Making water matter in Ireland

Making water matter in Ireland
May 2024
Szilvia Szabó

Szilvia Szabó Author

Journalist, Editor
Journalist, Editor
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Water is a fundamental element in our lives, just as crucial as air, land, and other natural resources. We are interconnected and reliant on water in numerous ways, and our lives are bound to it, yet it is easy to overlook its importance.

Elaine Moynihan and Katie McShane, Co-Founders of Irish not-for-profit WiseWater, were at the forefront of this year`s UN World Water Day, celebrated on March 22nd every year.

They organised a local beach clean-up and formed a giant peace symbol made up of the collected trash and people participating to “make a stand together to preserve, protect and care for our water environment.”

Elaine Moynihan (left) and Katie McShane (right), Co-Founders of WiseWater

Elaine reveals that in just one hour, about forty participants had filled over twenty big bags with rubbish from the beach.

This eye-opening experience about plastic pollution inspired many of them to pledge to change their purchasing habits, realising the significant role their individual actions can play in avoiding plastic.

Beyond pollution, a report published in 2022 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Ireland found that the water quality of rivers, lakes, estuaries, and coastal areas in the country continues to decline, with only just over half of the surface waters in satisfactory condition and able to sustain healthy ecosystems for fish, insects, and plants.

Explaining their approach to connecting people with water, Elaine shares that they believe that to make people want to care for and protect our environment, they first need to have a relationship with it.

“In Ireland, we often take water for granted, but we would like to raise awareness about the importance of behaviour change in terms of water usage and preserving our water environment”

The mission of Wise Water is to combine the vital connection between personal well-being and preserving our water environment through educational activities provided to schools, community groups and workplaces.

Elaine and Katie built on their passion for all things water as they both live by the west coast of Ireland and love to plunge in the refreshing Atlantic throughout all seasons, besides surfing and rowing from time to time.

They emphasise that water teaches invaluable lessons such as receptivity and reflecting our thoughts and actions, adding that water`s adaptability and resilience underscore the importance of social connections, and just like humanity and the planet, water is vulnerable and requires care in times of rapid change.

Young people getting involved in citizen science with WiseWater at Ballinaspittle river. Image: WiseWater

Each WiseWater workshop intertwines the crucial link between human well-being and the conservation of our water ecosystems,” Elaine explains.

One of their flagship programmes is a six-week water and wellness course designed for 5th and 6th class students where young participants engage in fun activities, experiments, and system-thinking discussions while learning about various facets of well-being.

“First, they gain insights into the many reasons why some wells are bubbling with fresh water and others are stagnant. By learning this, we then explore how we keep our own water bodies well.”

Activities include water in a sound bowl, which shows how water responds to sound and the introduction of Dr Wallace J. Nicolas' blue-mind concept, supported by extensive research showcasing water's calming effect on the mind.

By understanding the blue-mind and red-mind concept, where blue indicates feeling calm and red is feeling stress, students gain a practical tool for maintaining overall well-being as well.

Another exercise includes the `one well` approach, which helps children better conceptualise global water usage through a simple visualisation.

As part of this activity, students also work in groups, creating fictional households to calculate water usage and how they could manage it if they had to walk to bring water to cover their needs, such as showering, flushing toilets or cooking.

Elaine shares how they design these programmes to get children more involved: “Participants engage in citizen science by utilising the `kick sampling` technique to explore macroinvertebrates – small aquatic animals like insect larvae, snails, and beetles – that serve as reliable indicators of water quality.

The session begins with a biodiversity game to illustrate the interconnectedness of all life forms.

Then, we divide them into different groups and explain the sampling and how the different creatures will indicate the health of the river.

According to Elaine, the real added benefit of taking classes outside is the high level of engagement as they experience the science and the joy of the investigative process, leading them to new discoveries with this hands-on learning.

Besides working with school groups, Katie and Elaine also host `Source to Sea` programmes to connect cultural heritage with water and people.

These trips aim to support relationships and stewardship within a community for their local river, giving them an opportunity to explore the natural environment while learning about their own feelings and connections.

“Often described as the arteries of the land due to their life-giving properties, rivers are a living connection to past generations,” Elaine says.

The `Source to Sea` programmes organised by WiseWater aim to connect cultural heritage with water and people. Image: WiseWater

“Every river has a rich story that can be interpreted through different lenses, so even though we travel as a group, visiting a river source is a unique experience for everyone.”

She adds that by exploring the past through a river source, landmarks, geology, archaeological sites, folklore, songs, and much more emerge, telling unique aspects of the river's story and how it shapes not just the catchment it flows through but also the people and nature that live alongside it.

Elaine believes that in our time, rivers also reveal a story of sustainability, human influence, and a call to action to mind them for nature and future generations.

“While many view water as a commodity, at WiseWater, we advocate for a deeper connection, recognising its intrinsic value beyond mere utility.”

Szilvia Szabó

Szilvia Szabó Author

Journalist, Editor
Journalist, Editor