Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
March 1, 2012
The Great River Project
[top photo: an extensive marsh along the shoreline of the Ottawa River near Ottawa (photo courtesy B. Shipley); and bottom photo: Mississippi River shoreline wet meadows and swamps below Carleton Place (photo courtesy C. Keddy)]
The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Trends in Fauna and Flora, continues March 15 with the sixth presentation, “The Great River Project.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.
This month’s lecture will be presented by Meredith Brown who is the Riverkeeper for the Ottawa River. She—along with an expert team of photographers, historians, naturalists and scientists—canoed 900 km of the Ottawa River, departing from historic Fort Témiscamingue on Lake Timiskaming. Meredith will retrace their exciting voyage to document the state of this beautiful river and share their findings on its natural and cultural heritage.
The Ottawa River, or Kichisìpi (Great River in the Algonquin language), begins in Lake Capimitchigama in central Quebec and flows for 1,271 km along the provincial border with Ontario to the St. Lawrence River. First travelled by Samuel de Champlain in 1615, the river became a part of a major fur trading route for the next two centuries. It then served as a conduit for large rafts of white pine floated down to ports for the European market, the last raft leaving the river soon after 1900. Today the Ottawa River provides drinking water for two million people, and numerous major dams in its watershed generate over 4,000 megawatts of hydropower and control flooding. It supports local economies, is a world-class recreation destination, and is an important part of our culture and heritage. There is no single government agency that is accountable for protecting the river for future generations. There is no management plan or conservation plan for the river.
The Ottawa is, indeed, a great river. It has been nominated as a Canadian Heritage River in Parks Canada’s national river system. It was selected by World Wildlife Fund as one of Canada’s 10 rivers to profile in their report Canada’s Rivers at Risk: Environmental Flows and Canada’s Freshwater Future. Environmental flows describe the quantity, timing and quality of water flows required to define how much water a river needs to remain healthy and productive. The Ottawa River is home to 85 fish species, including species-at-risk—river redhorse (special concern) and lake sturgeon (threatened). The river shorelines provide habitat for wood turtles (provincially endangered, nationally threatened) and musk turtles (provincially & nationally threatened), and its wetlands and floodplains support more than 300 bird species, as well as rare vegetation types adapted to its cycles. The report concluded that the river was severely fragmented by hydropower dams in both the Quebec and Ontario portions of its watershed; the Ottawa River is one of the most regulated river systems in Canada with more than 50 major dams. Natural flow patterns of the river and its tributaries have been dramatically altered, compromising habitat and the diversity and distribution of fish communities and shoreline vegetation. Overall, the environmental flow of the river was rated “Fair,” with the forecast “Declining.” What can we do? WWF says, “Change the flow! Design and operate dams and other instream infrastructure to better balance nature’s needs (the flow regimes required to sustain healthy rivers) with human needs for hydropower, navigation, flood control, and water storage.”
As Riverkeeper, it is Meredith’s job (with the support of her staff) to keep the Ottawa great—to speak for the river. Part scientist, teacher, and law officer, she is one of a worldwide network of about 200 Waterkeepers—on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 150,000 kilometers of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Canada has nine waterkeepers, four of which are in Ontario: Ottawa Riverkeeper, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Georgian Baykeeper, Moose Riverkeeper. The first Riverkeeper organization was founded in 1986 to protect water quality of the Hudson River in New York and to challenge corporations and governments who traditionally were not held accountable for destroying river systems.
Naturally, we have a connection to the vision and ambitions of the Ottawa Riverkeeper—the Mississippi River tributary contributes 3% of the Ottawa River’s watershed and 2% of its flow. As stewards of the Mississippi watershed, we have a role to play in maintaining the natural greatness of the Ottawa River. Ms. Brown will highlight the vital link between our rivers and our lives and provide some practical suggestions for how we might enhance the health of our river.
Learn from someone who has traveled the Ottawa why the river is great and how we can contribute to keeping it great by attending Meredith Brown’s presentation “The Great River Project,” at 7:30p.m on Thurs. March. 15, 2012, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.