Eastern Charlotte Waterways stays the course for 30 years

(Submitted photo) Archive photo of Eastern Charlotte Waterways staff in the field collecting samples and documenting work.

EASTERN CHARLOTTE – Eastern Charlotte Waterways (ECW) recently celebrated 30 years of operation. While its operations have expanded, it has maintained its core focus of being a steward for watersheds in Eastern Charlotte County.

The federal Atlantic Coastal Action Project (ACAP), which began in 1991, created Eastern Charlotte Waterways. The government designed ACAP as a community-based collection of groups with the objective to restore and sustain local and coastal watersheds.

“The ACAP program recognizes that local organizations are the most effective champions to achieve environmental sustainability in their own communities,” states the 2006-07 ACAP year in review booklet.

The St. Croix Estuary Project was another organization operating under the ACAP umbrella. The project ceased most of its environmental and water monitoring activities several years ago and now acts as the operator of Ganong Nature Park on the outskirts of St. Stephen.

“(The idea of ACAP) was to be able to do coastal marine monitoring,” said ECW’s executive director Briana Cowie. “To understand changes in marine ecosystems and how it affects the aquaculture and the fisheries industries.”

She said the closest ACAP organization was originally to be in Saint John.

“There was a lot of advocacy to have it down in Charlotte County and that’s where they created Eastern Charlotte Waterways.”

Cowie said she had been digging through some old documents as part of her research for 30th anniversary celebrations and found that much of the narrative around what the organization is doing now is consistent with what it was doing then.

“Even talking so much about food security and stuff like Project : Village indoor farm, way back in the early 2000s.”

Cowie said ECW has always been about doing cool science, which included adding a microbiology lab in the early 2000s to fill a gap identified for water testing in the area. The lab is expanding as it moves into the new building it will share with the indoor farm project.

Sue Farquharson, chief executive officer at the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association, was the first executive director of ECW and recalls the beginnings as an effort to “encourage community participation, education and engagement in their surrounding ecosystem and environmental management.” She said it was a novel concept at the time and believes the bottom-up approach is why most of the other ACAP organizations are still going strong today.

In the early days, the work was about connecting with the community and finding out what environmental priorities the community had and developing action plans to address those. There was a lot of work in schools and with community groups, and the beginnings of the water monitoring programs that continue to this day. She said they would engage volunteers to go out into the Magaguadavic watershed with water collection kits, which were sent off to the nearest lab for testing.

One of the big projects Farquharson worked on was the establishment of a soft-shell clam advisory body. She said the research they did led to a multi-year clam management program to help maintain the clam beds and foster the soft-shell clam industry. She said the microbiology lab grew out of that project. That work included evaluations of the economic benefit of the industry to the area so people understood the importance of maintaining it.

“I think ECW has done a great job in continuing to look and engage socially, economically and environmentally and tie that together with some of the projects you’re seeing now like Project : Village and the car share,” Farquharson said.