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Surf your watershed

Canada’s wealth of water resources is the envy of the world. But our appetite for consuming more water per capita than any other country other than the United States is not so enviable. To help Canadians understand the watershed in which they live and to encourage them to protect it, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Canadian Geographic, in partnership with the RBC Blue Water Project, have launched an innovative interactive map.

The “Protect Your Watershed” map outlines 595 watersheds in Canada, including our five main ocean basins: Arctic, Atlantic, Hudson Bay, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. It enables users to find their local watershed and to navigate it via Google maps. It also provides links to community conservation groups working to preserve rivers, streams, wetlands and lakes. Users can share photographs and stories about the waterways in their area by posting them on the website.

“We’re trying to make this the resource for watersheds in Canada,” says Gilles Gagnier, Canadian Geographic’s new-media director. “Watershed organizations are contacting us to participate and add to the site.”

In addition to explaining the geography of basins, the interactive map examines issues ranging from urbanization and its effects on water resources to the industrial use of water. Among some of the eye-opening statistics: 99 percent of the water in the Great Lakes Basin, where one in four Canadians lives, is a remnant of ancient glacier melt and is not renewable. Alberta’s oil sands operators withdraw more water from the Athabasca River annually than the City of Toronto uses in a year.

The map is the cornerstone of the Society’s bilingual multimedia initiative on watersheds, which also includes a thematic module on The Canadian Atlas Online, a poster map inserted in this special issue of Canadian Geographic and its French-language sister publication Géographica and lesson plans for teachers.

— Monique Roy-Sole

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