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Join the Wave!
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Join the Wave!

Yesterday (June 8) was World Oceans Day and Canadian Rivers Day is coming up on June 12. What better time to celebrate water?
By taking a moment to "Like" the RBC Blue Water Project on Facebook today, you will be contributing directly to water conservation projects. RBC has already committed $50 million over ten years for fresh water protection, but when you Join The Wave you'll be adding an extra dollar to that fund.  Help RBC Blue Water Project create a wave of 50,000 people who have joined the campaign by the end of the week!

Live Lightly in May – Make Every Day Earth Day!
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Live Lightly in May – Make Every Day Earth Day!

Photo: tkeneipp
Today marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day. Why not celebrate by making these small changes every day for the month of May:
  • Watch less TV
  • Buy fewer things
  • Eat more vegetables, grains, and fruits while eating less meat
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Ride the bus or your bike to work or school
  • Use less water in and around your home
Tells us about your act of green in the comments – and ask your friends and family what they’re doing! Earth Day is also the first day of advanced voting for the federal election. As you go to the polls, choose the party that will protect and conserve nature on behalf of all Canadians. Not sure who to vote for? Advanced voting takes place on Friday, April 22, Saturday, April 23 and Monday, April 25. Find your local advance polling stations here. Tell Canada’s leaders where you stand – vote for nature in 2011!

Is There a Dark Side to Springtime?
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Is There a Dark Side to Springtime?

By March I've usually had my fill of snow, so I tend to welcome the annual spring melt -- but wait, is there a dark side to spring? One environmental chemist says so. From a University of Toronto Scarborough press release:
“During the winter months, contaminants accumulate in the snow,” says [University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) environmental chemist Torsten] Meyer, an expert on snow-bound organic contaminants and a post-doctoral fellow at UTSC. “When the snow melts, these chemicals are released into the environment at high concentrations.”
In a specially designed, temperature-controlled laboratory at UTSC—which includes a homemade snow-gun and a chemical pump—Meyer creates large baths of fresh snow already tainted with organic contaminants. This one-of-a-kind set-up enables the researcher to slowly melt his “dirty” snow, collect the melt-water and track which chemicals emerge from the snowpack and when. Meyer’s research reveals a worrying surprise. “One of the main findings is that there is a peak contaminant flush at the very beginning of the melt,” he says. With the advent of spring, according to Meyer, comes a deluge of pollution.
By the time snow has turned black with muck and grime, many harmful chemicals — including those from pesticides, car exhaust, telecommunications wiring insulation, water repellent clothing, paints or coatings — may have already seeped out of the snow and into the surrounding ground water or surface water.
Contaminant-laden early spring melts are particularly ill-timed for many aquatic organisms, who are at a vulnerable stage in their life cycle. As Meyer points out, his findings could be used to reduce that risk to wildlife -- for example, municipalities can choose snow dump sites that are well-contained to protect against that early flush of pollutants.

Take the Plunge – Pledge to Save Water on World Water Day
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Take the Plunge – Pledge to Save Water on World Water Day

With some of the most beautiful and ecologically important rivers, lakes and wetlands in the world, Canadians have many reasons to celebrate World Water Day. From the mighty Mackenzie River in the north, to the wetlands of the boreal forest, and the Great Lakes, our country lays claim to 60% of the world’s fresh water. Yet a recent survey found that Canadians use twice as much water as people in France and the Czech Republic. A seemingly limitless supply of this natural resource means some of us don’t think twice before watering the lawn in the middle of a hot summer day, or letting the tap run as we brush our teeth. But those small actions add up – it’s time for us to let go of the myth of water abundance. Fortunately, it’s easy to make a few small changes to your water consumption around the house that can make a big difference. Take Nature Canada’s water pledge to use water wisely in and around your home and save 10 gallons (38 litres) a day. These are some EASY ways that you can save water around the house:
  • Don’t run the tap while shaving or cleaning your teeth – save 1 gallon (3.7 litres) a minute
  • Add an aerator to any tap – save 1 gallon (3.7 litres) a minute
  • Reduce the length of a shower by one minute – save 2.5 gallons (9.5 litres)
  • Install a low flow shower head – save 3 gallons(11.3 litres)a minute
  • Install a toilet tank displacement device – save.5 gallon (1.8 litres) a flush
  • Run the dishwasher only when it is totally full – save 10 gallons (37.8 litres) each saved load
  • Water your lawn at night and save 65% lost to evaporation when watering during the day – save 5 gallons (19 litres) a minute
To date, 2,942 people have pledged to save a total of 40,805,540 litres. Take the plunge and make your pledge today! Have a Happy World Water Day!

Happy World Wetlands Day!
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Happy World Wetlands Day!

Today is the 40th anniversary of World Wetlands Day, which marks the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran.
Forty years ago today, 18 countries met to establish the Ramsar Convention. Since then it has grown to include160 member countries. Their work has resulted in 1, 912 wetlands of international importance, a.k.a Ramsar Sites. To date, this covers an area greater than 186 million hectares. In Canada there are a total of 37 Ramsar Sites covering more than 13 million hectares. Their designation as Ramsar Sites does not entitle them to national legal protection, unless they are within established protected areas. A news release issued by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, eloquently outlines the vital role wetlands play in maintaining a healthy and thriving planet:
“They include lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes, swamps, peat bogs, beaches, reefs, mangrove forests … and more. There is no doubt that wetlands are among the world’s richest ecosystems, supporting all humankind in various ways – by providing freshwater, supporting fisheries including aquaculture, helping to regulate the water cycle, providing flood and storm protection, supporting some of the world’s most stunning biodiversity, playing a significant role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, providing sustainable livelihoods to some of the world’s poorest people, and offering a place to ‘play’ for those of us with leisure time. Wetlands are indeed more than just a muddy swamp – many economists looking at the ecosystem services they deliver put their value higher than for any other ecosystem. Yet wetlands continue to be destroyed to make way for inland and coastal developments and degraded through poor water allocation decisions, pollution, and excessive water extraction.”
The slogan for World Wetlands Day 2011 is “Forests for Water and Wetlands”, which unites this celebration with the United Nations declaration of 2011 as the International Year of Forests. The purpose of this year's theme is to highlight the benefits that forested wetlands have to offer, how forests (wet and dry) play a role in our lives and how they’re important for the functioning of wetlands. World Wetlands Day is a great opportunity for governments, NGOs and citizens to take action to raise awareness of the global importance of wetlands and the critical role they play in our well-being. To view activities taking place during WWD click here.

Looking Deeper Into Fish Lake
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Looking Deeper Into Fish Lake

Grizzly bears are one of the species identified by the Prosperity Review Panel that would be adversely affected by development at Fish Lake.
 
The government of Canada made a good decision earlier this week when it turned down a proposal for an excessively damaging mine at Fish Lake, British Columbia. Nature Canada congratulated Environment minister Jim Prentice for respecting the conclusions of the federal environmental assessment of the project, and for respecting the will of First Nations about land use in their territory. Looking deeper into the context of that decision reveals some important insights and implications.
Environmental assessment works While the process of environmental assessment may seem mysterious from a distance, Nature Canada has been up close and personal with it many times over the years and we are convinced it works. Environmental assessment allows independent panels to consider expert testimony, reach conclusions about the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project, and identify mitigation measures that could limit the damage. The resulting recommendation to the government (and it is only a recommendation) can range from approval of the project, to approval on the condition that certain mitigation measures be required, to rejection of the project as proposed. Politics happens The government must then decide whether or not to accept the recommendations about the studied project, and this is where the hard facts of environmental assessment meet the vagaries of politics. The government can follow the recommendations completely, partially, or not at all. But thanks to the public nature of the assessment process, we the citizens know whether or not our government is approving projects that destroy our environment. This is where the vagaries of politics meet accountability to the voters. In the case of Fish Lake, Minister Prentice deserves credit for doing the right thing for Canada, despite pressure from within his own caucus to do otherwise. More to come Nature Canada is very engaged in two other environmental assessments that are awaiting a response from the federal government: proposed gas drilling in the Suffield National Wildlife Area, and the proposed Mackenzie gas project. In the case of the Suffield NWA, the environmental assessment report concludes that the proposal to drill 1,275 gas wells would interfere with the purpose of the National Wildlife Area. It also recommends that the government complete overdue work to identify the critical habitat of species at risk, and take other conservation action even if the project does not proceed. We are hopeful that Minister Prentice will accept all of this panel's recommendations too, reject the gas drilling project, and take other actions to better protect the national wildlife area. In the case of the Mackenzie gas project, the federal government has been accused of attempting to secretly make the panel rewrite some of its recommendations. This suggests a lack of appreciation for a key feature upon which citizens depend: the independence of environmental assessment panels. We congratulate the panel for standing up for the their independence in the interest of Canada. We hope Minister Prentice will show leadership and convince his cabinet colleagues to accept the panel's report. You can help us encourage the government to stop the Mackenzie Gas Project and to instead establish protected areas in the Mackenzie Region that will be safe from development. Changing the rules Parliament will soon be undertaking a review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. There is cause for concern, since the government already used the budget bill to weaken the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act earlier this year. You can be certain that Nature Canada will be working to ensure the review results in a stronger act, not a weaker one. Back to the lake(s) The decision about Fish Lake is a good news story, and we hope it does not go down in history as a rare exception. A loophole in the law that protects fish habitat, the Fisheries Act, allows the government to exclude some lakes from the protections of the act and let mining companies use lakes as dumps for toxic mining waste. A handful of lakes has been targeted so far, including Fish Lake in BC and Sandy Pond in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are concerned that this loophole threatens pristine lakes across Canada. Now that Fish Lake has been spared, it's time to take action on the others.

Government Rejects Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine; A Victory for Fish Lake
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Government Rejects Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine; A Victory for Fish Lake

Nature Canada is pleased to learn of the Government of Canada's decision to reject Taseko Mines Ltd.'s proposed gold-copper Prosperity Mine in British Columbia. The proposed mine would have led to the transformation of Fish Lake into a 'tailings impoundment area', i.e., a mining waste dump site, under the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) of the Fisheries Act. We applaud Environment Minister Jim Prentice for considering the adverse environmental impacts of the proposed mine, as concluded by the Federal Review Panel, as well as respecting the importance of Fish Lake to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation. In an announcement made yesterday, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said "the significant adverse environmental effects of the Prosperity project cannot be justified as it is currently proposed." There are now questions on the future of mining investments in BC according to an article in The Vancouver Sun.

Water – We Can’t Live Without It!
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Water – We Can’t Live Without It!

Without clean, abundant freshwater, life on Earth would not exist. The majority of the world's population depends on freshwater environments to provide water for drinking, irrigation, food, employment and recreation. Luckily, Canada is blessed with plenty of water:
  • Almost 9% (891 163 square kilometers) of Canada's total area is covered by fresh water.
  • Wetlands cover an additional 14% (more than 1.2 million square kilometers) of the land area of Canada.
  • Annually, Canada's rivers discharge 7% of the world's renewable water supply – 105 000 cubic meters per second.
Balanced, healthy ecosystems, including freshwater rivers and lakes, perform many amazing services that cannot be replicated – and that we depend on for survival. In Canada, these ecosystems:
  • purify the air and water
  • maintain biodiversity
  • control agricultural pests
  • preserve soils and renew their fertility
  • pollinate crops and natural vegetation
These services are so fundamental to life that they are easy to take for granted, but we must remember that they are far beyond the ability of human technology to replace. The way we treat our water resources can have an effect on healthy ecosystems. Runoff of pesticides, fertilizers and waste, introduction of non-native species and destruction of wetlands all reduce the ability of water ecosystems to perform their functions and provide these services. We can all protect our freshwater resources through conservation action at home. Do your part to reduce global demand on our precious water resources - take the Water Conservation Pledge today! Join people across the country and around the world as we save more than 1 million gallons of water each year. This post is a part of Blog Action Day, an annual event that sees blogs from around the world post about the same issue on the same day to spark global discussion and drive collective action.

At Least Some Mines Get Fines Instead of Permits Under the MMER
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At Least Some Mines Get Fines Instead of Permits Under the MMER

Last week, Saskatchewan’s La Ronge provincial court declared Claude Resources Inc. guilty of three offences under the Metal Mining Effluent Regulation (MMER) of the Fisheries Act in relation to activities at Laonil Lake. The Saskatchewan-based mining company’s Seabee gold mine in northeastern Saskatchewan violated the MMER by: 1) depositing an acutely lethal effluent; 2) exceeding prescribed limits for effluents that contain total suspended solids; and 3) failing to report that their monitoring tests showed exceeded limits.

Apparently, Environment Canada and Saskatchewan Environment have tried for some time to get the company to become more compliant with regulations but without success. As a consequence, legal action was taken and Claude Resources Inc. was fined $90,000, of which $40,000 will be paid as a fine, and $50,000 to be given to the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.

Canada’s lakes and rivers are facing an imminent threat from Schedule 2 of the MMER which was introduced in 2002. Schedule 2 is a list of Canadian lakes that were reclassified as “tailing impoundment areas” - a mining waste site, under the MMER of the federal Fisheries Act.

There are prohibitions in place thast prevent the pollution of waters known to be fish habitat listed under section 36 (3) of the federal Fisheries Act. However, dumping is permitted under section 5.1(a) and Schedule 2 of the Fisheries Act’s MMER. Schedule 2 of the MMER allows lakes listed under it to be exempt from protection against the “depositing deleterious substances” into fish habitat under section 36(3) of the Fisheries Act. To date, there are 15 lakes in the provinces of Manitoba, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut listed under Schedule 2.

For more information on Schedule 2 and related blog posts click here.

Raising A Green Fledgling – Part 4 – Fried Green Diapers
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Raising A Green Fledgling – Part 4 – Fried Green Diapers

Hello Readers! This week's Raising A Green Fledgling installment focuses on green diapering. It can be a messy topic but no worries, we'll keep it nice and clean. Which takes me to the title of this week's post. Why "fried green diapers"? It's simple really, but you'll have to read on to find out why. Cloth/reusable diapers seem to be enjoying a resurgence after years of high consumer demand for convenient, disposable diapers. I think this resurgence makes sense both environmentally and practically, but it's worth exploring some other perspectives on this, especially since there can be substantial up-front costs for cloth/reusable diapers. A 2009 research review called Diapers and the Environment, from the Massachusetts-based group NEARTA, compared disposable and reusable diapers in four areas: solid waste, non-renewable resources consumption, airborne/water-borne wastes, and water consumption. The authors' showed that reusable diapers had fewer negative environmental impacts than disposables in the first three areas, while there was no advantage for either type of diaper with respect to water consumption. Alternatively, the UK Environment Agency showed that reusables can be better or worse than disposables in terms of their negative environmental impacts. In a 2006 study, An Updated Lifecycle Assessment Study for Disposable and Reusable Nappies (Aumônier et al), the Agency concluded that "consumers' behaviour" largely determined the negative environmental impact of reusables over time. Translation: the impacts of reusables vary based on how you wash, dry and hand them down over time, not to mention the appliances you use and the electricity and water you use to rinse, wash and dry them (and where the electricity and water come from). Other life cycle assessments of disposables and cloth/reusables have failed to find a clear front-runner, as well. Fair enough. Reusable diapers do require a lot of rinsing, washing and drying, multiple times per week. And rinsing a reusable can consume more water once baby is on solid food. Hot water washing (w/ cold rinsing) is also recommended to remove stains from reusables. Finally, you shouldn't mix regular laundry with reusables because they require less detergent and detergent that is less harsh and free of synthetic chemicals (see RAGF Part 2). Detergent residues left after washing can decrease the absorbency of reusables and may lead to skin irritation. But I was perplexed that life cycle assessments would fail to name reusables the clear winner. I mean, disposables generate so much MORE persistent, non-degradable waste than reusables, right? And disposables may take up to 500 years to decompose and break-down into tiny bits of plastic that persist in the environment. Most disposables also contain super absorbent polymer (SAPs) compounds that solidify to gel once 'activated', adding additional chemical waste to the mix. Reusables range from being 100% composed of natural fibres to being a clever mix of natural and synthetic fibres. They're typically designed with an outer cover and an absorbent insert, both of which are washable. While the synthetic components of reusable diapers have life cycle impacts similar to those of their disposable counterparts, reusables produce far less waste at the end of product life and can be re-used by multiple babies over time in a family. Try that with a disposable. My wife and I considered the waste our reusables might generate if we tossed them out with this week's trash (assuming we were bonkers). We estimated the waste at less than one regular-sized garbage bag, and that's based upon one-size-fits-all reusables that will last us at least until our daughter's first birthday. Plus we can re-use them with future children. Using some of the estimates presented in the research above, a typical baby goes through 70 to 80 disposables per week. That's easily enough to fill 52 regular-sized garbage bags in that same one-year period. One garbage bag compared to 52 for the same period amounts to a lot more impact from disposables in my mind. A 2004 World Health Organization study said that disposable diapers are the "third largest individual constituent of municipal solid waste" making up "over 4%" of the total amount. So notwithstanding water consumption, I don't buy the conclusion that disposables and reusables have equal environmental impacts. But that's just my opinion, and you know my bias. I also can't get beyond the fact that disposable diapers effectively 'lock-up' biodegradable human waste for hundreds of years, while reusables often liberate that waste into sewerage systems where it can be treated and/or biodegraded more readily. I haven't talked about the difference in cost between disposables and reusables, but it's enough to say that reusables have a greater up-front cost. However, this cost is usually amortized, or spread-out, over the baby's entire diaper-wearing life. And the diaper-wearing lives of its younger siblings. Disposable diapers cost less per unit in the beginning but become more expensive as baby grows, and they have to be newly purchased newly when they run out. NEARTA conducted another research review, Diaper Cost Comparison, which reported these conclusions. The review also points out the costs associated with water and electricity consumption for laundering reusables, including the cost of using a cloth/reusable diaper cleaning service. This is certainly not insignificant in every case. As for our experience with reusable diapers so far: they're wonderful. We're happy about the reduced waste associated with reusables, which allows us to feel like responsible environmental stewards. On the practical side, we're very impressed with how well reusables work and how little odor they have when soiled. Our daughter seems to love them, too. They're not messy and rarely leak if fitted and fastened properly, plus many of the new outer cover materials prevent external soaking. We use a non-airtight diaper pail lined with a washable diaper bag to store soiled diapers, and control occasional odors between washes by using drops of tea-tree oil in the bag. We also use washable cloth wipes with an all-natural diaper wipe spray, and we found great all-natural, biodegradable bamboo baby wipes to use as an alternative when not at home. There's one other huge benefit to cloth/reusable diapers: they motivate toddlers to potty-train earlier since there are no super absorbent polymers and moisture-wicking membranes to make baby feel dry even though he/she's not. Yes, you have to pay more attention to the state of baby's diaper this way, but it's worth it in the longer-term I think. Oh yeah, what about the title of this week's post? Well, fried green diapers refers to a trick that comes in handy with reusables. Normal washing and drying often won't remove all stains from reusable diapers, but the sun does a remarkable job of naturally bleaching them. So whenever possible, we line-dry our diapers to make sure they stay looking as good as new. I think "fried green diapers" nicely describes this process, since the sun 'fries' our 'green' diapers. :-) Disclaimer: This is by no means a comprehensive look at the benefits and pitfalls of cloth/reusable diapering. There are numerous maternity stores, baby shops, boutiques and other retailers that can help you navigate the world of cloth/reusable diapers and I encourage you to seek the advice of their experienced staff. A simple Google search will help you find a retailer or cloth/reusable diapering blog or forum in your region. Photos: A. MacDonald

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