‘Stop the drop’ initiative aims at inclusiveness in engaging all low water views

ONTARIO—Colin Dobell has a long history of involvement in all things Great Lakes, being a former board member of the Georgian Bay Association and now a founder and (unpaid) executive director of the Water Level Alliance. Mr. Dobell was on the Island recently promoting the Stop the Drop campaign, a grassroots effort aimed at engaging the public and gathering over 20,000 electronic signatures by the end of the summer with the goal of pressuring the provincial and federal governments into taking concrete action to reverse the recent precipitous drop in Great Lake water levels.

“Existing efforts (to lobby for water level issues) tend to be advocating or focussed on a particular solution and they tend to be speaking to the same small group of committed people,” said Mr. Dobell. “Those groups tend to be focussed on different angles and use a language that can be confusing to the average person.”

There are so many voices, often with seemingly conflicting goals and aspirations, that the ordinary citizen, Mr. Dobell is convinced, would be concerned if they were to be informed of the issue of dropping water levels and how that issue will impact them personally. “The average person in the street cares a lot,” he said. “But this is an issue that abounds in conspiracy theories. We aim to help that person to begin to understand the issues.”

The Water Level Alliance hopes to accomplish its goal by bringing a different perspective on the science behind the issues facing the Great Lakes basin.

The group’s tools include a website, stopthedrop.ca, where interested parties can find the available information put together in a cohesive and coherent collection, a team of four paid interns whose mandate is to inform the public on the issues at various summer venues over the coming months (including the RCMP Musical Ride and Haweater Weekend), large billboards and signs, radio, television and print advertising and a frenzied schedule of one-on-one and group interactions.

One innovative approach to raising awareness is a message in a bottle wherein the water of Georgian Bay pleads with the finder of the bottle to help stop it from disappearing. The writing on the paper contained within the bottle is printed in faint and difficult to read ink, itself in the very act of disappearing.

To that end Mr. Dobell met with a group from the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council (MASC) including local environmental conservation stalwarts Therese Trainer and Bob Florean. The meeting by all accounts went well. “Water level issues are of major concern to anyone living in the Great Lakes basin,” he said. “Our mission is to be a voice for everyone in this issue.”

The Water Level Alliance aims to fill a niche that transcends any parochial interests or focus, stripping away the various angles and nuances to focus on raising awareness of the seriousness of the issue among the general public and directing concerns raised through that heightened awareness to ignite the political will among policy makers to take immediate action to Stop the Drop.

“That is one of the things we really liked about what we heard in the meeting,” said Ms. Trainer, who noted that the MASC board has voted to join the Stop the Drop effort as an organization. “We have seen a lot of infighting on this issue and we really did not like that. This effort is beyond non-partisan, it is inclusive.”

Ms. Trainer noted that participants will be invited to publish articles on the site, “so long as they are factual,” she said. “They will be moderated and we like that.”

Mr. Dobell’s assurances of a strict privacy policy was also something that MASC appreciated. “They are asking for people’s information, so it is important there is a policy in place to protect that information,” said Ms. Trainer.

The Water Level Alliance has raised the money it requires to fund its campaign, with a war chest exceeding $350,000. Their aim now is not simply raising funds, it is raising awareness, said Mr. Dobell. “This is 100 percent free for people,” he said of the website and the Stop the Drop campaign.

“We don’t have a horse in the race,” said Mr. Dobell of the various options put forward to Stop the Drop. “We do not want this to be a transient issue. We want to see people dialing back in to the site to stay updated on progress on the issue and where government action, if any, is taking place.”

MASC intends to take a very active role, along with Manitoulin Streams in garnering the goal of 3,000 signatories from the Island on the MASC site. “We are planning a very active campaign,” said Ms. Trainer. “We really believe we can do it. We need to send a message to the politicians that we not only care about this issue, but that we are staying on top of it and watching what they are doing about it.”

The address to check in on the Stop the Drop campaign is stopthedrop.ca.

Michael Erskine