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OTTAWA — The Ottawa Riverkeeper charity has big plans for the capital’s waterways, and they’ve recruited some of the city’s biggest movers and shakers to help them accomplish their goals.
Evan Solomon, the host of CBC’s Power and Politics, heads a group of advisers that will guide the Riverkeeper organization in new projects aimed at raising money and awareness of issues affecting the Ottawa River and its tributaries.
“We want to have the cleanest, healthiest, most livable capital river in the world, and we want to do it by 2017,” said Geoff Green, chair of the Riverkeeper board of directors. “We want to capture people’s imagination about this river and the watershed, and this group will be huge in helping us do that.”
Green announced the members of the capital river advisory team at the annual general meeting of the non-profit on Tuesday night at the Museum of Nature.
The advisers include other high-profile residents of the national capital region, including Avrim Lazar, CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, Courtney Anderson, a regional vice-president at Royal Bank of Canada, and Bruce Anderson, an expert on public relations and public opinion who is a frequent guest on CBC’s The National.
Ottawa Riverkeeper is a small organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the Ottawa River and the 148,000 square kilometres of the river’s watershed.
The river passes through two provinces and more than 200 municipalities, providing drinking water for more than a million people along its route.
The local charity is part of a larger international organization called the Waterkeeper Alliance, founded in 1999 by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and several existing environmental advocacy groups.
“This is a chance for a bunch of people to get involved and take action,” said Robert Slater, a member of the advisory team who spent many years in the highest echelons at Environment Canada. “Waterkeeper is inspiring. It gets you excited, it gets the juices flowing.”
The Waterkeeper Alliance pairs waterways with individuals to make environmental protection a personal mission. For the Ottawa River, that person is Meredith Brown.
Brown, who has been the organization’s riverkeeper since 2004 and is also executive director, said the advisory board — full of people with connections at all levels of government, the private sector and the media — will help the charity coordinate action from government and the public.
“We’re launching a five-year campaign with these advisers,” she said. “We really think we can make the Ottawa the world’s cleanest and most livable capital river.”
Brown made a presentation at Tuesday night’s meeting about her actions over the past year, which included a series of fact-finding canoe trips and lobbying the governments of Ottawa and Gatineau about issues as diverse as sewage control and water sports.
She also participated in the launch of the Waterkeeper Swim Guide, a smartphone app that helps users find the closest beach, displays water quality data, and allows people to upload photos and information about beach cleanliness.
The application was launched last year in Canada, and now includes up-to-the-minute data from the City of Ottawa. It also features information from waterkeepers as far afield as California and Florida, and Brown said she plans on adding more information about beaches all along the Ottawa River this summer.
Brown said having the well-connected advisory board will help the charity find more sponsorships for the app and the day-to-day running of the four-person organization.
Advisory board member Slater said seeking sponsorships would help raise the profile of what he called a “world-class” waterway.
“The number of people who understand that we have a globally significant eco-tourism asset on their back doorstep is vanishingly small,” he said. “We want to let everyone know.”
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