Here at the Eco-Quartier NDG, we love water conservation. It’s a precious resource, and its continued supply and cleanliness is essential to our health and the environment.

We encourage everyone to cross-examine their daily habits to see where we can save water and prevent runoff from re-entering the filtration system, with suggestions such as turning your gutters towards permeable surfaces (grass, gardens, gravel, etc.), installing rain barrels, low-flow showerheads, and tap aerators, and to avoiding flushing oils, medications, and chemicals down the drain, among many other acts.

However, because we are fortunate and have a constant supply of free and clean water from our taps, it can be hard to see the benefits of undertaking these tasks and the costs of not doing them. Tragedies like the desertification of the Aral Sea or the intense plastic and chemical pollution of the Yangtze River may not seem relevant to us Canadians, but the processes that underlie the pollution of their water sources exist here too.

Montreal draws its drinking water from the St-Lawrence River- so keeping it clean is very important! It already faces threats from invasive species, shoreline development, and agricultural and industrial runoffs. Therefore, we must do our part to prevent the local runoff of salts, oils, chemicals, and garbage into the river.

Having your gutters flow onto your grass during intense rains reduces the amount of overloading that the drainage system faces, so it is less likely to overflow and run off as toxic untreated wastewater directly into the river. Safely disposing of medications, cleaning products, and other household chemicals instead of pouring them down the drain prevents them from getting into the river, where it poisons fish, birds, and other wildlife.

While Montreal’s treatment plants do a very good job of filtering out these chemicals, trace amounts of the chemicals go into the environment anyway, and the large volume of water discharged every day can add up. In a process known as bioaccumulation, certain toxins cannot be removed from an animal’s system (including human beings), so they accumulate over time until the concentration is high enough to harm the animal. Amphibians (frogs, salamanders, etc.) are very sensitive to toxic substances because their skin is used like a second lung, exchanging gases between their body and the environment!

We particularly encourage saving water during the summer months, when Montrealers use about 25% more water compared to the rest of the year. This poses a big stress to Montreal’s filtration infrastructure. It can also stress the St-Lawrence, particularly if it is suffering from drought conditions.

Drawing water out of a river that is already lower than usual can indirectly hurt native species, since they are used to having a habitat of a certain size and river flow patterns. Destabilizing natural processes can make them more vulnerable to other threats. Hydrologists and governments are trying to maintain a good environmental flow in the river, which means balancing natural flow patterns and biological needs with human withdrawals.

The St-Lawrence is a beautiful river, and a big part of Montreal’s natural heritage. There are many ways to protect it- but the simplest ones involve using water responsibly at home!

Allison Lalla