President of Swim Drink Fish Canada Mark Mattson alongside the Swim Drink Fish logo.

The Importance of Water

By Diana Olsen

President of Swim Drink Fish Canada Mark Mattson alongside the Swim Drink Fish logo.

Keeping our beaches clean and our water safe is a huge priority for us at Inner Beach. We continue this year to work with Swim Drink Fish — a Lake Ontario Waterkeeper initiative — by sponsoring the daily water testing of 2 of Port Credit’s local beaches: Jack Darling and Lakeview Promenade. To find out if the water is safe for swimming and learn more about the amazing work of our local Waterkeepers, you can download the Swim Guide app. Recently, I had the pleasure of posing a few questions to the president of Swim Drink Fish Canada, Mark Mattson:

How did Waterkeeper begin in Ontario and what is your mission?

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper was founded to give a voice to clean water — swimmable, drinkable, fishable water — in Lake Ontario communities.

We believe every water body needs a seat at the decision making table. Every water body needs a voice to represent the value of clean water. Having a full time organization that focuses on water, is the most powerful tool for protecting and restoring your connection to nature.

Swim Drink Fish’s mission is to ensure access to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Waterkeeper and Swim Drink Fish have had many major victories across Canada in the last 20 years. From the restoration of the Petitcodiac River and the creation of a sewage treatment plant in Happy Valley Goose Bay to the restoration of swimmable water in Toronto at Bluffers Beach and at Breakwater Park in Kingston. It all starts with rejecting the notion that pollution and environmental degradation is normal. It is not.

Some clean ups that resulted from our work include the $1.8 billion clean up of nuclear waste in Port Hope, the capping of landfills in Ontario including the Kings Mill Park on the Humber River in Toronto and the multi-million dollar clean up of the Deloro Mine Site.

We are also proud of our work supporting the restoration of urban swimming in Kingston at the Gord Edgar Downie Pier and the restoration of endangered habitat in Windsor, Mississauga and Pickering.

Most importantly, we are proud of the burgeoning movement of Canadians who want to reconnect to the water’s edge and work for projects that ensure access to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all.

What is your greatest challenge?

Our greatest challenge is finding the resources to meet the needs of our communities. We wish we had funding to support water monitoring hubs in every community, so we could define the problems and focus on the solutions. The communities are already willing to work. They just need the funds to gather the evidence that makes change possible.

Can you share a fact related to water conservation and protection that most people are unaware of but would be surprised to know?

One of the greatest lessons I learned from my work as Waterkeeper is that Canada has some of the best environmental laws and protections in the world but some of the weakest enforcement of rules and regulations. If we want clean water for all, we must work at it. Talk is cheap. We need clear standards, strong independent regulators and an informed public to rebuff the challenge of profit over pollution.

One other lesson that has kept me going for 30 years as an environmental advocate, is that everyone wants swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. It is a universal desire and fundamental need for all communities. It must be the future. It may take time and work to get back to where we want to be… but it is necessary. Nothing is more important to our social, environmental and economic health.

What are a few simple steps we can take in our own lives that will help protect our lakes?

The most frequent question we get at Swim Drink Fish is: what can I do? It is not an easy question to answer as everyone has a different connection to water and faces different challenges. From climate change to pesticides, plastics to development, sewage to industrial waste; it all adds up.

Despite that, here are a few steps that can be counted on to make your efforts effective:

  • Get outside and connect to your water body.

  • Learn about your water.

  • Get involved in your local environmental group.

  • Volunteer to collect litter, water samples and stories.

  • Share your experience with others.

  • Be vocal.

  • Participate in decision making.

  • Make a commitment to your community to work for swimmable drinkable fishable water.

  • Donate to your environmental causes.

Further, Swim Drink Fish has created tools to help communities. Tools like community based monitoring hubs, story telling archives, data sharing tools (Swim Guide) and legal resources that empower communities.

Use them.

The raw truth is … no one is going to look after your water if you don’t get active. Who will protect your water? As Gord Downie would say: You will.

We admire Mark and his team at Swim Drink Fish for their dedication and appreciate all they do to ensure that everyone has access to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.

Join Inner Beach in doing our part on Saturday, September 17 at our bi-annual Karma’s a Beach Shoreline Cleanup. We’ll be participating in International Coastal Cleanup Day by cleaning up our local beaches. Full details below. We hope to see you there!

This article appears in Issue #4: Summer 2022 of The Wave — Inner Beach's quarterly newsletter. Sign up to The Wave for news about beach culture, artist profiles, community events, and our essential products. Bonus: receive a 10% discount code to use towards your first online purchase. Subscribe now.