It’s been nearly a year as Ottawa’s Riverkeeper for Elizabeth Logue. As part of the global Waterkeepers Alliance, the Ottawa Riverkeeper organization works to ensure that a sustainable natural environment surrounds all 1,200 km of our magnificent waterway. Logue talks about how her background gives her insight and how she aims to tackle challenges facing our river and its ecosystem.
The Ottawa River watershed is a huge space — more than twice the size of New Brunswick — that’s home to phenomenal plant and animal diversity. It’s also governed by multiple First Nations, townships, and provincial authorities. What is the biggest challenge, and how do you plan to face it?
Yes, the politics are complex. One of the challenges faced by the Riverkeeper is being a cross-jurisdictional advocate for water quality. The Ottawa River watershed provides drinking water for more
than two million people. Any threat to the watershed risks the safety and comfort of all those people. However we chose to handle a particular flood event, we’re all going to have to keep talking
to each other all year-round. Like it or not, we’re all in this together. Part of the Riverkeeper’s job is to keep everyone talking with each other.
You grew up in Wakefield and identify as being of Algonquin and Irish descent. How does this background help you in your role of Riverkeeper?
Respect and honour for the water has always been part of my life. Growing up along the banks of the Tenagadino Zibi (Gatineau River) and at Blue Sea Lake and McGregor Lake, collecting rocks along the shoreline, was one of the ways I learned to observe the natural environment. (I still have a collection at home!) I strongly believe that given that the watershed is on traditional unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin Anishinaabe Territory, that work on its health and well-being needs to include all nations.
You’ve mentioned that the shorelines of your childhood have changed irrevocably. Does this mean that future generations won’t enjoy playing by the riverside?
I have seen a change. I grew up catching frogs and hanging out on beaches — shoreline erosion has changed that. My time as president of the McGregor Lake Association and on the executive of Federation of the Lakes of Val-de-Monts has shown me that citizen groups can make a difference. By caring and putting energy into knowing how to mitigate negative effects on the water — wake boats, garbage, cutting brush by the waterside — all these add up to negative effects on the health of the water
What can a reader do to improve the health of the river?
Simply be curious and engage with the river! Be aware of changes. The Ottawa Riverkeeper wants people to go to the river — swim, paddle, get out on the water, look at rocks and plants. I always say
the watershed is swimmable, drinkable, fishable, and even turtle-able. We need to think not only of human activity but also the biodiversity and its viability for generations to come.
Does a healthy watershed mean limiting human activities on the river?
I don’t think a healthy watershed comes at the expense of limiting human activities but rather adapting activities and being more conscious of how certain interactions will have or could have
negative effects on the water.