Have a splash at Water Festival

It makes up most of our world and most of our bodies and given how easily it flows from our taps it’s easy to take it for granted, but every year York Region takes a little time to celebrate water.

This month, the Region’s 18th Annual Children’s Water Festival will run from May 16 to 20 and give thousands of local students a chance to participate in dozens of activities aimed at enhancing their appreciation and understanding of the environment.

“We know education is a key to all this,” York Region program manager for educational outreach Vicki Puterbough says of the festival’s place in the Region’s larger water conservation efforts.

Indeed, it’s precisely because water is everywhere that we can forget that most of the water coming out of our taps and garden hoses is pumped up from Lake Ontario and then all the way back to be cleaned, and that all comes with an environmental price.

Every year about half of the 10,000 Grade 4 students across York Region come out to the Children’s Water Festival at Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area. Though linked to the curriculum, the hands-on activities are clearly designed to appeal to the festival’s young attendees.

The approximately 50 activities come with names like “Septic Sights” and “Royal Flush” and cover everything from how water flows through a watershed to how wetlands are affected by our actions.

“It’s fun and interactive and still a great learning tool,” Puterbough says.

The festival’s goal is to educate about water conservation, water efficiency, water protection and water health, and make attendees stewards and leaders who can carry on the lessons they learn, part of a larger regional effort to change how we think about water.

The Water for Tomorrow program started in 1998, when the main thrust was getting homeowners to install low-flow toilets and showerheads. Since then, the overall situation has changed and new standards mean you can’t even try to buy a toilet or washing machine that isn’t water efficient, Puterbough notes.

“We don’t have the low-hanging fruit anymore,” she says.

As a result, even as the Region’s population is growing, water use per capita has dropped from approximately 225 litres per person per day to 200 only since 2011. The goal remains to get down to 150 litres by 2051.

“It’s an ambitious goal,” she says. “But I think we can do it.”

The Region estimates the program has already lead to 26 million litres of water being saved every day, the installation of over 100,000 of those showerheads, and hosting nearly 50,000 students at the festival.

Over the years, the program has understandably evolved. Today it’s more about outdoor than indoor infrastructure and more about large-scale, commercial users than homeowners, Puterbough says.

That said, it still includes some important grass roots programs that have continued to be popular over the years, including an annual series of gardening seminars, a student calendar contest and the water festival, of course.

You can learn more about the festival and other conservation efforts at www.waterfortomorrow.ca