By Mike Baker
The CN Tower in Toronto is set to turn blue on March 22 – but not for the reason you’re probably thinking.
Rather than commemorating the Leafs or Blue Jays, the national landmark will be lighting up in honour of World Water Day. While the event was launched by the United Nations back in 1993 to raise awareness of the approximately 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water, its history here in Canada is tied directly to Haliburton County.
Long-time area residents Barry Hart and Heather Alloway founded Water Ambassadors Canada back in 2002 after being inspired by a man they met at an informal gathering south of the border.
“It was just a bunch of people sitting around shooting the breeze, telling each other about what they do. The last guy started to talk about clean water, and listed off all the benefits of clean drinking water and the benefits to a community for having clean drinking water. He said ‘if you want to help do something about this, you can come with us to drill a well in a poor community to see the difference it makes’, and it just hit me,” Hart told the Echo. “I nudged Heather and said this was really interesting. That was what started it for us.”
In the 19 years since, Water Ambassadors Canada has invested millions of dollars completing more than 1,000 water projects in over 20 developing countries. In the past six months alone, the organization has assisted communities in Guatemala, Honduras, Zambia, Uganda, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Liberia, Ecuador, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That assistance, Hart says, is facilitated by a collection of “boots on the ground” partners, who inform Water Ambassadors when they hear about a project that needs completing.
Projects can range both in terms of cost and complexity. The most expensive option is to drill an entirely new well.
“Drilling wells costs a lot of money, and is the most difficult project that is to be carried out in only the most desperate situations. Drilled wells are expensive, and they aren’t guaranteed,” Hart said. “Statistically, if you get a guy in to drill a well, he’ll likely find water. Now, whether he gets you water at 100ft, 200ft or 500ft, that’s a little bit of a guessing game. You just don’t know what you’re going to find.”
Workers can make educated guesses based off other activity in the area. If they know another village close by accessed water at a certain depth level, it’s a fair assumption to think they will have a similar level of success. But it’s always something of a guessing game.
A drilled well typically costs between $6,000 and $7,000, providing there are no issues. If workers hit hard rock while drilling, that “changes the whole game” according to Hart, and can see costs escalate into the tens of thousands.
As well as drilling new wells, Water Ambassadors also fixes old ones. In Nicaragua alone there are estimated to be 70,000 damaged wells, Hart says.
“Well repair and rehabilitation is one of our most efficient programs,” Hart says. “That can be anything as simple as tightening a nut or bolt that has come loose in the well’s mechanical device, replacing a rusted part or a collapsed tube, or it could mean going down, breaking up the concrete pad the well base sits on and redoing that.”
Water Ambassadors also installs chlorination systems, distributes different water filters and provides communities with bleach that can help to purify water and be used for other things, such as washing hospital clothing and sterilizing hospital equipment.
On March 22, the organization will be hosting its ‘Lighting Up the World Blue’ fundraiser, where they are hoping to raise $100,000. To bring awareness to the initiative, as previously mentioned, the CN Tower will be lighting up blue. It will be joined by other landmarks across the country such as Ripley’s Aquarium, Toronto City Hall, Calgary Tower, Charlottetown City Hall, the Calgary Science Centre, Vancouver City Hall and BC Place. Haliburton will also be getting in on the action, with Water Ambassadors making preparations to light up the water fountain at Head Lake Park.
“Hart said anyone with a cell phone can contribute to the cause. By texting ‘WATER’ to 45678, $25 will be donated to Water Ambassadors, with the money simply added to your next cell phone bill.
“Contaminated drinking water is the biggest cause of death and disease in the world, and it’s the easiest problem to fix. You just have to give people clean water. It’s so simple,” Hart said. “More people die from dirty water than from anything else.”
The organization recently received a legacy gift of $100,000 from a long-time Haliburton cottager who recently passed away. That money will be used to match any donations received on March 22.
In the two decades since launching Water Ambassadors, the organization has helped to bring clean and sustainable water to more than 300,000 individuals across the globe. Not bad for something that started right here in Haliburton County, Hart remarked.
“The charity started in Haliburton at Lakeside Church almost 20 years ago. Since then the people of Haliburton, the churches of Haliburton, the service clubs of Haliburton, golfers who go to our golf tournaments, businesses, the general community – we have had phenomenal support,” Hart said. “We have become a national water charity that works internationally, and it all started right here in Haliburton.”
For more information, visit www.waterambassadorscanada.org.”