Getting it Right: How we talk about water in BC

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“Fuel is better than water.” That’s the narrator’s conclusion in an ubiquitous Gatorade TV adfeaturing hockey star Sidney Crosby and his opening line: “Scoring the big goal is easier if you make the right decisions: water or fuel?”

No one is anti-water. But this message--promulgated by the most popular player of our most popular sport--is emblematic of how Canadians take fresh water for granted. While many people in Canada consider our lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers to be the nation’s most precious resource, there is still a disconnect between our love of water and how well we take care of it.

For this to change, the overall story of how we talk about water needs to change. This is why the Freshwater Alliance has been working on developing a new common narrative for Canada that can overcome myths that get in the way of freshwater protection, from “my water is fine, so what’s the problem?” to “our water is in good hands.”

This week, we are launching our narrative work with the release of “Getting it Right: A Communications Toolkit for Strengthening B.C.’s New Water Sustainability Act.” Moving beyond outdated water laws, the Water Sustainability Act represents the best chance to protect B.C.’s fresh water. If done right, it can, for example, put the province in a much-better position to deal with and mitigate the effects of the next drought.

The toolkit features a new freshwater narrative for B.C. that groups can use to connect your local issues--such as drought, water pollution, or industrialization of waterways--to the new Act and galvanize public support for the development of regulations that are in the public’s best interest. One of the current myths we talk about in the toolkit is “we’re all set with the new Water Act”; although the ongoing drought is making water a top-of-mind issue for many in B.C. for the first time, there is a perception that because the Act was passed in May 2014, there isn’t anything more that the public needs to do about it.

At the core of the new narrative are 10 shared values that we suggest groups use to get audiences to care about and advocate for strong water laws:

  • Security—a reliable water supply makes us feel safe
  • Vitality—healthy waters allow us to thrive, not just survive
  • Wealth--vital to the economy as well as to human and environmental health, clean fresh water provides “real” wealth
  • Ingenuity—we have the innovation and smarts to solve freshwater challenges.
  • Prudence—it doesn’t make sense to be wasteful, even when water seems to be in abundance
  • Adventure—rivers, lakes and streams are amazing places to explore and pursue intense experiences
  • Joy— being on, in or near water tends to make us feel happy and free
  • Voice—we should all have a say in decisions that affect our water
  • Fairness—everyone deserves access to clean fresh water
  • Pride—fresh water is core to our identity and we have a responsibility to protect something so precious        

The “Getting it Right” toolkit features flashcards on the first important WSA regulation areas being developed, including groundwater—last week, the B.C. government announced a comment period on groundwater running through September 8. Each flashcard has a list of values to tap overall as well as recommended talking points and the values that relate to them.

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B.C. is blessed with beautiful and bountiful lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers that serve as the province’s lifeblood--our economy, our health, our peace of mind all depend on the flow of clean fresh water. Yet these places where we play, unwind and explore are facing unprecedented threats, from profligate consumption by large users to the new reality of extreme weather events. We have the knowhow to manage this precious resource in such a way that there is sufficient water for all; we just need the will.

When groups concerned with B.C.’s freshwater incorporate this new common narrative into various campaigns and communications efforts, “a cohesive, powerful and hopeful story about freshwater protection emerges that can spur transformative social and environmental change.”

And, it will make clear that fresh water is not only “better” than fuel, it is the fuel of the 21st century.

Download your FREE copy of the Toolkit here.

David Minkow is the communications specialist for the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. He and Susi Porter-Bopp are the co-authors of the “Getting It Right” toolkit.


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