The Busol watershed of Baguio in the Philippines, a small group of children walks up a hill. Each of them carries a pine tree. At times they stop, and the group leader exclaims over a pine cone or asks them to look for the largest pine tree needle. After a short walk, they reach a large cistern and a tap. The children take turns drinking the water that comes from the tap. This is part of the city’s water supply, and most of the children in the group had never encountered this place until they came here with a local group dedicated to helping children get to know the source of their water.
Where does the water come from? When children in urban centers across the world are asked this question, they almost unanimously respond, “From the tap!” Water is life. Fresh, clean drinking water is even more critical than food for our well-being. Yet we are rarely acquainted with the place that our water comes from. And without understanding that place, why would we want to protect it?
In my home town, we have water reserves. I hike in one of them. These vast areas of forest are recreation areas, but they have a different function as well. Eleven kilometers in to the recreation area is a dam, and behind the dam no one can walk, save researchers and workers. This is one of the water supply areas for my city. However, the entire area is actually a water reserve. Should the water needs of my city ever grow beyond the capacity of the existing dams, there is the option to build another dam farther down the river, covering much of the recreational forest land in the water reserve. What would be covered? Salmon spawning grounds, historic cabins, and the place where I got married.
In Baguio, deforestation is a big problem. Government efforts to stop deforestation for agriculture sometimes work. However, when children plant trees as a class and take care of them over time, the Busol watershed keepers have discovered that fewer people try to burn and cut down the forests. They’re simply too embarrassed to damage something that children have worked to protect. In Vancouver, the problem is demand. As our urban population continues to grow, so does demand for our drinking water. We use drinking water for our bathing needs as well, and it all heads down the drain after a single use. There are watershed education programs here too, and in some places there is water metering. We’re making small steps forward to conserve this critical resource.
How can we connect people to our local watersheds?