The Canadian charity protecting the places we swim and the water we drink

Jul 29 2020, 1:00 pm

RBC Tech for Nature is a multi-year, global initiative by the RBC Foundation dedicated to preserving the planet’s greatest wealth — our natural ecosystem. It supports new ideas, technologies, and partnerships to address and solve pressing environmental challenges.

The impacts of climate change are undeniable, and they affect us all. In recent weeks, with less human activity on our waters, we have seen some incredible sights, like orcas frolicking around in Burrard Inlet. But the reality is that our shared future faces great challenges, and access to clean water is one of them.

More than 75% of the planet has been reshaped by human activity, and water is being affected even more than land. In our lifetime, freshwater species have declined by a shocking 83%. These adversities create opportunities for much-needed solutions in the world.

Swim Drink Fish is stepping up to make a difference for Canadians. As the country’s leading voice for swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water, the organization represents 2.8 million citizen scientists who are recreational water users. Its mission is simple: to help communities prosper by safeguarding our waters.


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Founded in 2001, the organization’s top priority is fostering a national movement of active, informed, and engaged individuals through smart initiatives so that their communities can swim, drink, and fish — forever.

Out east, the organization’s Lake Ontario Waterkeeper efforts have helped secure $2 billion towards site cleanups around Southern Ontario, which assisted 500,000 people in doing this work and monitoring 1,000 km of shoreline.

“The power of Waterkeeper’s work has been our passion. The movement is driven by individuals who care deeply about their local waterbody. They don’t have to be scientists or lawyers or professional advocates. Anyone with a passion for water willing to put in long hours can make a big difference in their community,” said Mark Mattson, waterkeeper and president with Swim Drink Fish.

After success in Ontario, more Waterkeeper initiatives began to take off around the country, inspiring the launch of Ottawa Riverkeeper, Fraser Riverkeeper, and North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper. In 2011, the organization launched Swim Guide — an app and website that operates nationally and lets people locate beaches and check the status of the water quality.

Today, there are 8,000 beaches from coast to coast registered on Swim Guide that Canadians can discover and access with ease. The app remains the only one of its kind in the world. With nearly four million all-time users in 11 countries, this technology has helped prevent thousands of waterborne illnesses.


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The team at Swim Drink Fish first tested programs in the Lake Ontario watershed before scaling them nationally and internationally. They have even created an archive Watermark Project for Canadians to record their water stories digitally, which will be integral for future generations to reference.

“Water literacy” is a concept the organization developed in 2015 through its Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Swim Guide, and Watermark Project. It refers to the knowledge we need to help protect our waters.

“People won’t protect what they don’t understand or don’t love,” said Krystyn Tully, vice president of Swim Drink Fish. “Water literacy training helps people to understand their waterbodies. In the process, it also nurtures a personal connection to water that inspires a lifetime of stewardship.”

Moving forward, Swim Drink Fish plans to develop its suite of technology and expand its growing user engagement services so that more people are connecting to their waters, becoming knowledgeable about water quality, and engaging in citizen science activities.

It plans to support the development of cloud-based software, which would allow organizations to monitor recreational water quality and encourage the sharing of data insights to maintain a transparent standard for water quality, while also developing its youth-orientated platform Great Lakes Guide.


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“At RBC, we believe climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. The actions we take today can prepare us with the solutions needed to protect our shared future,” said Valerie Chort, vice-president, corporate citizenship, RBC. “We are proud to support the development of technology — such as the innovations brought forward by Swim Drink Fish — to accelerate and scale solutions for our most pressing, global environmental challenges.”

Thanks to technology, Swim Drink Fish’s ongoing digital community expansion project will help save lives by preventing waterborne illnesses, and promote a positive change in behaviour among people who use the resources all over the world.

RBC believes that climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time — and that technology and data have the power to transform and improve our world with long-term solutions. That’s why RBC Tech for Nature is bringing technology experts, the private and public sector, and charitable partners together to work toward solving our shared environmental challenges. Learn more about RBC Tech for Nature on their website.

The initiative is a core pillar of the RBC Climate Blueprint — an enterprise approach to accelerating clean economic growth and supporting clients in the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

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