Water, Water, Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink: World Water Day in a Localized and Globalized Context

World Water DayYesterday was World Water Day and I spent it working with clients on two water projects, one locally based and one that has an international mandate.


Water has traditionally been, and continues to be, a gathering point for people.  Growing up in Calgary where two rivers meet - The Bow and the Elbow, one can’t help but notice how this city has grown up around these two mighty water sources.  According to our local history, this region was formerly called “Mohkinstsis” in Blackfoot. From what I have been told, it literally means the meeting points of the rivers.  It was the spot where our First Nation communities gathered to trade, share knowledge, manage tribal issues and connect with other Plains Indians.  



It seems fitting then, that I approach this blog post from the perspective of how I understand the impact of our water system.  I have chosen to explore the context of water through the lens of four of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals:

#3 Good Health & Wellbeing
#6 Clean Water & Sanitation
#11 Sustainable Cities & Communities
#15 Life on Land


The first client project I was working on yesterday is a community engagement project called Water For Riley (W4R).  When Deborah Sword, donor and supporter of Place2Give, first came to me with an idea that could address multiple interests including:

  • bring together charities, community agencies, local businesses and community organizers around a functional art project - a water fountain; and

  • with an intention to mitigate plastic bottle waste in one of Calgary’s most beautiful and heavily used urban parks;

How could I say “no”?  

W4R Logo

This art project is more than just installing a city water fountain.  

Riley Park was donated to the city by Ezra Riley in 1910 and serves on average 90,000 people from across the City and visitors to Calgary alike.  There is a cricket pitch, a playground, a wading pool, large swaths of green-space for frisbee and ball throwing and a beautiful flower garden climbing up the hill to the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.  It is bordered by high density housing, a women’s shelter, a men’s shelter, a hospice, two post-secondary institutions, a performing arts centre and business district.  Yet with all these people using this park there is no potable water!  As The City shared with our planning committee, it is an underfunded priority.  In other words, The City knows they need to have a water fountain there, but in the list of priorities it is not making its way to the top.

UN Sustainable Development GoalsBy looking at this project through the UN Sustainable Development Goals lens we see the following:

Good Health & Wellbeing: will provide people with access to water during their workouts and playtime and year-round while they are enjoying one of Calgary’s urban treasures;

Clean Water & Sanitation: bringing potable water to a densely populated area of the city; Reflecting Blooms fountain is accessible to all (animals and humans);

Sustainable Cities & Communities: celebrate the talents of one of Calgary’s emerging artists - a student at ACAD, Michelle Lazo; bring together different organizations to work together; generated over $30,000 in new funds into the community through this project; paved the way for another community-based art project to be launched; developed a template for community engagement projects to be shared with other community associations

Life on Land: encourages the use of reusable water bottles with the intention that, over time, plastic bottle wastage in the park will go down; demonstrates that public art and city utilities can be married together in another way beyond painting utility boxes

Over the 1.5 years that we have been working on this project, it is evident that in order to do effective Community Engagement we need to be patient as we bring all the different players together.  It has been an amazing experience thus far and we look forward to breaking ground.

The second thing I did yesterday was celebrate World Water Day with CAWST.  I have written about this organization several times in the past. Aside from the four UN Sustaible Development Goals that I have mentioned earlier, several more can be added to the list for this organization. It is one of the agencies that consistently measures and reports on the impact it is having in bringing potable water to some of the world’s poorest areas.  CAWST’s deployment method is multi-faceted - BioSand Filter technology; training other NGO’s on water sanitation and hygiene for their staff to take out to the communities; and providing learning opportunities for students around the globe on water issues.

It was wonderful to hear what they have accomplished this year and to see the efforts they are going through to connect their business model with our next generation of leaders through the Wavemakers program.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to celebrate World Water Day.  I look forward to hearing about how you participated in this annual event and what you have learned through your experiences.  If you are looking for more information about water based charities or how you and/or your family/business can get involved in organizations like W4R or CAWST please don’t hesitate to connect.