The PWA is entering its 25th anniversary this year. To kick things off, here is a seasonal series of essays on our history and our watershed from our Board member who helped found the Alliance, Dr. Alyre Chiasson. In this first episode, he talks about the origins of the organization.
There is no clear timeline that marks the creation of what is recognized today as the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance. However, the first stirrings can be traced back to the 1990s. At that time the Government of Canada had launched its GreenPlan, with a focus on a healthy environment and a healthy economy for future generations. More locally, within New Brunswick, 1994 saw the birth of the Fundy Model Forest with a focus on the sustainability of forestry inclusive of both land and water resources. Criteria and indicators of environmental health were a hot topic. Perhaps motivated by these turning points, a local environmental group called “EcoAction” was born. At that time I was a young professor at the Université de Moncton just starting a career in freshwater ecology.
In 1996, a student from the community college in Bathurst, New Brunswick, approached EcoAction with a project to assess the water quality in the Petitcodiac River. That year marks the commencement of water sampling in the Petitcodiac River by an official public group. In 1997, on behalf of EcoAction, I applied for a New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund Grant. (ETF), to further our efforts. With funding in place we were able to collect 476 samples in 1997, using none of the modern equipment that is now available to carry out such assessments.
With a bit more wind under our wings and experience, the group that was to become the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance adopted the name, “The Petitcodiac Watershed Monitoring Group” The accent was on monitoring to provide the baseline data for the New Brunswick’s Water Classification Program which came into effect in 2002. The Petitcodiac Watershed Monitoring Group was also assisted by volunteers, that were trained directly in the field on proper procedure and safety. Unfortunately, the Water Classification Program was suspended in 2001, underwent review, and was “put to bed” in 2016. In 1998, the group became officially incorporated and changed its name to “The Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance”. The years following 2011 were difficult, the group had been deeply involved in data collection for the Water Classification Program. With the cancellation of the program the associate funding was considerably less or missing.
In the meantime, new ideas and concerns resulted in the addition of macroinvertebrate, E. coli and nutrient sampling to our regular sampling program. We also looked at lab certification and fees for service, however, equipment, space and costs were an impediment to getting established. Nevertheless, this spurred the development of various policies and procedures based upon the idea of establishing a lab. This never happened, but held us in good stead as guiding documents in the subsequent years.
Since those years,the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance has expanded beyond the boundaries of the river to include other types of water habitat as well as water conservation through the use of water gardens and rain barrels. Restoration and assessment continue to be of importance. Education and outreach have helped to build the recognition of the group within the community. The collective history of the group and the dedication of staff will provide firm footing for the group to grow and continue well-on into the future.