Water Preservation Society creates educational video

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By virtue of living on a rock surrounded by salt water, all freshwater we rely on comes from the sky, says Briony Penn in a new film about water stewardship on Salt Spring Island. 

The freshwater then gets stored in lakes and trapped by forest ecosystems within the 100 watersheds on the island.

“Wherever you live, you are in a watershed,” explains John Millson in the Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society (SSIWPS) film.

Both he and Penn are featured in Freshwater Salt Spring, a recently released short film with a big goal of increasing knowledge of and appreciation for the watersheds of the island. It can be viewed on YouTube

Young people are the primary audience for the film and for a larger film project Millson is working on, an audience he hopes to reach through the classroom.

“They’re the ambassadors. If they take it home even if their parents are not keen or have got other stuff to do, then you’ve introduced this root into the home,” he said.

The film and teacher resources have been shared with educators in the Gulf Islands School District, with good reception so far, he added. 

Millson is a geologist, environmentalist, member of a Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Alliance technical working group and a director at large with the SSIWPS. Soon after arriving on Salt Spring, he realized “we know nothing about most of the creek systems on this island.” From this grew the Salt Spring Island FreshWater Catalogue, a so-far 3.5-year effort to collect information on surface water on the island. Some of this data is now being fed into a Capital Regional District project in the Weston Lake area, Millson explained. 

The short film was borne out of the ongoing pandemic, which forced the 50 freshwater catalogue volunteers to pause their awareness raising and community building around watersheds on the island. While some kept sampling water on their own or in little bubbles, Millson thought, “Here’s an opportunity. I want education to be ongoing, I’ve got this window. How can we do it?”

The answer to that was a six and a half minute short film, which broadens the conversation from water stewardship to stewardship of the land and First Nations perspectives. 

Freshwater is special, Millson said, as it is a finite resource and despite what may feel like copious rainfall, very little of the water stays on the island. And knowledge of freshwater is not simply beneficial but essential to keep the delicate water balancing act between the natural environment and the human community on the island. It is a balance that may deteriorate over time with climate change, or with destruction of the natural ecosystems by human activity. 

Being so deeply involved in the topic of freshwater on the island, Millson knows there is an education issue that needs to be addressed. He described the state of understanding as a spectrum, with a choir on one side and naysayers on the other. In between are a large population who don’t know much about the issue, an estimated 60 per cent of islanders, Millson guessed. 

The short film was filmed and edited by Alex Harris, produced by Miranda MacDougall and made possible by a donation from Nancy Braithwaite. Apart from its educational purpose, the film will be a “calling card” to show potential funders for the next big project Millson is working on: a documentary. 

In the planning stages, the documentary will answer questions, including “Who are we? What do we know? What is stewardship?” Millson explained. Helping to answer the latter question are a collaboration group consisting of organizations working on conservation, forest protection, water preservation, climate change as well as Indigenous stewardship, including the Cowichan First Nations community and the Stqeeye’ Learning Society. 

Finally, the film will turn to the question of “What can we do?”, looking at stewardship through the lens of Transition Salt Spring’s Climate Action Plan and through a conversation with ecologist Chris Drake.

“It could be as simple as ‘I’m going to do something differently in my garden,’” he said, or it could open the door for people to get involved in stewardship efforts. 

Then the plan is to “take the camera into the field, and show what this stuff is,” Millson said, sharing with viewers what is happening with stewardship on the island.

The primary audience is, as with the short film, young people through the classroom. Although it will be focused on Salt Spring, the film can also find an audience further afield.

“If you look at islands worldwide, islands have a common problem,” Millson said. “So I see it as a flagship project for education and outreach on our islands, the Salish Sea islands and it’s a great project to demonstrate Indigenous stewardship.” 

For the time being, Millson is busy getting the larger film project off the ground, looking for funding and assembling a volunteer production crew to do research, videography, editing, support during the filming process, fundraising and video content illustrations. Anyone interested in knowing more can reach Millson via jamssiwater@gmail.com. 

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