science and communicating it to our elected officials and environmental managers and policymakers. So they know what's going on. And, and they know what's important. I think a third thing that we mean, we absolutely have to be addressing the extremes and preparing for those changing extremes, because they're going to be difficult to manage our way through. And I think the fourth thing is of surface water, groundwater starting to think about managing those together. We typically just manage surface water and use groundwater as a backstop. And you could do that for a while until the groundwater starts to disappear. And so then you're tapping into your future generations backstop. It's it's the resilience of future generations. So we have to start managing those two together.
Yagnesh Ladumor So we just heard a lot about the future of freshwater availability globally and nationally. But as you probably already know, water insecurity is a pressing issue today right now. And water insecurity doesn't affect us all equally. Many developed nations can afford the cost of purifying ocean water through desalination and other energy and resource intensive technologies, but many other nations cannot. However, this lack of infrastructure and resources is not just an issue in developing countries. To learn more about what's being done to tackle the challenges faced by indigenous communities in Canada, we spoke to Dr. Majid Mohseni, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia, and the scientific director of the RES'EAU Centre of Mobilizing Innovation.
Dr. Madjid Mohseni The general area of my research is on water quality and treatment. But more specifically, I focus on addressing drinking water quality issues facing small, rural and Indigenous communities. This is done through researching novel technologies that not only respond to emerging contaminants in our water, but also are appropriate for the community settings and can be implemented successfully, leading to sustainable and long-lasting positive outcomes for the communities. So as part of my academic role, I have also been leading a national network program, originally funded by NSERC, or Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada as part of their strategic network program. And more recently, as of two years ago, as part of the networks of Centers of Excellence Program, and the program that I am involved in, I'm leading is called RES'EAU Centre for Mobilizing Innovation. So the mandate of our program is to generate new knowledge and mobilize innovation, for strengthening and supporting Indigenous communities, self-government and self determination goal, as well as rural water health and sustainability.
Yagnesh Ladumor Water inaccessibility is an issue across Canada, but disproportionately affects First Nation communities. Can you tell us about some of the contributors to uh water insecurity in these communities?
Dr. Madjid Mohseni So while it's totally unacceptable, in my view, to have some some of our Indigenous communities without safe and clean drinking water, as I mentioned, the issue is beyond that, and is a challenge for many of our fellow citizens. If you look at it, nearly 20% of our population live in rural communities, and a significant number of them have the same challenge. So it's totally unacceptable, in my view, for the developed world to have this situation. So now to your question, as why so many of our Indigenous communities having this issue and meaning water insecurity or inaccessibility. Well, the answer is not really simple. Unfortunately, there are many policies and practices that have been in place for decades. And those relate to how the society in general and the government in particular, have treated Indigenous people. The approach has been to impose policies, rules and solutions to Indigenous people and communities without much regard for or to their culture, values, ways of life, local knowledge, and even things that matter to them, including the fact that they want to be involved in the development of solutions. They want to be part of it. They don't want to be told what to do. In my view, while and often the government is blamed for these, and that's partly true, but unfortunately, many parts of our society, especially businesses have gone along with this policy. In other words, projects go ahead in the absence of community input, and without their involvement. And when this happens, many things could go wrong. The solution may not be appropriate for the particular community. It might be a great technology for a city or big community, but totally wrong one for the specific communities that is designed or implemented. And when that happens, the community doesn't accept it. They want to have some influence in what is happening in their communities. In other words, as they say, nothing for us without us really.
Yagnesh Ladumor Dr. Mohseni also stressed the importance of properly trained personnel in addition to community advice, infrastructure that is required to clean water.
Dr. Madjid Mohseni I would say operators, they are really the heroes for what happens to to us in terms of getting the drinking water. Often we don't recognize their values, the values that they bring to us on a day-to-day basis. So if I just say one thing about that is just the role of the water operators that they play in ensuring that our water is safe. And that's basically true for large cities and small cities equally. In a small communities, they are equally heroes and their challenge is even more, because they're not paid properly. They are often involved in multiple tasks. And that brings significant challenge for them as well. The operators since they are the ones who are day and night involved in the operation of the water treatment plant, they know how things could go wrong, they know their system best, they know their source waters. So we need to get all the information from them. And when I say get them involved is at the earliest stage, that's what I mean is really get them to tell us what it takes, what what is the challenge with them, what are the different aspects related to their water systems. So they can be involved in terms of providing us the information, educating us about what the situation is and how we need to go about addressing those challenges. But as we are developing the solutions, whether we are implementing an existing technology, or whether we are developing a new technology, we need to keep their capacity in mind as well. We need to make sure that they know what type of solutions we are developing for them. So they're aware of it. They're trained properly, in order to operate effectively.
Colleen Farrell In addition to the importance of operators, we learned about the training process and the use of education as part of the solution from someone who takes on this tremendous effort. We spoke with John Millar, the founder of the charity, Water First, which collaborates with Indigenous communities to address water challenges by training and providing education to community members. He tells us how Water First's mission has changed since they first started.
John Millar To be honest, like one of the, one of the bigger reasons why we got into the field of working with Indigenous communities in Canada was that I kept being asked by smart Canadians, why we were flying all the way to Uganda to find water challenges to, to help address when right here in Canada, there were so many water challenges in Indigenous communities. And um, I'll be honest, I got pretty tired of not having a very good answer. And so we experimented with some different models, you know, and as a small NGO, we needed to be very careful about our capacity. And it's a very complex field, of course, anyway, we experimented with a handful of different models. And we went all into to work with First Nations. There's amazing organizations doing really important work abroad. May that continue. And unfortunately, in my opinion, there's not enough of Canadian civil society working in partnership with First Nations communities, not only on water issues, that's certainly the case but a variety of issues. We work exclusively in an education and training capacity. We're not fixing a water treatment plant. We are training young Indigenous adults in supporting them to enter the field of uh, water treatment, of environmental or water stewardship and management so that those capacities are better supported locally for sustainable water resource management, both in terms of drinking water and environmental water resources.
Colleen Farrell As of December 1st, 2020, there are currently 59 long term drinking water advisories across 41 First Nations communities right here in Canada. This is despite the fact that the Government of Canada has promised to end all long term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities by 2021.
John Millar There's a deplorable history between Indigenous communities and the rest of Canada, and non-Indigenous Canadians and governments over the years, over centuries. There's, you know, just until a few years ago, First Nations communities had to navigate a very complex systems to even operate on a regular basis. If you're drawing your water from your lake or a river, for instance, Health Canada was involved with the ongoing testing of the water, Indigenous services was involved when it came to infrastructure. And so even for most of us, in the south, engaging with complex layers of government is really challenging. They're like high paid consultants who help provide those services because it's a really complex space to engage with, let alone, you're in a remote Northern Community struggling with a broken down infrastructure that is with a host of challenges, many of them are legacy challenges that have been around for decades, centuries, in some cases, from a systemic standpoint, and then you have to navigate a very complex set of rules and structures and so on. It's it was you know, the decks been stacked against First Nations for a very long time on this question on how to provide drinking water to local residents. Yeah, it's incredibly complex, it's been underfunded, of course, it's been completely off of radar screens in, in many successive governments.
Yagnesh Ladumor To learn more about why so many marginalized and racialized communities within Canada face such issues. We spoke with Dr. Ingrid Waldron, and associate professor at Dalhousie University and author of the book, There's Something in the Water, which dives deep into the topic of environmental racism and provides many case studies of communities around Nova Scotia, that face such water issues. We started out by asking her to define environmental racism.
Dr. Ingrid Waldron A main one would be it's it refers to the disproportionate siting and placement of and polluting industries and environmentally dangerous projects in Indigenous communities and racialized communities, and low income white communities in certain cases. And then the second part of that is that that happens through environmental policy. So it doesn't just happen. It happens through the decisions that are made by people in power. And it happens through environmental policies, but also environmental assessments, "EA" as we call them, and "EA"s is a tool that's used to make a decision about where industry gets placed in collaboration with the industry partner. The other part of the definition is the fact that these are communities that, that experience slower rates of cleanup, that's the other part of the definition of environmental racism. That these are communities that often find that it takes a long time for the government to hear them, to respond to them. And the final aspect of the definition of environmental racism is that it's allowed to manifest over time precisely because what we see in these ENGOs or regulatory bodies or commissions are not people who are most impacted. You know, I've served on some of these boards, and Indigenous communities and Black people aren't on those boards. So if you're not hearing from the people who are most impacted, you're not hearing about their priorities, their concerns that environmental racism will manifest intergenerationally, because people are not hearing about the solutions that are coming from the people who are impacted. It's not that these ENGOs are doing that on purpose, or that they're malicious or malevolent. They just sometimes find it difficult to engage impacted communities. I've seen it. Many of them try, they try to conduct outreach in these communities, but they often fail. And there's probably something around the messaging that they're using, or maybe they're expecting the communities to come to them, as opposed to these organizations going to those communities. But they're missing the mark in some way. And that means that environmental racism manifests over time. If we can hear more from the people who are impacted, we might intervene on some of the kind of approaches that we're using, that perhaps aren't capturing the hearts and minds of communities that are most impacted, who actually could help us solve some of the problems through their knowledges, through their perspectives. So that's another often forgotten aspect of environmental racism, the definition of it.
Yagnesh Ladumor Dr. Waldron also highlighted the importance of understanding how the experience of environmental racism intersects with gender.
Dr. Ingrid Waldron I think with environmental racism, we need definitely an intersectional framework, people are talking about intersectionality a lot right now. I think it's great because everything is intersectional, particularly environmental racism. We, as you and I just discussed, it's about race, it's about class. It's about socioeconomic status, but it's also about gender. And for me, it's about gender in two ways. The first way is that the impact on the body is very gendered. The pathways through which contaminants impact the body is gendered. Men will experience health issues related to environmental racism in specific ways based on their sex, their biology, the physical aspects of their gender, that we can see. And women will experience in a different way. So women will experience it in terms of high rates of reproductive illnesses. And when we intersect gender with race, we can say that Indigenous women, specifically those that are close to environmental hazards, but just just Inidgenous women in general in Canada have higher rates of reproductive cancers, and reproductive illnesses and other communities. Right. So that's a very obvious way in which gender must be included in how we articulate environmental racism and its health impacts. But the other way is organizing. What I've noticed over the years is that it is women who are on the frontlines of environmental justice, organizing and beginning I didn't want to understand why. So I asked an Indigenous woman and I said, why is it that I'm only seeing women? And I said, maybe slightly frustrated, where are the men? And I think she was insulted by my question, because I didn't know that this is part of Indigenous culture. And she said to me, she said, Ingrid, we are the life givers. We give birth as women. So it is our responsibilities to protect the land, and the water for future generations. This is simply part of our culture. And I was like, that makes sense. So when I think about gender, I think of reproductive illness and the health impacts but I also think about the specific ways in which Black and Indigenous women have been involved in grassroots movements, whether or not it's part of their culture or not, gender comes to the fore because that's what we're finding that Black women and Indigenous women are leading on many of these initiatives, risking their lives in many instances, going to court and really struggling against some of these issues, with of course, their men supporting them in other ways. As the woman said to me, she said, Our men are there with our men are there they're just supporting us in other ways. But we're on the front lines because we are the life givers. So for me, that's how gender is implicated in this topic of environmental racism.
Yagnesh Ladumor One of the big ways that Dr. Waldron is trying to tackle environmental racism has to do with the environmental noxiousness, racial inequities and community health project or ENRICH.
Dr. Ingrid Waldron So in terms of the ENRICH project, it's about shining a spotlight on water contamination in these communities and trying to connect them with partners through my research to address water contamination in tangible ways. But there's also another aspect to what I do, which is the NGO I co founded in 2017, called Rural Water Watch, which actually evolved out of the ENRICH project. I see the ENRICH project as primarily engaged in political activism and community mobilizing advocacy, legislation, social action. I co-founded rural Water Watch, simply to address water contamination issues, I didn't want to get the two organizations confused or doing the same type of work. So there's nothing about the Rural Water Watch that about civil disobedience or political action. It's solely about how do we address the concerns of communities in an immediate and tangible way. And that is above water contamination. So through that NGO, Rural Water Watch, I have paired up with a geologist, and other environmental scientists, as well as environmental science students, and community members who are on our board to address water contamination in their communities. We're doing this by conducting water testing projects that we do at no cost, that we engage communities in, so we actually also build community members, or homeowners capacity to test their own water. We simultaneously are training students to do water testing, we write a report on our results, we go back to the community, we share the results, but then we do workshops, we talk about the link between water contamination, this is groundwater contamination, I should mention, and health. And we just started a new project annual Healthy Wells Day, which we started on October 18 of this year. It's both online and an in-person awareness raising campaign to educate people about the need to take care of their well, that a healthy well, is always a good idea, an unhealthy well can lead to various health issues. So we're doing that every year. And I'm really proud of this NGO, because I'm somebody who likes to provide immediate, tangible results. to communities. Research can be tangible if you're using research in the right way. So through ENRICH, I do research, but for me, this NGO is even more immediate, because sometimes you gotta wait for the research findings and the results to disseminated and that could take more than a year of course. With this, we can immediately say to community members, this is what's in your water, you can tell them immediately, you can write a report and share it with them and what we try to do to as I said through our workshops is to actually educate them on how to manage their drinking water sources, right in immediate ways. And one of the best things that came out of the ENRICH project in 2016, I hired a, he's now a PhD student to create that map. Of course, he had expertise in GIS analysis, but he also had expertise in health geography. The map shows how Indigenous communities are clustered close to some of these sites, pulp and paper mills, landfills and incinerators, on one layer of the map. And then on the other layer, you've got African Nova Scotian communities, so it's really kind of convincing information right there on that map and people look at that map and they think, Okay, I guess there's something going on here. So the cases are right on there. You can look at the names of the communities and many of the communities indicated on the map are the communities that I'm working with, that are right now addressing or confronting cases of environmental racism those communities in Canada, let's say in Nova Scotia Sipekne'katik First Nation, Pictou Landing First Nation, Lincolnville, Shelburne, but across Canada, cases of environmental racism include, Wet'suwet'en First Nation in British Columbia, Chemical Valley, impacting Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ontario, they're dealing with over 60 petrochemical facilities surrounding that community. They have high rates of cancer and high rates of reproductive illnesses. You've got Grassy Narrows. I document them all in my book. And you know, I give cases of environmental racism in BC, in Saskatchewan, in Ontario. So this is real.
Yagnesh Ladumor We've heard a lot about the necessity of working with Indigenous communities to make sure that any solutions implemented to try to alleviate water inaccessibilities are culturally informed, and genuinely fit the needs of the community. To address this concern, Dr. Mohseni, and his colleagues at RES'EAU, have developed a community circle model for innovation.
Dr. Madjid Mohseni Well, the community circle model that we have developed along the way in the past decade or so that we've been working with Indigenous communities in collaboration with them, is actually developed through this collaboration with a lot of insights from our Indigenous partners. What it does, it creates an ecosystem for open innovation. So if I basically elaborate on that, is all parties that are involved in the process, community partners, including residents, water operators, elders, the leadership of the community, they come together with those other stakeholders from industry, government, and researchers, academia to create a solution that can be implemented. And when the community is involved, as I mentioned, eventually, not only they will own it, but they work towards keeping it and making sure that it stays successful, it never fails. And in many communities, we have seen that when the community is not involved, they don't own it and eventually, that leads to failure of the technology or the solution. So that ownership is an essential component of it. And once that happens, the community maintains it. Not only that, now they have the knowledge, they have the skill set to actually help other communities, other neighboring communities, towards developing their own solutions. So a successful community can not only be a good example, but they can also be an advocate, they can share the knowledge they can mobilize that knowledge and bring it to other communities as well.
Yagnesh Ladumor From your work at RES'EAU and your engagement in these community circle meetings, what insights did you gain about designing water treatment facilities specifically for non-urban and First Nation communities, as opposed to big cities?
Dr. Madjid Mohseni In a large city, the operators are often more equipped with the training. And there are more operators involved. Also, these large cities because of the tax base, they have and the funding, they have the access to support and resources they have, they are able to utilize various technologies in order to monitor the treatment system. The second advantage they have, they're closer to the supply chain. Whether is need for equipment, whether replacement equipment, even chemical supplies, you can get them easily. But in a remote setting, if you think about Indigenous communities, some of them are flying communities, they, they may be inaccessible for parts of the year as well. So they are not close to supply chain. If a pump fails in a very remote community, it takes weeks, if not months for it to be repaired, or you get a replacement part. So that's a big challenge for them. The second thing is that, as I mentioned, the operator is doesn't have access to a lot of support and training opportunities. So the technology that needs to be implemented in a small setting is going to have a totally different attributes and characteristics. It needs to be able to be more robust, it shouldn't fail very often. It should be something that does not require constant involvement of an operator because the operator is not there or sometimes cannot attend the treatment system for about a week or so. So it needs to be somehow what we call it passively. It needs to run on its own as opposed to having somebody watch it either using a sensor or in person.
Yagnesh Ladumor For Dr. Mohseni these insights are community circle meetings have allowed him to engineer new water technology systems that can feasibly function in communities that lack access to water.
Dr. Madjid Mohseni So a couple of technologies that we are working on as example, one of them what we call is biological ion exchange. So it basically tapping into biology, tapping into the nature in order to be able to remove some of the contaminants that are there. Simply put, something like a Brita filter, for example you have, if you have that filter, you just pour the water, it just filters the water and removes the contaminants. So expand that to a larger scale. And that filter is run such that you allow for microbes to grow inside that filter. And those microbes are such that they can remove some of the contaminants of interests that we have in our water. So it's a very passive way you all need is just make sure that the water flows constantly at a certain flow rate, and the rest biology can take care of it. What we rely on is the natural consortium of organisms that can grow and are perhaps initially present in our environment. But we allow them to grow basically develop within our filters. So that's natural consortium, when you feed them with the water that contains your contaminants, they generally slowly grow under the right conditions. And that will be sufficient for us to achieve the target removal that we want of those contaminants. Literally biological process that can run on their own without really needing a lot of chemicals to be added, as I mentioned, chemical supply chain is a very significant challenge for a lot of remote communities. So if we can eliminate that as much as possible, this is an advantage for us. Bringing chemicals, whether it's chlorine, or whether it's any other chemical to a very remote community is going to be challenge, because these are often hazardous substances that cannot be easily transported.
Yagnesh Ladumor Do these innovations and technologies ever make it out of the lab?
Dr. Madjid Mohseni In a very remote Indigenous community about two years ago, in fact, that community had been on boil water advisory for 14 years. And for the first time we applied this technology in that community, it was actually the community's desire to get that technology because the government and engineering companies proposed so many different solutions and every time, the challenges associated with those solutions were presented to the community, it was clear that it was a no go. So the community had been sort of without any solution. And once we presented that solution to the community, they said we want this. And they want to have and they applied it. We did some piloting there, the result was great. And we went ahead and implemented that. And ever since the communities having clean water came off, boil water advisory, as I mentioned, after 14 years, the consulting industry, which was part of this process, actually received five different national awards, including the most prestigious ones among all different categories by the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada. So that goes back to what I mentioned in terms of the, the role that the community circle can play. So everyone in that particular project felt that they are a winner. They achieved the goal. The community got off boil water advisory, they have clean water. The consulting engineering, which was part of it, they received awards, because they were able to apply and implement that innovative solution, they could be part of this one. As researchers, we could take pride of the fact that something that was developed in our labs was implemented for the first time solving a real problem. The government could take the credit the fact that they helped solve that particular problem that had been in place for 14 years. So basically, everyone first felt the winner and that was a success.
Colleen Farrell Water First utilizes education and collaborative partnerships as a tool to address the water challenges facing the Indigenous communities they work with.
John Millar We work with First Nations communities, Indigenous communities uh, in Canada, that are experiencing water challenges, and we help to address water challenges through education, training and meaningful collaboration. I really want to, you know, emphasize that training and education piece, it's the core of what we do. It's wherever possible hiring and training local, young, Indigenous adults to support project implementation and to do it in such a way where we're playing a role, but we really hope that at the end of a project, there is enhanced capacity at the local level that there are young Indigenous adults that are highly employable with recognized skills that are important to communities and in our communities, community partners from coast to coast to coast are telling us that there are challenges to recruit and fill positions and recruit young Indigenous adults to the water sciences, and that there are amazing individuals at the community level doing really important work with the resources that they have. But that that often they need more help and need more young, young Indigenous adults entering the field to support those initiatives.
Colleen Farrell Can you tell us a little bit more about the programs and initiatives run by Water First?
John Millar I'll refer to our flagship program, which is the Water First internship, it's a drinking water internship initiative. We partner with tribal councils with this initiative, that way we leverage the connectivity between the communities, their collaborative capacities and so on, which are already in place through their affiliation at a tribal council level. We will try to get an understanding of the lay of the land in the tribal council and their member communities in terms of how many operators are there, where are they in their sort of professional cycle? Are they near retirement? Are there succession plans? How many communities only have one operator and that operator can't basically leave the community for more than 24 hours and often hasn't done so for over a year, because they can't leave the water plant unattended? Which is, what's the lay of the land in terms of local capacity, because that's really what we do. And so we get a sense of like, okay, are, are the member communities experiencing challenges that training will solve. And that's that's the most important thing to to get a very clear understanding of. Once we're there, and we understand that that's the case, then we engage, you know, even more sort of closely with the technical staff, water treatment plant operators, we will do this through their their local tech services. And those are the individuals at the tribal council who support water treatment plants who support infrastructure in the communities and projects of that nature. And we engage, we support as well, the really important piece is supporting the communities to identify young Indigenous adults who may be interested in the training opportunity. Within a few months, they then have a skilled apprentice kind of thing at the plant that can support its ongoing operations under their leadership, on- under their supervision. But the, the interns become skilled assets to the water treatment plants, and whether they continue working in water treatment, or often, you know, we've seen that there's environmental prospects as well working for the local tribal council in their environmental department or neighbouring First Nation in the environmental coordination field, and water sampling and so on. That's what we've seen happen. And when we align the training service, with communities that have challenges that training will solve, then what we see is a very strong uptake, and those young trainees that come into the program with their certifications and a lot of hands on experience, they're snapped up pretty quick, they're highly employable. And off to the field they go is young professionals begin beginning their careers in the water sciences.
Colleen Farrell So what does success look like for Water First?
John Millar It's seeing young Indigenous adults enter the fields of water science, of whether that's drinking water or environmental water, it's seeing those young Indigenous adults that work really hard and eventually get that certification and then they're in a position where they are able to support their communities and in you know, this context is crazy as it is it's it's amazing that in you know, many non-Indigenous communities, your your local water treatment plant operator isn't necessarily you know, held up and regarded as much as they should be as a hero. Yet in a, in a First Nation community that whose water quality is has been in question for some time, um, to be a part of the provision of clean safe drinking water to a community is a really commendable and amazing position to hold. It's a lot of responsibility and and it's, it's it's highly regarded to be safeguarding your community's health and well-being. So it's, it's amazing to see those those things happen and it's amazing to get know some of the, some of the individuals Eric Botour who was recently just chatting with us last week on a on a public online event that we hosted. And he's, he's a graduate of the training program on Manitoulin Island, he's from Sheguiandah First Nation. And when he heard about the training opportunity, and we were advertising quite uh you know, broadly, he was living in Sudbury and was the you know, he shared with us just last week, he was having some some challenges, you know, in his personal life and kind of where he was headed, and and he hadn't graduated from high school yet and so on, but he applied to the training opportunity. Um and he said, you know, I don't have my high school diploma, but I'll get it and it's a prerequisite because your your certifications don't stick unless you have this your high school diploma. Um, anyway, fast forward. He just knocked it out of the park. He rolled up those sleeves he worked really, really hard. There were 14 participants in the program at the beginning. And he was he was voted in as the valedictorian was able to support his community's water treatment plan and it's, it's you know, it's stories like that that are that are really cool to see unfold.
Colleen Farrell So how might someone listening to our podcast episode right now help improve the disproportionate effects that water related issues have on Indigenous communities?
John Millar I think it's really important to ensure that the attention on this issue in Canada with First Nations communities that it doesn't go away. It's trending in the right direction. You know, when we get a good look at the numbers, it was one in five First Nations that couldn't drink their water in 2015, when the Liberals came to power, you know, and just like, you know, six months ago, it was one in six, right? It was it was 17%. And then more recently, it's looking like it's one in seven. And it's, it's 13, 14%. You know, so it's, it's trending in the right direction. But I would, I would advocate that we not let the attention fall off of this issue until it's fully addressed and sustainably so. So 5% you know, it's still a 5% too many um, First Nations communities that can't drink their water. 1%'s too many, we need to, to stay focused and, and keep the attention on the issue should very much be in the spotlight. And at the same time, I think, as I was saying earlier, um, infrastructure is is a necessary component of the of the problem, but it's by no means the only piece of it. So I'm actually fearful of the day that shouldn't come to pass, I certainly hope it does, that the federal government can say like, okay, the infrastructure is good, like check, all, all communities under a lo-, long term boil water advisory. And there should also be the communities that are under short term boil water advisories, that those boil water advisories have been lifted, and they're they're, they're sorted. But as I was saying, the infrastructure is is a necessary but not sufficient components of what is involved in the output of clean water. It's people it's people that run those water treatment plants. And it's really critical that we stay focused on that to safeguard the, the sustainability that we do not want to see First Nations having clean water tomorrow and then the day after or down the road, five years later, they're on a boil water advisory again, because we haven't invested enough in the local supporting local individuals who run the plants and making sure they have adequate supports to do so. I really hope that there's there's a more broad perspective on what it takes to produce reliable and sustainable clean water in First Nations communities.
Yagnesh Ladumor Another way to tackle this issue is through policy changes. Dr. Waldron spoke to us about a federal bill to address environmental racism that she has been working on for a while.
Dr. Ingrid Waldron In terms of what's happening across Canada. I would say the bill is key. The bill is a federal bill called the National Strategy to Address Environmental Racism and Lenore Zann is putting it for a second reading on December 3rd. She says to me that she's done a lot of support. I mean, she got me got support from uh David Suzuki, he wrote an article about it and the need to support it. Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May have supported, various people in the party, Liberal Party has supported it. So we're looking for widespread support. In terms of your audience, there's lots they can do. I have, I've made everything easy for the public. You can go onto the website, the ENRICH website, there's a tab right there, which is a campaign that I'm organizing, I've crafted a letter that you can send out to Justin Trudeau, the Health Minister of Canada, the environmental minister, and other MPs, I give you some of their emails, but I also have a link to all the emails, phone numbers, addresses to all the MPs. I've crafted tweets that you can use, I've kind of made it my goal was to make it easy for the public so they don't have to scratch their head and think, oh, what should I say? Right? You can modify it if you want. It's all there. So what I really love the public to do is send an email to Justin Trudeau, everyone else on the website, asking them to approve this bill. I'd like them to send the letter to their friends and family members and ask them to do the same. I'd like you to tweet out, I've got the as I said the tweets crafted there. I've got the Twitter handles for Justin Trudeau and the Health Minister and I if it's not there, then I provided a link to all the Twitter handles and Facebook pages for the MPs. This is really about the MPs we need to target the MPs mostly, and of course Justin and others so we really need that support. Now, I'd like you to cc me on that Lenore Zann on it as well when you send it out. So this is the first sitting in December, and then March is the second sitting, so I think based on what Lenore told me, getting support before March, I think it's important now, but leading up to March is the most important because that's when the final decision would be made. So if you could get people to mobilize around it before March that would be great.
Yagnesh Ladumor Water is a basic necessity for human survival. But as we learned global water access and availability are changing at an alarming rate with climate change playing a significant role. Additionally, marginalized communities and regions especially Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by water insecurity and contamination. Although adequate technology is an integral component, the immense potential and proven benefits lie in collaboratively working with communities directly through education and programming.
Colleen Farrell A very special thanks to our guests. Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Dr. Majid Mohseni and Mr. John Millar for speaking with us and sharing their insights. And of course, thank you for listening. This episode was hosted by myself, Colleen, and as well as Yagnesh. Rachel and Seth helped conduct the interviews and Stefania helped develop content. Yagnesh was our executive producer, CJ was our photographer, and Helen was our audio engineer. Be sure to check out our next episode in two weeks, where we explore Tuberculosis and other preventable diseases. Until next time, keep it raw. Raw Talk Podcast is a student presentation of the Institute of Medical Science in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. The opinions expressed on the show are not necessarily those of the IMS, the Faculty of Medicine or the university. To learn more about the show visit our website rawtalkpodcast.com and stay up to date by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @RawTalkPodcast, support the show by using the affiliate link on our website when you shop on Amazon. Also, don't forget to subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcast and rate us five stars. Until next time, keep it raw.