Opinion: Our post-COVID recovery needs to be green and blue

'Investing in our watersheds will make us more adaptable to future crises, and will create the good, local jobs we'll need to shift us into a greener, cleaner, brighter future.'

This article originally appeared in iPolitics.

By Christine Mettler, Co-Director (Interim) Communications and Operations. 

Today is World Water Day, a day to celebrate the gift that is water and raise awareness of freshwater issues. Just one day to celebrate water might seem funny; water is, after all, the basis of life. There would be no humans, no animals, presumably no life (or anything we would recognize as life) without it.

Maybe the health of our water hasn’t been top of mind for you over the past year. And that’s completely understandable; it’s been a heck of a year. We’ve all had a lot on our minds. But if you’ll let me, I’d like to invite you to give it some special attention today.

With just weeks to go until the federal government’s expected COVID-19 recovery budget is released, I want to make a link that’s hidden in plain sight: The health of our water is absolutely fundamental to the health of our people, our communities, and our economy.

The pandemic has made us realize, among other things, just how vulnerable our infrastructure and institutions are to crises. As the government establishes and finances its strategy to “build back better” post-COVID, growing resilience in the face of future crises must be part of this strategy — not only public-health crises, but those caused by environmental degradation and climate change (which also make us more susceptible to future public-health crises). The health of our water must be central to this strategy.

Our watersheds — the lakes, rivers, streams, and surrounding land that drains into them — give us the water we drink and the food we eat. They support the web of life around us. They are the foundation of our economy. Investing in them will make us more adaptable to future crises, and will create the good, local jobs we’ll need to shift us into a greener, cleaner, brighter future.

For this reason, the Canadian Freshwater Alliance and our supporters have been urging the federal government to ensure our recovery is not just green, but also blue. In particular, we would like to see funding dedicated to natural infrastructure — trees, native plants, wetlands, green spaces, rain gardens, and green roofs — which, by protecting and restoring the land around water bodies, also improves water quality and reduces flooding.

We want to see ample funding for the creation of the Canada Water Agency, a federal body that will coordinate actions by communities and different levels of government to keep our water safe, healthy, and well-managed. We want to see the investment necessary to actually deliver clean and safe drinking water to First Nations across the country. And we want to see the establishment of a Canada Water Security Fund to provide sustainable funding to local and community-based freshwater projects.

There’s no sugar-coating it: This year has been gruelling. But there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. The question is: What’s on the other side? It will be what we make it.

After the Second World War, the governments of North America and Europe invested heavily in public infrastructure and services, leaving a legacy of infrastructure we still use today. It stimulated the economy and created good, local jobs that enlarged the middle class.

Today, again, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leave a legacy for future generations: We can build back better by investing in our public infrastructure, of which watersheds are a fundamental part. By protecting and restoring them, we’ll create good, local, green jobs, we’ll be more resilient when future crises arise, and we’ll help safeguard a healthy future.

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