My Adventure West

I was fortunate enough to take some time after my thesis was finished and had celebrated my 25th birthday to travel to the west coast for the first time in my life. My two week trip took me to San Francisco and Vancouver to visit friends and family. It was also a great opportunity to do a bit of personal exploration, taking time for solitude, self reflection, and outdoor adventure. While this post isn’t really water- or career-related, it feels important to include as part of my personal story.

When arriving in California, I was whisked away to Point Reyes, where I stayed with my aunt, uncle, and two cousins on their summer holiday. It was so amazing to see the natural beauty of California. The vegetation and topography were not what I was expecting and it was truly breath taking. We went on many hikes, through the hills and along the beach, seeing dolphins and elk along the way… no big deal or anything…! The highlight was without a doubt getting to know my family in California better and I look forward to heading back for another visit sometime soon. Thank you so much for the wonderful visit!

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While in San Francisco, I did more walking, exploring the touristy areas by myself and then catching up with old friends and visiting some of their favourite places for food and beverages in the Mission. I was amazed by how many people I know living there; it was so great to see everyone again! One of my friends with one of those fancy tech jobs got a bunch of tickets for a San Francisco Giants game that weekend, so I got to see probably the coolest stadium ever while I was there. Thanks for that, Mike! We spent some time in Dolores Park (#doloyolo?) and I found that I was surprised to see so many people in one place, relaxing and being so friendly. Maybe it was a function of me finally relaxing and taking in my surroundings more so than I had done in years, but I definitely found that California had an extremely friendly and laid back atmosphere that I was not accustomed too. Also, I didn’t have homework… strange feeling to me still!

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After my week in San Francisco, I was headed back to Canada, this time to Vancouver. I was happy to be coming back to Canada and beyond excited to finally see Vancouver, having heard countless stories from friends about this city they had come to love. Everyone I had spoken to all summer about my trip was so excited for me and I was thrilled to have so many suggestions from them on places to check out!

The beauty of Vancouver was really overwhelming; I felt like I was walking around in a daze, not wanting to blink and miss a second of those spectacular views! My first full day in Vancouver, I walked more than 40 km, weaving in and out of the city streets, walking along the seawall, and venturing through Stanley Park. The more I walked around the city, the more I love it. I felt like everyone I spoke to was a good friend so travelling alone never felt lonely at all! In fact, while I was there I was able to catch up with several friends, old and new, planned and spontaneously. Siobhan introduced me to Gastown and the best sushi I have ever had in my life! Aline and I explored Granville Island together and had the best fish and chips in the history of the world. Thank you both so much for taking time to show me around!

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While doing the Grouse Grind, I ran into a friend from Waterloo completely randomly! We were both travelling along and decided that we should do a day trip to Whistler together the following day. We took the Greyhound up there first thing in the morning and proceeded to do the Wedgemount Lake hike in Garibaldi Park – the most spectacular and challenging hike I’ve ever done. Waterfalls, trees, glaciers, mountains, sunshine – talk about the perfect day! Katherine, thank you so much for planning that for us, it was the highlight of my trip!

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My favourite part of Vancouver was the ability to go from such a vibrant urban setting and then minutes later find yourself surrounded by trees, completely alone. Stanley Park is the best! I can certainly understand by Vancouver has such a buzz about it. It is a city unlike any other and I cannot wait to return. On the last day of my trip while running to catch a bus to see another site on the outskirts of the city, I finally saw the 2010 Olympic torch. It stopped me in my tracks (and I did eventually make it to my bus), but I had the best flashback to watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics with my best friend, Sydney. I was remembering how exciting those Olympics were for everyone and how that was the first time I felt that amount of Canadian spirit in the air. It felt really special to finally experience a piece of it first hand. Later, I watched the sunset from the beach while writing post cards to friends and family and felt an overwhelming sense of calmness. I feel very fortunate to live in such a beautiful and vast country.

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The purpose of my trip was to experience a part of the world I had never seen and always dreamed of visiting – basically a reason to travel anywhere. However, it felt like more than that to me. I was hoping to take some time to figure out what my next step might be: where do I see myself? what do I want to do? what direction do I want my life to take? how I can contribute to the world? what is my motivation? what do I want and why? I ended up leaving with more questions than answers and the thought of returning home seemed to muddle any sort of clarity I felt like I had fleetingly obtained during my trip. I was going to be coming back to Ontario, but would be leaving Waterloo, my home of seven years. I have since moved back home with my parents and I am still unsure of what path my life will take. The only things I do know are: 1) at the very least, its good to keep asking those questions if you ever intend to find answers and 2) I feel extremely lucky to have so many inspiring and supportive people in my life. I sense that my next year will be a formative one and I’m scared and excited to see what will happen next…

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Creatures of the Gyre! Night\Shift Festival Updates

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We are working on a water- and environment-themed art installation for the second annual Night\Shift, downtown Kitchener’s one-night-only festival of art, culture, community building, and nocturnal adventure. It is being organized by the Alternatives Journal and will be taking place on Saturday, November 1st throughout the downtown core of the city. You can read more about the festival here.

Our exhibit is titled ‘Creatures of the Gyre’ and will be constructed from approximately 10 000 one-time-use plastic water bottles that have been collected from recycling bins across the UW campus over the last three months. We will be building large-scale aquatic animal structures, including a jelly fish, a sea turtle, an octopus, and a sting ray! They will be illuminated from within to add to the spectacle!

It is our plan that this exhibit will encourage environmentally friendly habits. Awareness to a problem is the first step in sparking change. We hope that the enormity of our exhibit will shine a light on the problems caused by the bottled water industry. You can visit our webpage for more details and future updates.

Bottle collection took place over the summer months and was primarily focused on the University of Waterloo campus. Eric Rumble, Night\Shift festival organizer, was very kind to collect bottles at a variety of Kitchener festivals this summer. Thank you, Eric! At UW,  huge thank you mush go out to UW Plant Operations for providing the bins and helping me transport them to their destinations. Our water bottle collection team was brilliant, helping haul bags of recycling across campus is not the most glamorous job in the world, and these guys gladly lent a hand, week after week. Thank you so, so much Brad, Kevin, Tim, and Nathan! I must also extend a thank you to Paul and Bob in the Rudolph Lab for giving me the space to store bottles. Lastly on the bottle collection front, I must thank UW Engineering Orientation for allowing me to seem like a crazy recycling collector, with hugely helpful coordination efforts from Cassandra and Jill – you guys are awesome!

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Here is where we need more help. But this is the best part! Mark your calendars:
  • Water bottle washing extravaganza! Saturday, September 27th at 157 King St. W. from 10 am to 5 pm – come by, drop off any bottles you have collected, and have some fun!
  • Construction begins in October! Stay tuned for details and help our water bottles creatures come to life!

We are even getting some attention from a local campus newspaper, Laurier’s Community Cord. Check it out here. Please consider getting involved, bring your friends along, and share us on social media (#niteshift14). Your participation will make this installation happen! This will be a unique opportunity to reach a public audience and have a ton of fun in the process! Email me at cailin.hillier@gmail.com if you would like to get updates about the project and want to get involved!

For more information on much larger projects with similar messaging, check out the following links:

Thesis Done! I now have my Master’s of Science in Hydrogeology

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The research objective of my thesis was to evaluate the utility of a broad range of field site characterization techniques designed to assess the vulnerability of public supply wells to water quality impacts from surface contamination. Specific attention was paid to determining which data is most useful to collect to evaluate well vulnerability, to finding connections between different parameters for potential data surrogates, and to attempt to streamline data collection and analysis for well vulnerability field assessments.

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The case study was conducted on the Alder Creek Watershed, located outside of Kitchener-Waterloo. Throughout a 60-day pumping test on a municipal supply well located adjacent to Alder Creek, a myriad of data were collected. This included meteorological data, hydraulic data, water quality samples, temperature measurements, and more from the surface water, pumping well, and the network of multi-level monitoring wells throughout the site.

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This allowed for an extensive set to be constructed and for conclusions to be made regarding the mixing of shallow and deep groundwater. Ultimately, several major improvements to vulnerability indices were suggestions, including how to better utilize physically measured data from hydrogeologic investigation and the need to accommodate for variable conditions such as seasonality and extreme weather events when quantifying vulnerability. Specific to the site, the data set allowed for further understand of the shallow and deep groundwater system characteristics, developed a conceptual model of groundwater movement, identified the potential interaction of shallow and deep groundwater systems, and allowed for the advisement of future long-term monitoring when considering water quality data, surface water fluxes, and climatic influences. More specific conclusions, along with the data set and accompanying background information and experimental design can we viewed within my thesis, available for download here: https://uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/handle/10012/8683

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This research was made possible through support from NSERC and the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, along with the Canadian Water Network, Grand River Conservation Authority, Stantec, the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, and more. Special mention must also go to the supervisor, Dr. David L. Rudolph, committee members Walter Illman and William Robertson, and members of the Rudolph Group Andrew Wiebe, Paul Johnson, Bob Ingleton, and Brewster Conant. There were also many students were in invaluable to the process: Kristen Blowes, Jamie Dickout, Lauren Harrison, Jack Robertson, James Elliot, and Paul Menkveld. Thank you all!

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General water-related life update!

Here is a mishmash of things worthy of posting, in a somewhat chronological order.

On my birthday, I was extremely lucky to get a cake of the Earth! Thank you so much Peter, for your superior baking stylings!

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I also took some photos of the ridiculous ice storm of 2013. These are actually from Christmas day:

Ice Sunrise

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One last thing cool thing that I urge anyone interest in water to check out is Watermark, a film by Edward Burtynsky. This Canadian photographer has compelled millions of people to reconsider the impacts of industry and to appreciate the simple beauty of nature. You can watch the trailer here:

And learn more about his project here: http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/site_contents/Films/Watermark_Film.html

Now I should get back to my thesis writing. Hopefully I will have a very excited “first draft completed!” post to share in the coming week.

CWN Students and Young Professionals Committee

Over the Christmas break, I applied to be part of the Canadian Water Network Students and Young Professionals Committee (CWN SYPC). As part of the application, we had to make a 30 second video explaining why we would be a good candidate for the position. Having attempted this, I now know how quickly 30 seconds go by when you are trying to say important things. I have included my video here for your amusement:

Several weeks later, I learned that I have the chance to be part of this amazing group! I was beyond thrilled. The CWN SYPC hold amazing workshops, host Blue Drinks across the country, and run virtual events with exciting speakers from the water world. Over the past year, the SYPC workshops included a “Policy and Water: Ideas to Implementation” in Ottawa, Media and Communications “Pass the Mic” in both the Atlantic and Pacific Regions, “Value of Water” in London, “Arctic Water Challenges and Opportunities” in Iqaluit, and more!

I am looking forward to the next 18-month term as President of the SYPC. Check out our entire committee here:

http://www.cwn-rce.ca/young-professionals/students-and-young-professionals-committee-members-2014-15/

At our retreat this past weekend in Toronto, I have the opportunity to meet these amazing people. We had time to idea share, plan, and have far too much fun. We were also lucky to have Jode Roberts come to speak with our group about the amazing Homegrown National Park Project as part of the David Suzuki Foundation. If you are in Toronto, I encourage you to look up this en devour to bring nature to an urban centre. I love the way community can come together to create such beauty!

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In the past, the SYPC themes have been Leadership and Communication. Our new theme is Connection. This can take on many meanings, from networking and collaboration, to knowledge mobilization and interdisciplinary water solutions. I cannot wait to see what we come up with! To learn more about the CWN SYPC, check out our webpage and subscribe to our mailing list here: http://www.cwn-rce.ca/young-professionals/ or look for us on Twitter under the #CWNSYPC.

 

Waterlution!

I have become aware of and increasingly involved with Waterlution over the past 8 months. Waterlution, a Canadian organization that builds awareness and encourages cross-sector collaboration promoting more holistic, sustainable practices and polices around water. Back in September, I was extremely fortunate to attend the Waterlution Innovation Lab. This week-long excursion included a pre-lab workshop where we toured the Columbia Ice Fields and followed the Bow River from its source in the mountains, into Calgary. We observed the water treatment process and heard from the city about their plans to develop their storm water management capacity, especially in light of the flooding events of 2014. Their water services initiatives are working in combination with Public Art to create attractive usable spaces that can be utilized for education purposes. 

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The Innovation Lab itself was a truly remarkable and inspiring experience. Being surrounded by so many enthusiastic, considerate, and driven people was mind opening. It the beautiful setting of Kananaskis, we learned innovative facilitation techniques and how they can help the water sector to problem solve. I left the lab with an overwhelming sense that anything is possible and feel so lucky for all of the amazing friendships formed there. Not to mention, it was my first time in western Canada and I cannot wait to go back!

Once we returned to our respective cities across the country, the ideas didn’t stop flowing. It has been great to hear about all of the projects that have snowballed from the lab. There was a large KW contingent at the lab; together we have started a Waterlution Grand River Hub. Thus far, our hub has held two events. The first was a “Water in Your Community” themed event. Our resource guest included Bernadette Conant from the Canadian Water Network, Mark Servos from the University of Waterloo, Tim Walton from the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, and Cheryl Evans from REEP Green Solutions.

Waterlution Poster

Our second event was help during Canada Water Week under the theme of water and technology, titled “HighTechH2O.” We were excited to bring together two remarkable strengths with our event in order to learn about tools that can be applied across sectors and explore the potential for co-creation. Our resource guests at the event included Brenda Lucas and Evelyn Allen from the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, Jon Grant from WaterTapBlyth Gill from EchoStream, and Nancy Heide from Velocity.

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I am excited for the potential for the Waterlution Grand River Hub to grow! If you would like to be added to our mailing list, email us at waterlution.grandriver@gmail.com.

Night\Shift

As part of another SWIGS Outreach initiative, we entered an exhibit in the inaugural nuit blanche style event, Night\Shift. This overnight festival of arts and culture was hosted by the Alternatives Journal and was a huge success! It was so amazing to be part of such a cool community initiative.

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Our exhibit was inspired by the UW Ban the Bottle Coalition, who are attempting to stop the sale of plastic water bottles on campus. This effort will move UWaterloo one step closer to achieving a sustainable mandate. Our awesome team constructed a fish out of salvaged water bottled from around campus and lit it with lights. Our exhibit was flanked by screens displaying the consequences of the bottles water industry, as well as environmentally conscious and convenient solutions to many of the problems. For example, Waterloo has been very proactive with their Water Wagon initiative for public events. What solutions do you have in your area?

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SWIGGY, our enlightened fish, is now on display by the Regional Municipality of Waterloo’s Recycle Centre education program. As a result of our exhibit, we were also given the opportunity to speak to a group of young environmentalist who call themselves the Ecomaniacs. Thank you to Lester B. Pearson Public School for welcoming us!

SWIGS has been invited to ramp up the scale for 2014’s Night\Shift celebration, so stay tuned for updates about this project as they develop. If you are involved with an environmental, water-focused, or sustainability group in the Kitchener-Waterloo area and would like to be involved with our project, let me know!

SWIGS Outreach

A lot has been going on with the Students of the Water Institute Graduate Section (SWIGS) Outreach Committee recently. And by recently, I mean over the last six months. But it certainly has been a whirlwind of activity!

Our group put together a water education curriculum for the University of Waterloo’s Let’s Talk Science group! Our four activities are all based around the Grand River Watershed. First is a Water Treatment activity where student use coagulant to treat water and make observations. Next is an activity which teaches students about the potential impacts of climate change in the area, from storm water challenges to drought. Thirdly is a wetlands and groundwater activity where students time how long it takes for water to travel through different earth materials. Thank you to the Rudolph Group for helping with construction! Lastly, land use and watershed behavior is included – students have to play a game where they must negotiate over limited water resources to find the best solution of everyone. This fun activity is geared to a Grade 8 science class level and we have been very pleased with the results thus far! If you are interested in volunteering with Let’s Talk Science, check them out here: http://www.letstalkscience.ca/.

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SWIGS Outreach has also attended amazing events in the community, including the Surface Tension, Future of Water Exhibit at The Museum. This was a truly remarkable display of all things water.  You can learn more about the exhibit here:

We also participated in in a City of Waterloo Community Planting event on the North Campus of the University of Waterloo. On that particular planting event, 800 native shrubs and trees were planted by the community in as effort to restore this urban forest. Learn more here: http://www.waterloo.ca/en/living/communityplantings.asp

Also of note is our visit to Victoria Lake Park. The City of Kitchener gave SWIGS Outreach a tour of the park restoration project at the park that has vastly improved the lake’s water quality.

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We have also been very lucky with the success of our SWIGS Outreach Speaker Series. We have had speakers come in from Water for People, GlobalMedic, and One Prosper. I am particularly thankful for the talk presented by Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux who came to Waterloo to speak about water on First Nations communities and what students can do to understand and get involved. It was an inspiring talk and I am so appreciative of her sharing those stories.

Pardon my absence…

So it has been many months since I have updated my blog. I blame… my thesis? Research work and water outreach have taken over my life lately, in the best way possible. A lot has been happening so in my next few posts I will attempt to catch my blog up to speed on my research, my involvement with SWIGS, and a few new water groups I have gotten involved with. Stay tuned, I will attempt to update this more frequently from here on out!

SOWC Media Spotlight

The Globe and Mail recently expressed interest in the Southern Ontario Water Consortium and the IMB ‘Smart’ data management platform being developed. As part of their story, they chose to interview our research team, which is part of the SOWC Watershed Node. An interviewer and a videographer met with our team in the lab and out at one of our field sites. They put together a short video explaining our field site, which has now been posted on YouTube.

Extra photos from our time out in the field can be viewed on the SOWC Flickr.

It was very validating to see our research team getting some attention. Any way to better inform the public, especially in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, about groundwater and watershed health sounds excellent to me! Courtesy of the SOWC Flickr, here is a photo of our summer research crew out in Alder Creek.

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