How healthy is our water?

I frequently think of environmental changes happening worldwide and the impacts of those occurrences for us and future generations. I also contemplate how the consequences of our environment-affecting actions – or inactions – will impact upon other living creatures and plant life.

There is a parable about a frog being placed into a pot of water and the liquid being slowly brought to a boil; the frog does not realize its impending doom and is cooked to death. That frog metaphor is used to demonstrate an inability or an unwillingness of humans to react to or be aware of threats that slowly creep up on them.

I was recently enjoying a walk along Guysborough’s Shoreline Trail when I paused to read a poster affixed to a pole that cautioned about the consumption of shellfish gathered from Guysborough harbour. I thought of the Guysborough area’s early inhabitants who relied on the availability of such food as part of their survival diets. I then pondered about what had caused those shellfish to become toxic.


Since I am an inquisitive person, I called the phone number on the poster to inquire from Fisheries and Ocean Canada about the cause of their sign’s toxic warning. The person who answered my call did not have an answer to my question but did send me an e-mail with another phone number via which I should have been able to receive my answer, however, that number was no longer in service. (Such bureaucratic non-actions to inquiries annoy me and cause me to have a great amount of suspicion.)

To the best of my knowledge there is no agricultural run-off or industrial waste flowing into Guysborough harbour therefore, I can only surmise that the origin of pollution to make its shellfish toxic are coming from human sources being piped into the harbour.

Since, I suspect, the people of my generation have caused Guysborough harbour to become toxic for forms of shellfish, I am very fearful about what is happening to life in the many other waterways elsewhere which are also being used as septic tanks.

A case in point is the recent action of the city of Montreal when it flushed millions of gallons of its raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. That toxic combination of human excrement, medicines, chemicals, cleaning agents, floatables and who-knows-what-else then made its way into the Gulf of St. Lawrence where it mixed with the other pollutants also being emptied into those waterways.

This past year we witnessed a record number of whales tragically dying in the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Even though bureaucrats told the public that those whales’ deaths were due to their collisions with ships or from being entangled in fishing gear, I am suspicious of the true causes.

There is a maxim entitled 3-3-3 which states that humans can live three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. Since my opinion today deals with water, let’s fast forward into the both the immediate and also the distant future to consider the results of our continuous use of waterways as septic tanks. To that thought add the very real and destructive consequence that, because of pollution caused by humans, sources of healthy life-stainable water are being eliminated or altered causing forms of life to be negatively impacted or made extinct. What are we to do when sources of our drinking water become toxic?

Whether it is the metaphorical frog in a pot of boiling water or a canary in a coal mine, there are indicators aplenty warning those who are willing to observe that we must not take for granted that our waterways and drinking-water sources will forever remain healthy. We must express our thoughts about such destructive practices and need to ensure that steps are being taken to permit today’s living and future generations to have waterways and drinking water sources that are sustainable and healthy to living creatures.

Ray Bates