The TV show, The Water Brothers, highlights some of our planet’s most critical and pressing water issues. This is all in an effort to raise awareness and educate their viewers on our planet’s water resources.

Mediaplanet: What first got you interested in the topic of water?

Tyler Mifflin: It was more of a natural progression than a “eureka” moment. From a young age, Alex and I were both very lucky to spend a lot of time in and around water.  Whether it was learning to swim at our family cottage, summer canoe trips all across Ontario, fishing with our siblings, sailing with our grandfather, to our first experience diving a reef, water has always been on our minds, but we were usually thinking about how we could have fun on it. When we weren’t allowed to swim in Lake Ontario due to pollution, that’s when we began to focus on water issues.

Varanasi, India — Alex & Tyler enjoying the view of the ancient city of Varanasi from its banks along the Ganges.
Photo: The Water Brothers

MP: Why host a TV show dedicated to water awareness?

TM: There are many reasons. While Alex and I were both in University, we began to study and learn about the increasing amount of environmental issues going on around the world. We were frustrated by people’s lack of general knowledge and interest about these issues.

We decided to use our educational backgrounds and our interests to create an eco-adventure documentary series to help get people more engaged in environmental issues, and encourage them to become part of the solution. The more we began researching the myriad of different environmental issues we face, we began to realize that almost every environmental issue is really a water issue, and all these challenges are interconnected.  By looking at environmental issues through the lens of water, it allows us to cover a wide range of topics, and it makes it easier for people to see these connections and relate to the issues.

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MP: How would you assess the Canadian attitude to water?

Alex Mifflin: Canadian attitudes towards water can be generalized as a myth of abundance. From a young age we all learn that one of the reasons Canada is so special is because we have some of the largest freshwater supplies in the world. And it is true, we do have a lot of water, but many Canadians do not appreciate the fact that 60 percent of our renewable freshwater supplies (water that gets replenished each year in rainfall) flows and empties into the Arctic Ocean where few of us live. Meanwhile most Canadians reside on a small strip of land along the U.S. border and we all depend — and concentrate our pollution — on a small fraction of our total water supplies. Since we think we have unlimited water supplies in Canada, we use it inefficiently and have become one of the worlds biggest water users per capita using about 330 litres per person per day. We can do much better.

The Brothers visit the Arctic to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on the polar ice caps.
Photo: The Water Brothers

MP: If there was one thing you wanted to draw attention to in terms of our national water resources, what would it be?

AM: There is no doubt that the biggest water issue in our country is the consumption and pollution of water resources by industry, primarily in the Alberta tar sands. The toxic legacy of this industry is simply being left behind for future generations to clean up with little consideration from our federal government of the industry’s significant contribution to global climate change. While many of us in Canada live far away from the activity, we are all deeply connected to what’s going on and the industry’s impact on freshwater and the Athabasca River. The oil and gas industry must continue to reduce their freshwater use and all Canadians have a responsibility to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels.

MP: How can we as Canadians protect and conserve water every day?

TM: Canadians can do a lot to protect and conserve water every day. To start, know where your water comes from. Whether it’s the Great Lakes or the Bow River, one of the most powerful things you can do is to be aware of where your water comes from and find ways to help protect your local watershed from pollution. We must also reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, reduce our consumption of single use plastic water bottles, and use less water at home. You can also encourage government to repair our pipes. As much as 30 percent of our treated water is lost to leaks in our municipal piping systems every day, costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year.

“We need to set an example for the world because we feel that Canada has lost its reputation as a leader in environmental protection.”

MP: Tell us a bit more about how you’ve addressed the issues associated with plastic water bottles?

TM: One of our very first episodes explored the issue of why Canadians consume so much bottled water when most of us have access to the cleanest tap water supplies in the world. Within that episode we were amazed to learn how much plastic waste is being sent to landfills instead of being recycled. In our hometown of Toronto it added up to an average of 700,000 water bottles being sent to landfill every day. We were amazed to learn just how much plastic is ending up where it isn’t supposed to be. It is critical that we control our plastic pollution problem here at home, because the whole world is following the example set by North America of living in a disposable, throw away society. One small way we wanted to help was by developing a free smartphone app called Quench that uses Google maps to connect users to thousands of locations where you can refill a reusable water bottle. Bottled water is by no means the only culprit but we need to cut back on all forms of single use disposable plastic.  In a country like Canada with clean tap water everywhere, bottled water is a good place to start.

Alex & Tyler in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a scientific expedition about plastic debris.
Photo: The Water Brothers

MP: Is it possible for Canada to become the model of good water stewardship for the world?

AM: One of the most frustrating aspects of looking at global environmental issues from a Canadian perspective is how poorly we are doing in tackling many different water related issues here at home. We are a world leader in per capita water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions; however, we have the access and means necessary to do so much better, yet we are still making only slow progress.

If Canadians cannot do better, how should we expect other, less developed countries to tackle issues like climate change or plastic pollution? We need to set an example for the world because we feel that Canada has lost its reputation as a leader in environmental protection. Environmental protection should be a source of national pride, not shame.

MP: How can one person make a difference on our water issues?

AM: You can make a huge difference by becoming more informed about water issues and discussing them with your friends and family. Make small personal sacrifices like riding a bike instead of taking a car, by cutting out meat from a couple meals a week, or by using reusable water bottles, and taking coffee mugs and utensils with you wherever you go and encouraging others to do the same.

MP: You guys have been all around the world, what are some of your favorite experiences so far?

AM: We honestly have one of the coolest jobs in the world and there are so many favorite moments from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to riding in a submarine 2000 feet under the sea looking at rare marine life but,  one of my favorite experiences came last year at the Maha Kumbh Mela festival in India for our episode on the Ganges River. The Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage to the Ganges and every 12 years there is the Maha Kumbh which is the biggest of them all. We were there on the main bathing date with over 30 million others. Just to be part of something like that is really special and the Maha Kumbh brings people from across India, so you really get to see and meet a wonderful cross section of Indian society and culture.

TM: For me, our coolest trip so far was one of last ones we did - to Cocos Island in the Pacific Ocean. Cocos is about 500 km west of mainland Costa Rica and it’s home to one of the most incredible concentrations of marine life in the ocean. Giant schools of sharks, tuna and fish, but these big schools are also attracting a lot of fishermen trying to catch sharks for the shark fin trade. We were with a group of scientists tagging sharks and sea turtles with tracking devices to understand where the animals are going when they leave the marine reserve. That kind of information is really helpful for scientists when they petition the government to grow the protection area. That trip will be part of our upcoming 3rd season - so don’t miss it!

MP: What can we expect in the future for The Water Brothers?

TM: Right now we are filming our third season and we have a bunch of exciting new episodes we are working on. We recently returned from Israel and Jordan filming an episode on the Jordan River, and have upcoming episodes about tidal and wave energy, sustainable seafood and ocean acidification. We are also in the middle of filming an episode with NASA about all the fascinating ways they study water both here on Earth and across the universe.  We can’t wait to get in the editing room and share our adventures with the rest of Canada!