My Watermark is Otonabeem River, Ontario.
As the founding member and director of Toronto Urban Fishing Ambassador you might expect my Watermark to be a thank you card for all the fish. It is not. In fact, my Watermark experience has nothing to do with water recreation and everything to do with water responsibility.
My Father was a site supervisor and engineer of the construction of water filtration plants and sewage / wastewater treatment plants. He was building new facilities at the sewage treatment plant in Peterborough, Ontario when I was 6 years old. My Father took me with him on weekends to check the operating sewage treatment plant. He needed to inspect work daily at the construction site. On weekends when family time was short that meant me tagging along. A boy's dream going to the construction site with all the heavy equipment and huge industrial complex machinery. Good thing back then safety inspectors did not work weekends or I would not have had my visits. We would walk the whole facility both the under construction and operating areas. Walking through the operational areas of the sewage treatment plant was an assault to the senses. Walking the catwalks between the lagoons of sewage was frightening. The sewage-laden water undergoing treatment could have been lava and I would not have been more afraid.
I was six, I loved water but the sewage lagoons were grosser than even a little boy could bare. I loved water because I loved swimming but this water was not fit to swim in. I had just become hooked on fishing, catching my first few fish (my second was a 3 foot American Eel) but no fish could live in that water. Being a hyperactive six-year-old who was constantly in motion my thirst for water was unquenchable but this water was undrinkable. Death has a distinct smell that is so strong and poignant that you taste it as well as smell it and your eyes can tear from its overwhelming stench. The pungent stench of sewage in such concentration has the same impact on the senses.
As an adult, if I think about the sewage treatment plant my senses immediately and vividly recall their horrendous experiences. To me, the water in the lagoons was dead and useless. Like all six-year-olds, I asked my Dad far more questions than he would answer. Finding out this sewage water after treatment would go back into the river as clean water was difficult for me to understand at the time. The processes that the water would go through to become "clean" were mindboggling to me. But I trusted my Dad and he gave me his word that the water would be clean when it returned to the Otonabee River. Fishable, swimmable, and drinkable water. My Dad then imparted information that absolutely stunned me and changed me for life. We were fortunate to have sewage / wastewater treatment plants and water filtration plants. These were modern technology and infrastructure that some Canadian cities simply did not have. Those cities without sewage treatment plants pumped the untreated dirty water directly into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Yes the pipes carried the sewage out to deep water away from shorelines but into the rivers, lakes, and oceans all the same. At six I knew that doing such a thing was wrong and felt sickened with disbelief. I cried from shock and helplessness. I cried for the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, the fish and wildlife that lived in the water and I cried for myself. Never would I fish, swim or drink from rivers, lakes or oceans where sewage was pumped directly into the water. I was right to cry for myself and for you for that matter. We have all fished, swam and drank from rivers, lakes, and oceans that have had sewage waste pumped into them. The Otonabee River has had sewage pumped into it as well. I did not ask enough or the right questions at the time. I know now that most of Canada's sewage treatment facilities are at the mercy of the design and management of the sanitation sewers and storm water infrastructure of the cities they service. The sewage treatment plant in Peterborough can be overwhelmed by storms with heavy precipitation. Toronto, the city where I currently live, bypasses enormous quantities of sewage directly into Lake Ontario as a result of storm water and sanitary sewers being interconnected and the sewage treatment plants being overwhelmed during storm events.
My Watermark is witnessing an operating sewage treatment plant. Experiencing the untreated sewage wastewater. Acknowledging and understanding that it would be wrong to dump this water in its current state into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Firmly believing that cities, their governance, and population are responsible for the treatment of the sewage and waste water they have created. We have the technological and engineering abilities to accomplish the responsible treatment of the sewage and wastewater our cities create. Do we have the will it takes to pay the price for the refurbishment and changes to infrastructure required to accomplish that task? Having witnessed undrinkable, unswimmable and unfishable waters I have that will and resolve. No price is too high for drinkable , swimmable and fishable waters.