Brock and WWF-Canada address freshwater challenges amid ‘threat multiplier’ COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t causing freshwater challenges, but it’s certainly compounding the problems.

Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) and World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) have launched the Partnership for Freshwater Resilience.

Unable to host an in-person event due to COVID-19 restrictions, Brock and WWF-Canada officially launched the partnership with a Future of Freshwater virtual panel discussion Thursday, June 25 with more than 75 people across the country tuning in.

The panelists from both Brock and WWF-Canada agreed that the pandemic was adding complications to the challenges associated with fresh water in this country.

“The threats, impacts and issues we were addressing have been multiplied by COVID-19,” said Elizabeth Hendriks, Vice-President of Freshwater Conservation at WWF-Canada. “For Indigenous and other communities that didn’t have access to clean water prior to COVID, this means they are faced with an even higher risk impacting their families, infrastructure, health care and well-being.

“With our emergency and municipal services already strained, it feels like the COVID-19 prevention measures are putting even more strain on our already vulnerable people, and all our communities.”

Assistant Professor in Brock’s ESRC and the Department of Geography and Tourism, Julia Baird, Canada Research Chair in Human Dimensions of Water Resources and Water Resilience, said the crisis is bringing greater attention to inequities in access to clean water around the world.

“This increase in attention creates an opportunity for us as researchers and practitioners to bring a systems perspective and highlight the critical importance of things such as source water protection and a watershed/basin perspective,” she said. “As a scholar, it provides a way to engage more deeply with issues of mutual interest, do really solid research and contribute to scholarship on water governance, while also engaging in shared work that has immediate impact on the ground.”

Signed in 2019, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Brock and WWF-Canada solidifies an ongoing partnership between the two organizations, said Brock Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon.

“We are particularly pleased that Brock and World Wildlife Fund Canada are working together on a line of inquiry that is crucial to us all,” he said. “We need to be focused on the threats and impacts of climate change on freshwater. This partnership provides a foundation for new collaborative ventures and trans-disciplinary research.”

Megan Leslie, President/CEO of WWF-Canada added that she is “excited we can finally share the news of what Brock University and WWF-Canada are doing together.”

“Canada is home to 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater, and with such abundance comes great responsibility to protect those waters. That goal has never been more important than right now,” said Leslie, who served as head of ocean conservation for the organization before taking on the leadership role in 2017.

The partnership will initially focus on the Saint John River in eastern Canada, using it as a research subject for Brock faculty and students with the goal of improving how communities along its banks handle the impacts of increased flooding as a result of climate change.

“One thing we’ve already learned is that nobody has a clear idea of who is doing what and where it relates to climate change, particularly the impacts of flooding along the river,” said Simon Mitchell, WWF-Canada Lead Specialist, Freshwater. “We’re developing a climate knowledge network survey, which will allow us to share experiences, develop common messaging, and better implement actions.”

The initial focus and national scope of the partnership will help to shape the future of water in Canada.

“This innovative partnership facilitates collaboration with one of Canada’s largest and most recognizable conservation organizations,” said Ryan Plummer, Professor and Director of the ESRC. “By working together, I am confident that we will advance science, policy and practice using the lens of water resilience.”

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