clear water

This week, I’ve been thinking about rivers, lakes, canoes, and water. Maybe it’s just the weather. It’s finally turned cold and the rivers have frozen over. Last weekend, we saw ice-fishing huts here and there along the Rideau on our return home from hiking at the forestry centre.

Perhaps it was going out to Mudpuppy Night last week, and wondering how many other places might provide clean water and similar habitat for these aquatic salamanders.

Then again, maybe it had something to do with watching Bill Mason’s film Waterwalker for the zillionth time. And yes, I do have my own copy (on DVD), but sent it to a friend out west and I think he likes it too much to return — no problem, I’ll get another copy sometime soon. In the meantime, I borrowed the VHS version from the local library. For those who may not know the film, or about Bill Mason, it’s the quintessential film about canoes, rivers, water, and the outdoors. It was directed by Bill Mason, who made a number of NFB films during his career. They ranged from short films on wildlife to the feature-length Waterwalker with a musical score by Bruce Cockburn. Following Bill Mason’s death in 1988, the Waterwalker Film Festival was established to inspire and encourage film-makers “to become involved with the protection and conservation of our wilderness and waterways and to play a role in helping to carry out Bill Mason’s legacy.”

If you haven’t seen Waterwalker, it was shot mainly on and around Lake Superior. Much of the footage is spectacular for the paddling, the rivers, and the scenery. The film quality in parts does look a little “old” but the film itself is wonderful nonetheless, as much for the message as for the visuals. Somewhere near the beginning, Mason asks, “What it is about Canadians and canoes?” It’s a good question. What is it about so many of us that we take to the water in our canoes and kayaks as soon as the ice breaks up? Just watch the movie and you’ll soon discover what that’s all about. Mason also talks about rivers and the environment — how they’re being permanently altered by hydro dams and pollution. It’s a message we should all be paying a lot more attention to, especially as cities continue to grow and everyone demands more water and electricity.

Another thing that got me thinking about lakes and rivers was turning up a copy of the Spring 2004 issue of ON Nature with it’s special feature Who Protects the Water? while moving some stuff around here this week. It’s filled with great articles on rivers and the environment. Just the Water Facts on page 24 are enough to get you thinking. Here are just a couple:

* One out of every three Canadians and one out of every seven U.S. residents depends on the Great Lakes for their water.
* More than 360 chemical compounds, including DDT, mercury and alkylated lead, have been identified in the Great Lakes.
* In Ontario, less than 3 percent of water produced at large municipal water treatment plants is used for drinking.
* Canada has about 25 percent of the world’s wetlands — the largest wetland area in the world.
* brushing your teeth with the tap left running uses an average of 10 litres of water (I’m hoping that none of you actually do this).

Yet another thing got me thinking about water, and that is the controversy I’ve been hearing a bit about this week, over a plan to recycle waste water to provide adequate clean drinking water in some areas of Australia. I’d like to know what the waste water is like before undergoing processing as most of it here in North America contains contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals containing endocrine disrupters, and an assortment of other wonderful things. I believe the technology would have to be pretty good to ensure that none of that stuff was recycled along with the water. It’s good to keep in mind that all of the above-mentioned “junk” has got to go somewhere, and that a lot of it is ending up back in the lakes, streams and rivers, or spread on agricultural land in the form of biosolids (sewage sludge from treatment plants).

Well, whatever the cause, I’m giving a lot of thought to water these days. The truth is, I much prefer to think about the kind of water I like to see while wading around looking for frogs or minnows, or paddling along a lake watching a family of Loons swimming nearby. That’s the kind of water that I’ve used to illustrate today’s post. Clear water that was probably relatively clean and free of contaminants. You can click on either of the photos to see a larger view. I’ve also put up a couple of movie clips that I made while photographing these streams. Here are the links if you’d like to play them. The first is of a little leaf shooting through the water above the sculptured rocks seen in the top photo. I’m not sure that the leaf will show up too well on this .mp4 clip (1.5 mb) — it’s a lot nicer on the full video version that is far too large to post. The second is the moving footage of water rushing over rocks as seen in the image below. It’s a bigger .mp4 file of about 3.5 mb, so probably too big to bother downloading if you’ve got dial-up. However, I thought it would be nice to put them up for those who are feeling a little deprived of being out beside a stream of clear, rushing water.

By the way, it’s World Wetlands Day today — established at the Convention of Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran, 1971, to recognize the importance of wetlands and to formulate a treaty for international cooperation in the conservation of wetlands. Yet another good reason to be thinking about water today.

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15 Responses to “clear water”

  1. Peter Says:

    This post goes well with the UN report on climate change released today. David Suzuki spoke at Dalhousie U here in Halifax today on climate change as well, sadly I did not find out about it until it was in progress. I’m not sure how well known Dr David Suzuki is outside of Canada… so for American or other readers of Burning Silo, check out his great website full of important information at

    Bev, I will be checking out Waterwalker soon, I imagine it is available at the local library. As for the sewage water processing, I certainly do hope a suitable solution for the sludge. Like you said, it all goes somewhere. I don’t find the tar ponds solution to be a great one, but perhaps it is better to do something now (ie encase it in cement) than to do nothing at all. Perhaps as technology and awareness increases, more steps can be taken later.

    Here is the website on the tar ponds incase you missed it in the news.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Peter – Thanks for posting the link to David Suzuki’s website, and also to the tar ponds site. It’s too bad that, time and again, things have been let go until they become environmental disasters of varying magnitude.
    I’m not sure how well known Suzuki is outside of Canada. He should be, but I suspect not, although The Nature of Things is shown in many countries. I don’t know of many from the U.S. who can get it on any of their stations. What’s interesting about Suzuki, is how he’s often been way ahead of everyone on environmental issues. The Nature of Things was doing shows about climate change long before many people were talking about it. One of my favourite series of shows was Arctic Mission. Those were excellent episodes. Also, the shows on corporate agriculture.
    I would think that Waterwalker should be available through just about any library in the country as it’s an NFB film and also very popular even 20+ years since it was made. Hope you can find a copy.

  3. robin andrea Says:

    I will see if our local library has a copy of Waterwalker. They’re very good about requesting inter-library loans, so I’m sure we’ll get to see it one way or another. I didn’t know it was World Wetlands Day, and that Canada is home to 25% of the World’s wetlands. I hope you are taking care of all that precious water up there.

    I have a very big problem with recycled waste water for drinking. I personally think that goes against every instinct we’ve ever had. Of course with coming water shortages, we’ve got to be very inventive, but this seems very creepy and wrong.

  4. burning silo Says:

    robin – I hope Waterwalker is available through your library system. I’m quite sure you would enjoy it. In many ways, the north shores of Lake Superior remind me of the PNW. As mentioned, the footage isn’t as bright as what we’re now used to seeing with digital camcorders, and there are a few things about it that seem dated now, but the scenery is beautiful, and Bill Mason was such a unique person. Hearing him talk about his art, the rivers, and the outdoors is really quite enjoyable.
    Regarding recycling of waste water for drinking, I too have a problem with the idea. A few years ago, some friends and I did quite a bit of research into biosolids (sewage sludge) when it was due to be spread on nearby land. We discovered that there are all kinds of things that enter the waste stream of cities – heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, many chemicals such as fire retardants, and so on — and that all of those things are not “neutralized” during the sewage treatment process. The stuff has to go somewhere, and while a lot ends up in the sewage sludge, some ends up in the water that is released back into the rivers after undergoing treatment. It seems that the idea is to remove enough stuff that what’s left will be diluted when it hits the river. As we are now hearing, such things as pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, and fire retardants seem to be finding their way through the waste stream and are contaminating rivers downstream of waste treatment plants. I’m not sure how anyone can be absolutely positive that a water treatment plant would be able to remove every trace of this stuff from waste water so that it would be fit to drink. Of course, there are other reasons for finding the idea rather repellent, but the above seem reason enough to have suspicions about the whole thing.

  5. burning silo Says:

    robin — oh, and yes, we’ll try to take care of the wetlands!

  6. robin andrea Says:

    I’ve read that fish are being found with high levels of Prozac in them. I guess we’re making sure they’re not depressed about the environment we are stinking up for them! As I read the list of stuff you say stays in the water, even after treatment, I realize yet again how doomed we really are.

  7. burning silo Says:

    robin – I think there are technologies that can remove pretty nearly everything, but I’m not sure how practical they are for purifying large volumes of water. I know more about the “getting rid of the bad stuff” end of the process, and not that much about how to purify water. However, I do know that any kind of process is going to have some kind of toxic byproduct that has to be gotten rid of. Regarding fish, here’s an article on male intersex fish in the Potomac River. It’s believed that the mutations are being caused by certain pollutants. You can read about it here, but there are many links about this on the net if you do a search for fish = endocrine disruptor. Fire retardants such as PBDE are also of concern as they are very persistent in the environment. But yes, there’s all kinds of stuff that has to be gotten rid of some how.

  8. Cathy Says:

    The photo of water flowing over rock is powerful . . .lovely. Things are so frigid here today it’s difficult to believe that water will ever be fluid again.

    I’m going to find and own “Waterwalker”. It sounds perfect for someone who’s ‘had it’ with angst-driven entertainment and who dreams of bobbing and sliding through beautiful watery environments.

  9. burning silo Says:

    Cathy – Thanks! I take a lot of photos of water and that’s one of my favourites. The weather has turned very cold here too — which is good, as Winterlude is on in Ottawa for the next couple of weeks or so and there are ice sculptures, snow sculptures, skating on the canal, etc… If the weather had continued as it was (no snow and above freezing), the festival would have been a fiasco. The date has been moved several times in recent years as the weather is getting increasingly unpredictable. January is warmer now and we get rain more often, which wrecks all the sculptures. Seems like early February is working out better.
    I hope you find a copy of Waterwalker. It’s a nice movie — upbeat. A couple of bits in it may seem slightly corny by today’s standards, but all in all, it’s a very nice film and the water and canoe sequences are superb. Bill Mason was an excellent paddler and it’s a joy to watch him with his canoe. Both of his children are renowned paddlers as well, btw.

  10. Duncan Says:

    Seems to me that the only way to safely convert waste water to drinking water would be by distillation, which wouldn’t be an economic option. As you point out Bev there would be all sorts of chemical cocktails that wouldn’t be removed by alternative treatment. I’ll be on tank water here if it comes to the crunch.

  11. Cathy Says:

    Happy Winterlude,Bev! I’ve only been to an ice sculpture display once. Just dazzling and delightful.
    I found a used “Waterwalker” on Amazon and it’s on its way. I don’t mind that its got some ‘corny’ content. I’ll take corny any day over some of the dreck that is currently passed off as entertainment. Thanks for the recommendation.

  12. Wayne Says:

    Bev – I’ve got to get a list together of the number of DVD’d films you’ve recommended. Thanks for this addition.

    At present, all our water usage ends up in the septic tank and thereupon filters through several hundred feet of soil before it enters the watershed. (Watersheds! What an important concept!) By which time I presume that many undesirable nutrients and household chemicals have been dealt with by soil bacteria, but I only presume so.

    Still, we are at least in control of our water waste, since it doesn’t go into an urban collection system. And so I’ve been thinking about organizing the plumbing at certain points in the house to direct relatively clean water – primarily kitchen sink rinse water to start with – onto a patch of land that could benefit from moisture. Possibly into a tank that could be used to deliver water for a garden.

    We already collect roof runoff into a cistern, although we don’t use it properly. At least it doesn’t splash 4-10 meters onto the ground to wash away soil and cloud already overloaded streams.

    I’m guessing that regions with considerably less rainfall than our bountiful amounts are light years ahead of us in conservation, but it still affords the opportunity for experiment.

  13. burning silo Says:

    Duncan – Along with distillation, there are technologies such as industrial membrane filtration, etc.. that can be used to remove many substances, but it’s all costly and I’m not sure how well it can handle the large volumes of water required for cities. However, it must be possible as some countries are now depending on desalination plants, etc… I guess the part of all this that I find distressing is that the demand for water is steadily increasing, and instead of trying to restrict water use and maintain some kind of balance with the environment, it seems that the main solution to water shortages is to try to suck more water from the rivers and lakes – without a heck of a lot of concern about what that is doing to these ecosystems.

    Cathy – Thanks! I may just get to the city to photograph the ice and snow sculptures. I haven’t done so in a few years. Good to hear that you managed to find a copy of Waterwalker. I hope you like it. Maybe you can post about it here after you’ve had a chance to watch it.

    Wayne – I’m quite sure that all the movies I’ve mentioned are under the Movie Reviews category. The main ones I’d recommend would be Being Caribou; Atanarjuat – the fast runner; and Waterwalker. I have a couple of more to recommend, but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing them yet. I’ll probably do so fairly soon. As you’ve probably noticed, there’s something that all of these have in common.. they’re Canadian and associated with the NFB (National Film Board). I’m not sure how easy they are to get hold of in the U.S., but up here, most would be easily available through our library systems
    Regarding water recovery – there does seem to be quite a bit on the net – along with ideas for water conservation. I find that, because we can hear our water pump running, we tend to be very aware of our water use. I’m sure you’re the same. A couple of weeks ago, I had some of my “goat lady” friends over for lunch (a small group of us had goats for about 20 years and we still have lunch together from time to time even though all of the goats are long gone). We all have wells and a couple of the women are on farms where the water supply can drop to nothing in a dry summer. The other day, we got into quite a discussion about how wasteful some people are when it comes to water. I don’t think you can live on a farm using well water, and not be fairly careful about how much you use. When we’ve had friends from cities come here to stay, I practically cringe at how they’ll leave the water running for ages in the shower or for doing other things.
    Btw, regarding using water for things. My father-in-law used to save all of the water from rinsing the bulk milk tank and milking equipment at his dairy farm – and water a row of tomato plants that he always put in along the side wall of the barn near the milk room entrance. Those plants grew faster and produced more tomatoes than the plants out in the main garden. I think we could all come up with similar ideas for making use of some of our waste water if we gave it more thought. Maybe that’s a project for this coming season?

  14. Wayne Says:

    Bev – chalk it up to my lagging behind the use of labels! When it comes to environment (despite the current prime minister) it would be Canada that I’d go to for more likelihood in honesty on environmental matters. It certainly wouldn’t be the current US government.

    (Although I will say, after talking to some of my bureaucratic friends, that there is a bureaucratic memory and mission in these realms that seems to outlast the fortunately declining years of the Administration. Unfortunately, many of these people are retiring fast, to be replaced by those appointed by the Bush Administration.)

    I have been toying with this notion. It’s not quite to the point of experiment, but it’s to train parabolic solar reflectors onto water tubes to generate heat. That heat would be used to pressurize water in large volume drums. The pressure would be used to push water up into a higher elevation reservoirs. Water accumulated there would flow downhill as needed.

  15. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – During the previous oil crisis a couple of engineer acquaintances said that people in their government division were coming up with some excellent technologies, but those projects were scraped later on when oil suddenly became plentiful again. Those people went on to continue their experiments at their own farms (solar convection heating in barns, etc…). I think that there are probably a lot of good people working in government who continue to think creatively and environmentally, regardless of the powers that be. Sooner or later (probably much sooner) circumstances will become such that their time will come again. I think that’s already starting to happen up here. Our current PM and his party have suddenly begun to turn green, or at least to sing the green song over the past month as polls are reporting that a high percentage of the Canadian public are damned concerned about climate change, water quality and supply, etc… In the final analysis, at least up here where parties fall like burning timber when the public favour turns away, the politicians shift their priorities depending on which way the wind is blowing. At the moment, the environmental wind is picking up speed, so I think you’ll see something come of that up here — so it will soon be time to dust off all of the earlier research and experiments and put them into use.
    The parabolic solar reflector idea sounds good to me. I think there’s a lot of need for relatively low cost, low maintenance systems for creating energy, recovering water, etc… I have a couple of friends who are always experimenting with this stuff and have come up with some good ideas. I’ve also seen some very interesting stuff on the net. I had a good link for a site where people were posting stuff about of working solar systems, gadgets, etc… Oh here, I think this might be the one. Maybe this will be the year when I get my act together and try out a thing or two here at the farm.